Footing The Bill: Stay On Top Of New Service
BY ALLYSON MARTEL
When it comes to understanding what is necessary to compete in the
turbulent service provider industry, OPEX
Communications, Inc., provider of telecommunications and Internet
services, has learned from experience. The need to maintain and grow a
customer base and the need to deploy an empowered sales force are paramount,
and such efforts are given a boost when the company is able to take full
advantage of the benefits of the Internet. However, these core business
functions fall off the radar screen when the company is unable to rate calls
and bill customers.
Soon after its launch in 1998, OPEX faced problems with its billing and
customer care (BCC) system that ultimately halted operations. The BCC system
in place touted important features that were never delivered. Unable to bill
customers for several months, the company enlisted the help of Info
Directions, Inc., to install CostGuard, a usage-based billing, rating,
and customer care solution to get operations up and running and to
effectively enable the OPEX agent network.
A UNIQUE CHALLENGE
In 1998, OPEX set out to offer full electronic provisioning and
reporting for its service segments. They would also seek to leverage
technology to target small to mid-size businesses. With one of the most
aggressive agent programs in the industry, support of a remote workforce was
of high priority. "We are committed to the advancement of our
agents," said Sean Trepeta, OPEX president. "Our ability to
empower them with technology is critical for the success of our
organization." OPEX agents required a high degree of autonomy in the
field while being supported by technology that allowed them to sign up new
accounts and troubleshoot customer problems on site.
To set this vision in motion, an integrated, Web-enabled billing and
customer care solution was essential. Within a short period of time, OPEX
encountered a stumbling block: Not all rating and billing engines are
created equal. Implementation of the first billing system fell short of
expectations, not meeting agent needs and leaving the company unable to
execute mission-critical billing operations. Trepeta explained, "We're
not in business if we're not billing. Accurate and timely billing is
essential." The company philosophy of being "operationally
excellent," from which the OPEX name is derived, would not be
negotiated. Trepeta continued, "We can't compromise on
IMPLEMENTING A SOLUTION
Info Directions was brought in to jumpstart OPEX operations with the
installation of CostGuard. Trepeta's first order of business was to get
billing operations back online. Performing an accelerated installation
process, the system was deployed within a month -- cutting the
implementation time to less than half. Info Directions converted the OPEX
customer database to CostGuard, and in turn, provided accelerated training.
The system was then evaluated.
"We were able to realize an immediate return on investment,"
said Trepeta regarding CostGuard's Recycle Tolls Management program.
"Not only does the billing system rate and bill calls," he said,
"but now we have the ability to audit every call detail record (CDR),
to never lose a call. We are maximizing revenue." For reasons such as
unknown service number, invalid originating or terminating NPA, or no rate
plan associated with the call, a CDR could elude the usage database and end
up in recycled status. These CDRs are corrected and recycled into the usage
database to account for and reconcile each and every call.
To empower their sales network, OPEX deployed OnlineRep, an integrated
component of CostGuard. The use of OnlineRep provides OPEX agents a window
into managing customer accounts. The three-tiered, thin client architecture
allows multiple clients to interact with the same application remotely,
through a standard Web browser. The use of thin client technology provides a
greater locus of control for a dispersed sales force. Trepeta explains,
"Our remote agents and direct sales force are signing up over 100 new
customers a day. The ability to create and manage customer accounts from
remote sites unifies our agent network while giving them the means to
provide excellent service. It also creates value for the customer and thus
is crucial to what we do." OPEX agents in the field can establish new
accounts, create or review trouble tickets, add new services, post payments
and adjustments, and review usage detail information.
As the thin client's disposition causes a natural shift in technical
support investment from the client to the server, the use of OnlineRep
affords OPEX a reduction in total cost of ownership. Upgrades and
maintenance occur at a single source and thus the burden of maintenance is
significantly improved. In fat client fashion, the process of implementing
upgrades at each desktop is costly and time consuming. The centralized
nature of a thin client customer service tool greatly reduces the demand for
IT support as well as reduces the financial costs that accompany this
demand. This keeps OPEX as lean as their architecture is thin.
The usage-based rating engine affords OPEX room in the future to expand
their offerings seamlessly into other associative business lines. This
control and flexibility allows OPEX to be resilient to the demands of the
market and their customers. "The market demands convergent
billing," said Trepeta, "We have a lot of value-added services and
now it's easy to implement a single bill for multiple carriers."
