Timeless Interview with IT Director – mid Transformation

BillingViews talked to a senior IT Manager at a North American carrier.

He was in the middle of a major system conversion. The billing system had been built in-house many years previously and the reluctance to change was huge. But, as the business expanded and developed multiple services the flaws began to show. There was no single view of the customer and there were embedded ‘silos of thought’.

What were the critical success factors?

The impetus from the CEO who saw customers suffering, costs increasing and the agility of the business being impaired.

What was the most difficult thing about it?

Billing tends to be scattered across the business; with Marketing, Finance, IT and Customer Operations all having a piece. If you change or threaten to change something, they all want their voice – and they all want different things.

A conversion of this size is about communication. It is a bartering exercise with the business, it succeeds or fails through regular communication with the Board and the ability to leverage their authority.

The most difficult thing in a billing conversion – based on 25 years experience of doing this – is getting people off old ideas and selling the idea to the business. Technology is the easy part.

What makes you laugh about all this? Anything?

Yes, actually, two things. One – that after you break through the reluctance to change you get asked to take on every new conversion or upgrade that is going on in the company. At the moment I am doing the billing one, and now I am doing the new sales portal/self service installation, which includes the dealer platform which needs to be attached to the existing system, and then migrated, and of course the new IVR system as well – a several thousand seat call centre is being overhauled. And of course the Enterprise Data Warehouse is a key part of the single customer view so I get to do that as well.

That makes you laugh?

Well, yes because it is actually what you want when you set out on the journey. But it is generally a bit of an avalanche of work.

What are the most difficult deliverables?

Providing parity. Matching what you provide the business with today while providing a platform for what they need to do tomorrow.

What takes longer than expected?

Testing. We are into eight months of testing and we will have three releases during testing. This is not just heart surgery, it is heart surgery while sewing limbs back on.

What is the biggest misconception about big migration projects like this?

Perhaps not a misconception, but there is an embedded view that they take a long time, they will always take a long time and therefore they should always take a long time. In my view you should them do as quickly as possible and be brave about it. If you plan to take a long time and something starts going wrong the impetus drops and you risk having the thing stall. Go quick, be brutal, fix things afterwards.

You have some experience of mergers as well – what is the worst thing about them?

Apart from the uncertainty of who will stay and where you will end up, the worst thing is maintaining parity – making the impact on the customer the least that it can possibly be.

What would you never do again?

Never, ever, ever change the bill format while in the middle of a billing conversion. It is a nightmare. Changing bill formats is bad enough – everyone wants different things and their version. You do not need major change within major change – trust me.

Is that not a huge problem?

It is a problem but it means that you must manage the suppliers. If you do not manage the suppliers the suppliers will manage you. You will become a part of their release cycles and that is not what you need. Some years ago – when I learned this lesson the hard way – I took the whole project in-house. And the mess of spaghetti code that I inherited was horrible.

Is there an equation, a formula for how you see IT nowadays?

Absolutely, IT = the functionality that the business needs x the lowest cost possible – simple.

Should you use major system changes to change processes?

No you shouldn’t, but it is a great opportunity – so why not?

Common sense after all – many thanks for your time.


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Alex Leslie
About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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