No matter what kind of billing system you’re using or how it’s deployed, the real value in the system is the data. Customer information, usage details and anything else captured and stored are precious commodities that bring the service provider closer to the customer and give them an edge over other organizations that don’t have this valuable data.
With traditional, legacy billing system models, providers didn’t have to worry about their data’s whereabouts and how to access it since it was located on site or at an off-site facility under their control. That’s changing as cloud billing – also known as billing as a service – makes inroads among service providers and enterprises. Digital service providers with no legacy billing, traditional telcos looking to cut capex and opex and boost revenues from new services and enterprises that are jumping into subscription-based services are all benefitting from cloud billing in many different ways.
But one aspect that doesn’t always come up during a discussion of cloud billing is what happens to the data. Presumably if you’re outsourcing your billing functions, you’re also sending out your data. This could be a big problem for service providers and others who may feel they’ve just handed over their lifeblood.
This need to have full access to billing data from anywhere is not lost on the cloud billing vendors who are actually playing it up as one of their main features. For example, Redknee advocates making sure that service providers have access to all of their information – real-time charging, billing, customer care, invoicing – through the cloud and a browser. Other methods such as downloading a PDF or CSV file seem like a no-brainer but may not be offered by all cloud billing providers.
Another way to get billing information is programmatically through an API, which is the approach Google has taken with its cloud offering. Its billing export feature automatically sends usage and cost details to a CSV or JSON formatted file within Google Cloud Storage. The data can then be accessed through the Cloud Storage API, CLI tool or Cloud Console file browser. Companies have full control over who can access this data. Amazon’s AWS offers a similar feature for users, as does CenturyLink, which provides bundles of services to the consumer.
Billing APIs through a cloud offering will likely become critical going forward as customers – from home users to enterprises – want a clear picture of what they are consuming, including their billing history, invoices and even cost forecasts so they can make sure they are within budget and on track.
This is even more pressing for service providers who can’t afford to lose touch with their customer details as well as their usage even as they outsource the billing functionality itself. There are a lot of newer entrants on the cloud billing scene who may be more willing and able to include the ability to access billing data from anywhere, and it’s a feature that more established players entering the cloud billing space would do well to consider if they have not already.
Just as consolidated billing has become the norm, a consolidated view of billing data accessible to any authorized individual anytime and from any location will be the way forward. Transparency and visibility are imperative in today’s world of digital services and providing customer billing data will become one of the key differentiating factors among the growing number of cloud billers jumping into the market.