No one can deny that a billing platform is essential to any CP’s business. Yet despite its obvious importance, many resellers don’t often look beyond the most cursory details such as price and basic functionality when selecting a billing platform.
There are several billing platforms on the market and on the surface of it, all billing platforms will ostensibly do similar things. It would, however, be a mistake to believe that all billing platforms are created equal. Some address all requirements, some only support part of the process. Some will be able to process billing data in a matter of hours whereas others can take days.
So what should call providers be looking for? This article is intended to provide a general introduction to the key factors that should be considered when selecting a billing platform.
Choosing A Billing Platform
Pricing will be a crucial factor for any CP evaluating the billing market. Pricing structures can vary greatly from one billing platform to the next which obviously makes life difficult for CPs trying to compare value for money in the various platforms on the market. It is important to look beyond price and aim to consider the total cost of ownership. The cheapest billing platform isn’t often the most cost effective, especially if it is slow to process call data records, inefficient to use and requires a high level of supervision to ensure accuracy. In short; don’t simply look at the financial cost, consider what your billing platform could cost you in time.
Scalability is perhaps one of the most important yet most overlooked features when choosing a billing platform. Most platforms will comfortably generate an invoice on day one, but will they be able to effectively manage your company’s billing process five years from now?
If for example, you’re starting a business from scratch then you may want to keep hardware and staff costs down by selecting a hosted bureau option, but as time goes on and your business and customer base grows it will likely become more cost effective to bring this process in house. Future-proofing your business by choosing a platform that caters to both these requirements and that can be scaled effortlessly without any dislocation is, therefore, a must and will help to avoid the inevitable cost and disruption associated with switching billing platforms later down the line.
Finding out whether or not the billing platform can integrate with other back office solutions should be another key consideration. In addition to a billing platform, most CPs will also need accounting, WLR3 and customer relationship management (CRM) software such as Sage Accounts and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. A billing platform that can seamlessly integrate and provide full bidirectional data exchange with these applications can offer numerous productivity benefits, in effect creating a single point for data entry, reducing errors by updating and synchronising data across all applications, and reducing the workload of administrative staff.
A comprehensive range of revenue assurance tools is also an essential element in any billing platform. Constantly checking that everything is correctly billed at the right tariffs so that revenue is not lost and customers are not overcharged can greatly improve profits whilst reducing disputes and base churn. The largest telco carriers have teams of people working on revenue assurance, double checking everything that is billed. They do this because it pays off.
A billing system that can help guard against fraud is equally important. With fraud becoming an increasing problem CPs would be wise to find a billing platform that can automatically detect and close down a fraud event before it becomes even more costly. The LineGuard module in Union Street’s aBILLity billing platform can, for example, analyse CDRs and detect unusual calling patterns and charge rates in a customer’s account. Once detected, LineGuard can automatically use aBILLity’s WLR3 interface to put a bar on further calling to the suspect numbers, ending the fraud event as quickly as possible and greatly reducing the cost of fraud.
CPs should also take the time to research not just the product, but also the company behind the product. Take the time to credit check your billing provider to ensure financial stability, you wouldn’t want to entrust your billing to a company that’s not going to be around for the long haul. Are they independent or are they owned or linked to a company that sells services that compete with your own? You need to be totally satisfied that there’s no potential for a conflict of interest to arise. Can they demonstrate case studies or other evidence of a satisfied customer base? What can they offer you in terms of support and service level agreements (SLAs)? Will they make the effort to understand your business and processes and then commit the time and resources to ensure a smooth implementation? Can they provide your staff with comprehensive training and consultancy on their software? If so to what extent, and have their trainers worked in the industry long enough to appreciate the specific challenges facing your business?
It’s also important to enquire about the skills and size of the development team behind the billing platform. Will they be able to cope with the pace of change in the telecoms industry or could the product become outdated – and consequently limit your ability to move with new industry trends – if adequate resources aren’t being channelled into development.
At the end of the day, only you can decide which billing platform is right for your business, but all these questions and considerations should be raised at the tender stage. Ultimately you need to be satisfied that whichever billing platform you choose can be with you all the way.
Authored by Gareth Pritchard, Marketing Manager for Union Street