Related: Paper on Billing Hubs,
Some years ago there were celebrations among the billing community. Several CEOs of very large telecoms companies had said the word ‘billing’ out loud and in public and even in conference calls with the financial world. We believed that the impossible had happened, that CEOs truly believed that billing was a strategic asset, a differentiator in the competitive world.
Sadly, the celebrations were short-lived, times got tough – again – and billing disappeared into its accustomed place squashed between Finance and Accounting.
Now, we have reason to believe billing is becoming strategic – again. Apart from announcements at the Mobile World Congress from the likes of Facebook, who want telcos to do their billing, and from the Wholesale Applications Community of telcos who want to do the in-app billing for, well, everyone, there have been a couple of developments that prove that telcos are putting their money where their mouths are.
First, Telenor – Norwegian background, nice people, huge in Asia – are consolidating three national billing systems, and with it 63 million customers, onto one system, using Huawei. They are doing this/taking this massive risk to become a) more competitive and cost efficient and b) the best at delivering and billing any service, anywhere, at any time. At best a daunting task, at worst, well, let us not dwell on IT failures.
Second, and a story that might provide some hope that the Telenor task is achievable is a large European carrier that is billing on behalf of others. They have established a billing ‘hub’ for large corporate customers so that the customers can have one interactive portal to view and validate bills, place orders, check orders and track trouble tickets. In principle, this sounds sensible and intuitive and customer facing and means the customer has one point of contact, even though he has multiple service providers.
In practice it is all those things and a complete nightmare of different data formats from dozens of different sources and systems and at a scale that is truly daunting. ‘Traditional’ data mapping simply does not work – the data formats can change daily and some of the data comes in text, some in ASN.1 (remember that?), the rest in some form of relational or non-relational database format and all of this must be extracted and converted and sent to a clean and simple portal that the customer can gaze at while having a cup of coffee.
Amazingly they have achieved it. It is up and running, with the help of Informatica, one of those companies that do the really difficult, vital and probably ‘boring’ data extraction and conversion things really well. It also proves that telcos are good at billing and OTT players are generally not, which is one billing opportunity. It also tells us that if telcos can get over the huge hurdles of the data scale and complexity then they have a real, immediate and huge opportunity. Looking after customers is good, looking after large corporate customers is good too – and very profitable.
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