Telecom operators, in the past, relied solely on fixed-line services for generating revenue. The industry has since taken great strides. Operators have developed various innovative services that empower customers to look beyond voice and SMS and explore streaming video, maps, music, and many more data applications. The opportunities created for customers have enabled operators to plunge into new services.
Today, quality customer experience plays a major role in generating revenue. In this customer-centric era, operators are driven to promote timely personalized offers and deals at attractive price ranges.
With the rise of service offerings, operators face tremendous pressure on their billing platform. The need to enhance the capabilities of the BSS stack has become as significant as improving network capacity from time to time.
Why should telecom operators upgrade their billing systems?
Telecom operators have put billing systems on the front burner for driving the initiative to capture revenue and reduce costs. What telecom operators need now is a BSS stack that can fulfill the evolving needs of customers.
There are many communication product opportunities resulting in a complex blend of mobile and fixed offerings apart from applications, entertainment, and value-added services. This has only complicated the billing process. Flat-rate pricing has taken a backseat, with flexible and creative pricing emerging as a strategic differentiator. The increasing price complexity has in turn driven operators to augment BSS systems with more capabilities for handling billing and charging complexities.
Even though there is a great demand for mobile data services, operators fail to earn good revenues from these services. New charging models not only make it a requisite to redefine rating rules, but also demand a BSS stack with robust capabilities to support the ever-growing event data records.
The pricing models for prepaid and postpaid services pose another challenge. With different systems driving the rating and charging of these services, operators realize the need for a convergent platform to conquer the expensive and complicated process. Take pre-paid and post-paid billing for instance: there are two different systems driving these services. Operators face challenges while using different systems for different network services and also when legacy systems do not support the launch of new charging models.
There is also the dire need to hasten time-to-market when it comes to launching new services and gaining competitive advantage. These challenges entail a convergent billing platform that lays the foundation for improved customer experience, faster reaction to market changes and reduction in operating costs.
Are there any challenges?
Though convergent billing systems provide answers by turning a single invoice to a combination of customer charges, implementing this system comes with its own challenges. The litmus test is when there’s a need to create an agile and dynamic architecture to sustain the ever-growing and evolving telecom business to integrate into legacy infrastructure.
With increasing transactions, the pressure on a single platform could pave the way for problems. If there is a single point of failure it could cause a delay in charging a customer or disallow customers from using such services. A spike in transactions could also place too much pressure on a single billing and charging system due to which customer service would take a beating. This potential damage can also translate into revenue losses.
With the right planning and modern architecture in place, such challenges can be mitigated and turned into opportunities.
Why make a move to a customer-centric convergent billing system?
Today, customers are at the core of telecom operations, making them the dominant partner in the relationship. The days of providing fixed-line services and raising a single invoice are at an end. Triggered by evolving demands, more business partners, like content providers and resellers, have joined hands with operators to generate one bill for multiple services. Customers subscribing to services also see it as a way to procure additional content.
In this scenario, a convergent billing system must adopt a customer-centric approach by allowing operators to create convergent offers and promote personalized services. The system must allow operators to create a bundle of services and cater to the specific needs of customers.
What is the ‘ultimate’ convergent billing system?
Operators must look for the following salient features in a convergent billing system:
Real-time charging is key to any prepaid/postpaid convergent system, as it’s necessary to enforce not only prepaid plans but also any intelligent postpaid plan, with dynamic rates or caps. The ideal convergent billing system is the one that allows consumers to keep a tab on their usage. By sending real-time alerts, the system not only alerts customers about their usage limits but also recommends better plans. In short, robust convergent billing systems ensure consumers take control over end-to-end real-time services.
Integration with other systems
The real worth of the convergent billing system is evident when it is integrated with legacy systems. This can be achieved by leveraging open interfaces and Service-Oriented Architectures that help reduce the complexities resulting from the integration. Also, the key to ensuring integration success is a vendor with a strong history of successfully integrating with a wide range of systems.
Support for an array of business models
Business models evolve with time. In the past, telecom operators billed business customers and expanded their services to cover individual customers. Initially, operators reached out to consumers through direct selling and later ramified their operations by joining hands with resellers. With business models evolving, convergent BSS stacks must adapt to emerging business models.
Existing billing systems fail to support modern products while time becomes a constraint in configuring individual products. The systems also lack the ability to promote the product and offer definitions as well as rating and changing scenario definitions. The ideal convergent billing system must ensure new services are implemented quickly and easily.
Allows new charging models to be added
Data service usage has reached a new high. This translates to an increase in network capacity investments as well as maintenance rather than an increase in revenues. The billing system must make it easy for telecom operators to personalize tariffs and services to customers, distinguish service types, and add new charging models.
Allow convergence on many levels
Multi-level convergence allows providers to invoice customers in a way that makes sense to them. Multiple services, pre- and post-paid, can all be invoiced to a single account, or divided into sub-accounts. This eases confusion on behalf of the customer: the services they’re receiving and the value they’re getting are clear, on the page, and all interactions with the company reflect this shared balance and account.
Robust and scalable system
Reliable service delivery is the key to ensuring customer satisfaction. A modern convergent billing system must be robust and scalable to recover resiliently when a problem arises, without creating a dent in service revenues. In order to respond to market shifts quickly with a rapid expansion of service offerings, the system must be capable of handling a breadth of transactions and ensure the security of system and data.
Like the emphasis on customer service driving changes in the telecom industry, changes in customer data toward convergent and personalized offers are creating a paradigm shift in the way customers are billed. From leveraging the promise of data to cutting costs and generating revenue, convergent billing and charging systems have become requisites for telecom operators to thrive in the market as it exists today, as well as how it will evolve into the future.