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Editors' Notebook
October 2001

 In this month's edition of Editors' Notebook:


Mike von Wahlde Guarding Your Customers: Sentori

BY MIKE VON WAHLDE


As a service provider your main concern is attracting and retaining customers, which is a multi-faceted job. Not only must you provide amazing, interesting, and helpful services in order to draw customers in, you must then maintain a relationship with them. Building a long-lasting relationship that is valuable to both parties, and profitable to you, is the obvious goal, but how are you to go about attaining it?

The point at which the customer "touches" your system is key in keeping the relationship strong, and billing and service management are the meat of the relationship. Billing must be efficient, service provisioning must be quick and easy, and customer care must be a 24/7 priority. While this may seem obvious, finding a billing/management system to enable this efficiently can be rough. An efficient billing system keeps these things in mind while reducing operating/overhead expenses, and leverages the available features already in the system to set up make your offering a holistic one.

Sentori is no stranger to the concept of billing and management. They have provided integrated customer management solutions including multi-service billing, customer care, and service provisioning to communications providers who offer voice, data, and content services for the better part of the past ten years. The company grew out of ASC (Alpha Software Consulting) who provided billing and customer care services to communications companies. The Sentori product has been with the family since 1998, already having been deployed in wireless, wire line, IP, and satellite communications providers across the globe.

Sentori changed its name and approach in March of this year, positioning itself not only as one of the new guard in billing but also among the big boys of the billing world. Concentrating on the converged communications arena, Sentori has already made some big deals with large providers, and has the system to back up their amazing promises. The Sentori Billing and Customer Care system features real-time, multi-service rating and billing, customer care solutions and flexible service provisioning through a multi-tiered and Web-based technology platform -- positioning itself dead in the path of next-gen service providers.

SERVICES ARE ONLY HALF THE BATTLE
Service providers must be key to offer all the hot services available, but those hot services are even harder to implement and bill for than they are to identify. Sentori's system is customer-centric, meaning that your customers will not only be provided with a single bill for multiple services, they will also have a single point of contact for customer care. What that means to you is not only savings in everything from paper for bills to customer-contact staff, but also a simplified system that is provisioned not only to combine and add up all the numbers at the end of the month, but also provide reports on what is making you money and what is attracting customers -- key to creating effective pricing strategies and service packages.

Ready For 3G Customer Needs?
With 3G coming up around the bend, effective rating and management is essential. Sentori's solution offers real-time and batch-rating that include reports on time-of-day usage, duration of usage, volume, transaction types, distance, and QoS, which allows providers to rate not only the effectiveness of service implementations, but also provide real incentives for service packages, volume discounts, and pricing plans. This not only increases profitability, but also decreases customer churn by providing them with attractive rate plans and services.

From integration to billing, the Sentori system is comprised of individual software modules, each dedicated to managing specific functions of the overall billing and customer care process. This suite of applications includes order fulfillment, provisioning, data collection, rating, billing, customer care, reporting, Web billing, and customer self-care. Sound complex? The system is pure object oriented and uses a three-tiered, Web-based architecture that supports XML and WML -- keeping the standard vehicles and familiar tools in mind to make system management a low-cost, low-effort proposition.

Competition In The Billing Market
Sentori has already been the apple of many provider's billing eye. One of their most recent partnerships was with Siemens AB. Through Siemens, Sentori will implement its customer management solution for Bankvert's SIR project, which has been constructed for all types of radio communication for railway operators, stations, and other vendors including voice, text, and data between mobile units as well as between mobile units and fixed wire-line networks.

Others partnering with Sentori are Clarent, Broadwing, Oracle, and Cisco Systems.

CUSTOMER VIGILANCE
Sentori believes that "people do business with people," and are therefore positioned to be watchful and alert to the needs of clients so that your customers will feel their needs are being met. By offering these very-easy-to-implement software solutions to service providers, Sentori can help you reap the returns on all the new value-added services now available.

Mike von Wahlde welcomes questions, comments, press releases, and news announcements at mvonwahlde@tmcnet.com.

[ Return To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]


Greg Galitzine

Alcatel's OmniPCX 4400: At Home At Work And At School

BY GREG GALITZINE


Even as more and more businesses are taking the plunge and deploying IP-PBXs, there is still some trepidation when it comes to making the choice to switch from circuit to packet. In an effort to make at least part of that decision a little bit easier, Alcatel has announced the Alcatel Convergence Starter Kit, a solution that they tout as providing medium to large enterprises the ability to trial voice/data convergence as they transition to a next-generation approach to telecommunications infrastructure. The Kit consists of one Alcatel OmniPCX 4400 IP-based PBX, one OmniStack 6024 stackable LAN, four IP phones, four digital phones, two in-building wireless phones, and all the associated software.

The Alcatel Convergence Starter Kit also enables some rather intriguing options, such as in-building wireless capabilities for mobile workers and soft-phone functionality for remote employees. The soft-phone functionality is designed to allow telecommuters and other remote workers to maintain a professional appearance by providing all the functionality that they would have if they were in an office location. These features can include dial by name, corporate directories, and unified messaging applications tying together an employee's e-mail, voice mail, and fax messages.

Currently available through Alcatel's North American channel partners (until December 2001), the Convergence Starter Kit is list priced at $19,995, which includes the hardware, software, and one-day installation.

Alcatel also recently announced that Jackson State University (JSU) has chosen the OmniPCX 4400 to provide VoIP services to the 1,200 faculty staff and 2,500 students on JSU's main campus and in three remote sites across Jackson, MS.

JSU jumped at the opportunity to consolidate its voice and data networks and to take advantage of applications it could deploy with an all-IP voice system and to better manage service and support issues with its limited IT staff.

The VoIP network at JSU is currently being deployed one building at a time. When the installation is complete, there will be a total of 3,700 Alcatel IP phones on the campus. JSU plans to eventually phase out its existing Centrex service. Besides a $90,000 monthly bill, JSU felt that it was too time-consuming to go through the service provider for simple requests such as moves, adds, and changes. "By deploying the Alcatel OmniPCX 4400, IT managers can easily manage the voice traffic on a converged network and even administer MAC for remote sites," said Dr. Willie Brown, vice president for information technology, Jackson State University.

Greg Galitzine welcomes questions and comments at ggalitzine@tmcnet.com.

[ Return To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]



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