Large international operators face many challenges and billing is a major one. In a broad ranging industry survey (registration is needed but worth it), Telecoms.com highlights a range of opinions from a panel of 1,931 readers, of whom 600 work for 260 individual opcos. The questions they pose around Billing are whether operators feel that there are benefits in centralizing and/or standardizing BSS.
They are, of course, very different questions. 67.9 percent of the group believed that standardising BSS across the international footprint would be beneficial, while just 35.1 percent believe that centralizing it would be a good thing. In a wonderfully honest moment, only a third of respondents thought centralization was achievable, leaving over 40 percent believing it would be difficult or impossible (two percent). Not surprisingly, the biggest barrier to these changes are internal politics or culture. In other words, the good old fashioned turf wars are still being waged.
My take on these two issues is that I would standardize on one system but I would not centralize. It is probably not possible to consolidate operations down to one system. Your auditors will probably frown and mutter about fail-safes. In reality, the budget and will do get to one will disappear as you get to three or four systems and the cost reductions and cash flow improvements become incremental not incredible. Having the same system has obvious benefits in how efficiently you run the business, in training, maintenance, licenses and care. However, dictating to regional shops how they can support local marketing efforts – which is what you are doing if you centralize – will stifle innovation and competitiveness. To Andy Tiller, Marketing chief at AsiaInfo Linkage, sponsors of the Billing section, the findings chime with his own experience and adds that “they [regional opcos] say that they’re the experts and they need to maintain independence from the group.”
The best strategy, if it can be achieved, is to standardize on one system and then use different instances of that system across the group and across different lines of business. Not only will this achieve the efficiencies and cost savings, but it has other benefits that are becoming more important to how operators engage OTT players. In a standardized environment, finding, extracting, analyzing and using data is much, much easier. On standardized systems, regional operations will be able to take advantage of a ‘layered’ (international, regional and national) approach to leveraging that data.
So, how do you get over the internal politics? With difficulty is the answer, and clinically is the only real solution. First, as Billing Chief, you must behave like a ‘Mini Managing Director/President’ and your first job must be to get a sponsor at the most senior level of the organization – someone who understands that billing is a strategic asset. Then, with that authority behind you, you must be as clinical as possible in the choice of system. A clear, simple and business orientated cost/benefit analysis will give you the answers you need, as long as the process is not stopped or de-railed by politics – as many are.
One solution that 65 per cent of respondents agree upon is that ‘The Cloud’ might provide the ultimate answer. For this to work, an ultra secure multi tenancy implementation would be needed. This would allow many virtualized instances with many clients running on it. Each partition would be controlled by the individual opco and would have to include redundancy, fail over, fault tolerance, high availability, very intelligent virtualization, and of course be extremely secure. On paper (or Powerpoint) this looks like the perfect solution but time will tell whether the old barriers of people and politics – and data migration – will allow it to happen.