I am in the process of writing a new ‘billing’ training course for the TM Forum to replace the existing ‘Introduction to Next Generation Billing.’ The more research I do the more it seems that what was ‘next generation’ four years ago has already become ‘this generation’ in today’s billing scenario.
Even the term billing is starting to sound old-fashioned. The concept of collecting call records, rating them and applying them to a customer account in a debtor’s ledger is still there but no longer the norm. It is being replaced by a mass of permutations that involve real-time rating, online charging, pricing and product catalogues in a world where pre-paid customer now far outnumber post-paid.
The ‘now generation’ has brought on what I would like to term ‘Now Generation Billing.’ It expects everything to happen immediately, if not sooner. You may laugh at that but customers now demand to know when they are about to reach credit and debit limits well before they actually happen! Pre-warned is pre-armed, it seems.
No need to extrapolate the issues around data roaming blowouts, data limit surcharges and bill shock. The ‘now generation’ wants all that managed for them.
So billing is going through yet another metamorphosis. Where it once stood proudly at the center of the old BSS world (even that term is disappearing) to being simply a bit player in a much broader OSS/BSS environment that now includes the likes of online charging systems, freemium models, product bundling, data limits, business rules management, policy management, cloud services and multiple payment mechanisms.
We used to say, “if you can’t bill it, kill it,” now it’s more like, “if you can’t bill, bundle it!” If existing billing, rating, charging systems cannot account for a new service, rather than lose potential market advantage, throw it in something you can bill for or opt for a ‘freemium’ model. Give it away free until either the customer gets hooked, you can add value like embedded ads or you have a system that can bill for it.
There also seems to be some reticence in the market to replace or upgrade business system components. Whether it is fear of messing with such core systems in a transformation project, or confusion about what is really needed, I’m not sure. The big system vendors have amassed a range of products across the old ODSS/BSS spectrum and are trying their hardest to sell a complete swap-out, whilst specialist vendors are trying their best to offer pieces that can be slotted on easily using industry standard APIs, that may or may not exist.
Not so long ago CSPs opted for systems integrators to advise, select and implement best-of-breed components and although they may not be making a big comeback in the systems replacement arena they certainly are keen to promote ‘cloud-based’ services that they either host or manage for CSPs wary of taking the dive themselves.
These are interesting times, indeed, but keeping track of all the things happening in the ‘billing’ space is proving to be quite a challenge, even for a seasoned billing guy like myself. How the guys in the field are coping is quite a mystery!
This article was first published in TM Forum’s Inside Revenue Management Newsletter.