In 1996 – almost 20 years ago – Billing conferences were the place to be seen. Three years previously de-regulation across the world had caused a seismic shift in the telecoms world. Most incumbent telcos were processing their bills on mainframes. These monsters worked fine unless you needed to change anything.
And cometh de-regulation, cometh the competition.
Billing became the battleground. Systems were being demonstrated at Billing conferences where changes to prices could be implemented in weeks. And the cost of the system was about as much as it cost to change a price in a mainframe.
In 1996, at one such Billing conference a speaker from a large US telco put up a slide – a 35mm slide – that said that the billing system of the future needs to be:
– Have management reporting functionality
At about this time, we started talking about something called ‘real-time.’
Whilst all of these points and issues are still ‘live’ and even now if someone put up the same slide the reaction would be ‘of course’ not ‘that slide is 20 years old.’
The last (nearly) 20 years have been a journey, a migration from a world where we bill for things that have already happened to a world where we bill – or at least charge – for things that are happening or are about to happen. And this migration will continue.
The question is when telcos can dump the new legacy systems, those ‘point’ systems that were being demonstrated 20 years ago. These systems have gone from product centric to customer centric, taking in multiple services along the way. But now fewer and fewer are fit to support the real-time needs of the ‘Now’ generation.
Without question telcos need real-time functionality in their armoury. But they must also support the millions of customers who are used to a monthly, even quarterly, bill that tells them what they did, not what they are doing. Both are required.
So, as our industry becomes ever more obsessed with real-time – and rightly so, spare a thought for the billing managers still responsible for cutting those postpaid bills month in, month out.
For them, it will be a while yet before they can retire those systems. For their strategy colleagues it makes the decision about implementing real-time that much more difficult – when, how much, what do we need to support?
Stretched between the two is not funny, but it is still the billing reality.