By Howard Woolf, president, converged billing group, Comverse
Consumers nowadays want more content, more personalization and more control. Quite simply, consumers desire any service, over any network, in any location and via any payment type. This means communication services should be able to match the spontaneity of their own lives and their multi-faceted lifestyles.
These desires are driving new service offerings that all require convergence: network convergence or the combination of fixed, mobile and IP-based services; payment convergence or combining the existing methods of prepaid and postpaid into one; and customer convergence or the combination of business, family and personal communication needs.
Operators who capture this moment of opportunity will reap the rewards with increased competitive differentiation, increased revenue and increased customer loyalty. However, most existing legacy billing and customer care systems are not equipped to cope with the challenges these new services will create. A truly converged system is necessary, one designed with the customer at the center and with full real-time capabilities.
Consumers now require more from their service providers than ever before, what with voice, video and data coming together. There is also no longer that much discrimination between payment methods, whether prepaid or postpaid. What consumers really want, in essence, is more real-time convenience, choice and control over every aspect of their communications lifecycle.
In this instantaneous world, operators need to have real-time access to all information about a particular customer. They need to anticipate and react to the consumers' basic desires. This knowledge will enable them to deliver personalized incentives and promotions.
Also, a real-time view of customer data enables operators to support real-time credit control and balance management, helping them control risk.
With real-time control, services can be managed and offered to the consumer in a targeted manner. This one-to-one marketing allows the delivery of more personalized incentives based on a consumer's own interests or usage habits, allowing the operator to stimulate more excitement for key products and create more familiarity with each individual subscriber.
By centrally managing multiple content services such as ring tones and videos, operators can package, price, market and deliver truly exciting and differentiated offerings. This increases market agility, enabling operators to react to and anticipate trends at a faster pace, maintaining leadership within a competitive marketplace.
Financial management for the converged lifestyle
The billing system functionality required to meet the demands of convergence go beyond offering just a combination of payment methods. The real-time nature of the platform opens up a financial management aspect for consumers and enterprises that can help them leverage their budgets and spend; and can increase their loyalty to their provider.
A truly convergent system should enable multiple personal profiles: one account containing separate business and personal profiles, or a family account with various family member profiles.
For example, a converged system will allow employees to make calls to the office on the company's bill but evening calls on their own prepaid balance. This capability is particularly important within the emerging markets where mobile handsets are a valuable commodity and also for business professionals who are often weighed down with both a business and personal mobile device.
Another example is to allow a family head to allocate credit levels to other members of the family to avoid excess expenditure. Personalized and real-time notifications can help keep end-users informed and help drive usage.
With converged billing for family accounts, both prepaid credit and postpaid balances can be on one combined account. Customers can select how they pay, with the flexibility to top-up accounts or transfer balances as and when increased communications needs are required. This real-time credit control also provides security from sudden excessive unauthorized use.
The convergent future
Operators are embracing the new converged world to gain the greatest strategic advantage - and potential profit from emerging lifestyles.
To make the most of this new world, operators need a truly converged infrastructure that will allow them to manage their customer base consistently and in real time.
This infrastructure should support market agility - quickly launch new products and promotions; implement real-time one-to-one marketing; offer more personalized incentives, and use innovative marketing tools to attract, stimulate and create a degree of subscriber dependency to encourage loyalty.
Operational costs should also be reduced, so the truly converged billing system must be efficient.
Industry analysts agree that communication providers will look to converged solutions when assessing new systems for their OSS and BSS over the next years.
Informa predicts that by 2009 the demand for convergent systems will represent more than 90% of all new billing and customer-care systems deployed.
Convergent billing solutions, by combining the strength of both the traditional prepaid and postpaid payment methods with real-time immediacy, can unlock the profitability potential of the new convergent world of communication.