Online charging on the rise

It’s official – billing is not quite dead, yet! That’s the consensus of panelists and observers at the much-anticipated ‘Killing of Billing’ debate at TM Forum’s recent Management World event in Dublin.

A capacity audience heard panelists John Aalbers, CEO of Volubill; Louis Hall, CEO of Cerillion and Lucas Skoczkowski, CEO of Redknee argue the merits of billing against the combined onslaught of online charging systems (OCS) and policy management systems. This author had the audacity to imply that billing systems were threatened to be superseded by the needs of real-time charging which, combined with modern policy management systems, could achieve much the same results by sending rated records to any old debtor’s ledger for the purposes of presentment.

After all, OCS have becoming quite sophisticated and are able to do most things a fully blown post-paid legacy system is required to do such as complex account structures, discounting, bill output, etc. When teamed with policy management systems, basically the only thing required is a repository for the transactions, and that could be handled by almost any normal debtors ledger linked to a General Ledger. So, instead of trying to converge pre-and post-paid billing systems, I threw up the idea that we might dispense with costly, legacy billing systems altogether and use OCS, Policy Management and a debtors ledger/printing tool for all rating, charging and billing.

I can now report that my grand idea was not universally accepted and that post-paid billing, as we know it, is still required mainly for enterprise and corporate accounts and is an accounting requirement in many countries. It appears the levels of complexity we have managed to achieve over the last hundred years are still with us and not likely to disappear any time soon.

When you look at the new wave of ‘impossible to understand’ capped plans for data usage, which require a mathematics degree to fathom, you can see why we will need billing systems to translate everything back into plain language so customers don’t call customer service centers for explanations.

What was universally agreed, however, was that OCS is a necessary tool to comply with growing regulatory pressures of managing customer balances in real time and helping to avoid bill shock in all its forms. Policy management systems are becoming more sophisticated as well and are no longer limited to network functions and as repositories for all sorts of rules. Today they assist operators to dynamically and intelligently control, in real-time, what, when, where and how subscribers can access network resources and allocate network resources – bandwidth traffic priorities, volume, etc. accordingly.

They play an integral and ever-increasing role in today’s converged OSS/BSS world, but their purpose, combined with charging mechanisms, cannot be taken as a replacement for a modern converged billing platform – at least not just yet!