Dramatic change in the telecoms industry is redefining the sector's approach to process control, margin management and billing and rate changes. To keep pace with these developments and commercial pressures, providers need a state of the art wholesale billing system. Undoubtedly next-generation wholesale billing software can offer better controlled and more efficient processes, allowing users to add value to their organization and achieve not only sustainable performance but demonstrate strong governance as well.
We identify ten key issues operators need to consider when investing in next-generation billing solutions.
Flexible billing architecture
As the market becomes increasingly dynamic, operators need to support a range of billing and settlement models in a single integrated platform, from simple voice and data traffic using international route-based tariffs, to new IP-based traffic and complex revenue sharing agreements involving multimedia, content and commerce partners. There is an increasing trend for multi-party settlement to be supported where a single event record can be used as the basis for revenue settlement with any number of partners, as well as the need for real-time, web-based partner access. In short, the wholesale billing system needs to be highly adaptable and support any type of settlement model.
Billing for new revenue streams
To exploit the opportunities presented by content-driven business models, wholesale billing systems must be able to provide full support for processing data and varied content in addition to traditional voice traffic, for a variety of different scenarios. This requires the ability to account for non-usage events such as leased lines and facility rentals, as well as one-off charges for IP peering agreements. To tap into new revenue streams, operators need to deploy sophisticated cross-product and cross-partner discounting schemes, a crucial first step in developing intricate business to business content settlement agreements.
Rapid time to market
Systems that can improve an operator's time to market for new and more complex business scenarios are essential. The sooner a new service scenario can be supported the better, so that marketing departments can create and launch new products faster than their competitors. A billing solution should be able to manage financial, call count, usage, tiered and threshold discounts as well as penalty rates. Once these triggers have been activated, the system should allow for certain types of traffic to be cross-discounted. Operators also require volume based settlement capabilities to negotiate or offer flexible agreements and defined rates based on traffic volumes.
Billing on time
High on the agenda for most operators is the need to increase productivity, eliminate delays in revenue recognition and improve cash flow. One area in which they can achieve this is by removing repetitive administration processes associated with generating interconnect statements and invoices - making them more accurate, controlled and auditable. Invoice production can be streamlined by enabling the segregation of the billing period into revenue and expense elements so that revenue can be closed off and invoiced immediately without having to wait for outstanding rating information to be in place before the billing period can be closed. In addition, users need a flexible user interface that allows them to aggregate and filter invoice information and generate generic or operator specific invoice formats, as well as automate multiple levels of tax calculations, exchange rate conversion, payment tracking and supplementary invoice generation.
Advanced carrier-grade rating
Operators must be able to settle invoices quickly and reconcile them accurately. To achieve this, they need a carrier-grade rating engine capable of handling a high number of EDRs per agreement, which can be a huge drain on existing legacy systems. In today's climate, millions of EDRs must be analyzed in a short period of time by a series of criteria. The introduction of content settlement has complicated matters further. Operators need to include time, event, message type and message size when calculating an EDR. By deploying an accurate carrier-grade rating solution, operators are looking to speed up the issuing of interconnect invoices, perform regular re-pricing against new partner offers, and obtain valuable business intelligence.
Synchronizing billing and traffic routing
Interconnect operations have always been interested in finding new ways of trading traffic profitably and routing it optimally. It is one thing for operators to monitor traffic and optimize network performance, but quite another to rate traffic based on an actual route. If providers fail to step up to the challenge they are likely to pay more for traffic services or lose revenue. It is, therefore, essential for operators to synchronize traffic trading and interconnect management to accurately reflect routing decisions and rates in the billing system. This also has a positive impact on partner relations - operators are able to reconcile and manage interconnect agreements more efficiently.
Accurate margin analysis
Key to improving margins for interconnect business is accurate and effective margin analysis. This involves correlating and importing billing information from multiple sources, and ensuring that all cost and revenue call data are tracked to enable full margin analysis. A broad range of sophisticated reporting functions is needed to enable accurate decisions to be made on up-to-date trusted information; the data is also needed to extract and make sense of the most popular entities, including billing and settlement reports, line details and EDR.
Operators are naturally keen to get the most out of their partnerships and agreements. To improve relationships with partners they can offer real-time, web-based partner access to their system securely over the internet, enabling partners to query financial balances, agreements and set-up information. It is increasingly important for partners and operators to have a single point of contact for the efficient management of new partner relationships and the introduction of new revenue-generating business models.
Low cost of ownership
The latest software applications use a range of techniques to lower the cost of IT ownership, including advanced data management, change management and compression features to reduce storage costs. Operators also often want to deploy additional rating engines running on low-cost commodity hardware to achieve a readily scalable rating solution. Furthermore, applications must support enhanced productivity by speeding up the loading of data and management of agreement details. This work can typically be done by integrated bulk loaders as server-based components on powerful multi-CPU servers where data can be imported, tracked and controlled through a common set of validation components.
A more complex value chain
One thing is certain; the telecoms value chain is becoming more complex and securing new revenue streams, while managing existing voice business, requires operators to become smarter and leaner. Increasingly, customers are demanding pre-integrated, multi-product solutions that enable them to rapidly and cost-effectively solve key wholesale business challenges. This means broadening their interconnect system architecture and creating a wholesale 'eco-system' to provide a more comprehensive set of functions.
Norm Halvorson is Intec's VP for Asia Pacific