The Next Generation of Policy: It’s Not Your Father’s Policy Management

By Shira Levine,

Directing Analyst, Next Gen OSS and Policy

What’s all the buzz about policy management? After all, it’s nothing new—policy has been around for years as a tool to enable traffic prioritization, particularly among cable operators looking to better manage broadband usage. Why, then, has it become such a hot topic in the industry, with operators spending over $400M on policy management solutions in 2010, and spurred such significant M&A activity, including Amdocs’ acquisition of Bridgewater Systems earlier this year?

Quite simply, this next generation of policy management is a different animal, and it differs from first-generation policy management in many ways. For one thing, it’s network-independent, enabling the operator to make policy decisions across access networks, both fixed and mobile. The current iteration of policy is dynamic and real-time, as opposed to the more static solutions of the past, and it’s multi-dimensional, meaning the operator can incorporate multiple inputs into a policy decisions—for example, combining time of day with content type and device type to determine whether a teenager has access to a certain service under a parental control offering.

Perhaps most importantly, next-generation policy management doesn’t operate in a bubble, but is closely integrated with related solutions. Over the last few years, we have seen policy increasingly deployed hand-in-hand with adjacent functionality, including policy enforcement, subscriber data management, and real-time charging, and that trend has only intensified as operators recognize the value provided by these integrated offerings. In fact, in a very recent operator survey published by Infonetics, we asked respondents to identify the systems their policy management solution integrates with or will in the future, and the results conveyed a very clear message: 96% of respondents named subscriber data management, 83% traffic inspection, and 75% billing and charging. The integration of these functional areas enables policy management to act as a central control point for subscriber, service, and network information reconciliation, which then opens the door for more targeted and innovative loyalty programs, payment options, and value-added services, as well as better network utilization.

As this concept of next-generation policy management continues to evolve, I believe the supplier landscape will evolve as well, to the point that vendors will be at a significant disadvantage if they lack a policy management solution that takes adjacent functionality into account. Policy may have once been a network function, with investments made by network operations departments, but as operators increasingly view policy management as an enabler for new services and capabilities, as opposed to a tool for traffic management, the nature of policy deployments is changing, as are the decision makers behind policy investments. The first generation of policy is rapidly disappearing, and vendors that don’t understand this next generation of policy management, including how it interrelates with adjacent functionality, risk disappearing as well.

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