Trepeta said that the prospect of using an electronic bill presentment
and payment (EBPP) solution would be another extension of support to his
agents and would add greater value to the customer. An additional,
integrated, customer care component, the EBPP solution would further promote
the benefits of access while giving the customer more control. Trepeta
added, "If our agents and customers are empowered and they have the
resources they need, then we are assured success."
Allyson Martel is marketing communications manager of Info
Directions, Inc. (IDI). IDI is a software development company that
manufactures, installs, and supports core billing, rating, and customer care
solutions to the telecommunications service provider and data marketplace.
IDI's CostGuard products deliver convergent, usage-based billing solutions
to multi-service providers, CLECs, and ISPs that offer local, long-distance,
data, VoIP, wireless, and other services.
To The September 2000 Table Of Contents ]
Six Key Capabilities For Next-Generation
BY ITAY ARAD
Service providers operate in a fiercely competitive marketplace,
requiring rapid adaptation to customer demands and requirements that can
change overnight. So the service creation and business infrastructure
platform must be dynamic and flexible. Here are six critical
"must-have" capabilities when selecting an advanced billing
solution that helps providers maximize revenue.
1. Supports delivery of any service when needed. The provider must
be able to introduce virtually any new service as the demand for a new
A dynamic billing system therefore needs to be easily and quickly adapted
to support new service-specific parameters such as customized services and
price plans, and the processes of provisioning and event collection and
processing. A billing solution that doesn't require core software to be
reengineered every time a new service is offered enables services to be
delivered to customers in a matter of days. A next-generation billing and
customer care solution should also provide the platform for new offerings,
price plans, discounts and promotions, and should be packaged for
on-the-spot introduction by the marketing team.
2. Supports value-based billing. Service providers should be able
to bill for service and content quality, not just usage. Consumers don't buy
books based on page count. Neither should service providers sell "by
the pound." Providers will need to package and price offerings based on
new, qualitative metrics such as quality of service (QoS), relevance, and
timeliness to name a few. These new revenue models, linked closely to
customer perception of value, are based on a combination of quantitative and
qualitative billing criteria and data from various sources, including
network usage, demographic data, customer behavior, and other
service-related software applications.
3. Capture business rules guiding partner relationships and manage
revenue shares. To expand their reach, IP/broadband providers must
create and alter affiliate and co-branding relationships with hundreds of
different partners. Partner revenue streams may include commissions,
licensing, per-click, or per-transaction fees. A next-generation billing
system should be able to capture and manage unlimited e-partner
relationships and have the flexibility to define any revenue-sharing
relationship. This could include business models such as co-branding,
syndication, and affiliation or marketing agreements for licensing, volume/QoS-sensitive
commissions, and per transaction or per impression/click-through payments.
4. Automation of all aspects of customer care. A billing system
must support automatic, Web-enabled self-care functions such as user
registration, service ordering, order tracking, trouble reporting, and
information updates, as well as bill presentment and online payment.
Automation of service activation and maintenance takes the burden off the
service provider to manually service every customer request, while saving
5. Modular and scalable to start small and grow fast. An advanced
billing system should allow service providers to "start small" and
add services and features later. A modular approach to the solution design
helps the service provider deliver permutations and combinations of the same
service without having to re-code the core billing solution engine at every
instance. In addition, the system should separate "plugs" required
to create network connections from "plugs" required to define
services, so each new service can be added as simply as the appropriate plug
6. OSS interoperability. Integration is key to ensure that the
business processes flow smoothly from end to end. It is imperative that all
operating support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS) maintain
open and standard APIs that will allow integration. Billing systems need to
interface with systems such as CRM, call center, provisioning/activation
systems, information buses and OSS middleware, network management and
network devices, application servers, directories, policy management systems
and financial systems such as A/R and G/L systems, Web servers, online
payment services, and more. Integration is needed not just in the provider's
organization, but also between the provider and its partners' OSS/BSS
Itay Arad is marketing manager for TeleKnowledge,
Inc. TeleKnowledge is an innovative provider of value-based billing,
customer care, and e-partner management solutions.
To The September 2000 Table Of Contents ]