Graphical network operations tool simplifies operations management

Brussels, February 11, 2008 --- A novel software tool from NetworkMining is helping to streamline operational support activities for Belgacom International Carrier Services, by providing on-demand maps, documentation and analysis of the transport layer.

Called NetworkObjects, the operations support system (OSS) tool allows the carrier's service delivery and engineering staff to quickly locate and view details of the equipment and connectivity at any point in the telecommunications network, via interactive map-style views and reports.  Within a few mouse clicks, staff can 'drill down' through the transport layer data to find the information they need to make good decisions on operational engineering matters such as provisioning, maintenance, planning and training.

"NetworkObjects has given us a visual means of interrogating our network equipment inventory and connectivity database.  It gives our people a faster, more intuitive way of locating and understanding information, compared with the text-based interface we used before," says Pierre Doat, Director, Transport Layer of Belgacom International Carrier Services.  "The tool has proved to be an important asset for our services delivery and engineering staff during a period of substantial expansion in both our business and the department."

Belgacom International Carrier Services (BICS) is a joint venture between Belgacom and Swisscom, offering voice, data and value added services with points of presence (POPs) in 22 countries. In the past three years, BICS has transformed itself from a regional organization into the world's eighth largest voice carrier. 

BICS invested in the new software to simplify operational engineering work, as its long-established network equipment and connectivity database has a text based interface, which is not very user friendly.  NetworkObjects is automatically reconciled with BICS' inventory database every day, and has been configured to provide numerous interconnected visualizations and reports on the data.  These range from an overall graphical 'map' of the carrier's entire network, to detailed descriptions of physical and logical network resources and configurations. The package uses standard web browser technology, with vector graphics to ensure that maps and plans remain clear at all stages of drill-down.

Graphical interrogation techniques make it very easy for staff to find the information they want.  If they are interested in the equipment configurations at a particular POP they can select the view within a couple of clicks starting from an index of some 20 standard report views available on the tool's home page.  But, equally, if they are not quite sure how some equipment or site has been named for example, they can find it via a global map just by clicking on areas of interest and drilling down.

NetworkObjects additionally offers a wildcard search facility that the staff find extremely useful, as it allows them to locate equipment using just a partial form of the name or serial number.  Accessing the same information from the carrier's master inventory database would require some knowledge: for instance, you need to know the exact name of the start and end sites to see the details of a transmission system.

"Within a few clicks we can obtain the specific information we need to reach a decision quickly.  Selecting a Ring Layout report, for instance, displays all the transmission systems that make up a particular ring, and we can then drill down through that data to find detailed information such as, say, what time slots are free,"  adds Pierre Doat.  "NetworkObjects is also very useful in explaining the network to new staff. The maps show the different capacities we have to a city or POP, how the network is built, the most important cities, equipment, etc."

The NetworkObjects package has been developed by the Belgian company, NetworkMining, in response to a gap in OSS support for the important area of network configuration management.  The software makes extensive use of data visualization principles, to make it easy for users to understand the complex information, and reduce the time taken to find the answer.  Installations started in 2004, and several large European carriers have now deployed the NetworkObjects package, and the company is working on numerous enhancements and related tools for this application area.

"We started this business because we noticed that this important business need was served, typically, by custom software or hand-created maps and reports", says Roland Leners of NetworkMining.  "BICS is one of our lead users and it's been very interesting to work with them, as substantial business growth and rapid change in their network posed challenges that really illustrate the effectiveness of the tool.  The project also demonstrates the open interfaces that are designed into the system, which made it easy to integrate the package and leverage BICS' existing investments in OSS software."

Leners adds: "Maps are one of the oldest and most familiar tools for visualizing complex information, and we exploit this in NetworkObjects. Combined with careful use of other data visualization principles such as colors, shapes and mouse interaction we simplify and speed the exploration of complex data.  Anyone who can read a map can intuitively understand and use our interactive visualisations."

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