For telecom operators, fixed line services were the only source of generating revenue in the past. Since then, the industry has taken great strides, with operators developing various innovative services that have empowered 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 telecom operators to plunge into new services. Today, quality customer experience plays a big hand in generating revenues. In this customer-centric era, telecom operators are driven to promote timely personalized offers and deals at attractive price ranges to cater to customer needs.
With the rise of service offerings, operators are facing tremendous pressure on their billing platform. The need to enhance the capabilities of the BSS system has become as significant as improving network capacity from time to time.
Why should telecom operators upgrade their billing system?
Telecom operators have put billing systems on the front burner for driving initiative to capture revenue and reduce costs. What telecom operators need at this hour is a BSS system 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 the backseat with flexible and creative pricing emerging as a strategic differentiator for telecom operators. 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 promotes BSS systems with robust capabilities to support the ever-growing event data records.
The pricing models for prepaid and postpaid services pose another challenge for the telecom operators. 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 the pre-paid and post-paid billing services. Telecom 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 new services with the objective to gain 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 set of challenges. The litmus test comes when there is a need to create an agile and dynamic architecture aimed at sustaining the ever-growing and evolving telecom business to integrate into legacy infrastructure.
With increasing transactions day to day, the pressure on the 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 put too much pressure on the single billing and charging system due to which customer service can take a beating. This potential damage caused by immense pressure on the platform can also translate into revenue losses for the telecom operators.
With the right planning and modern architecture in place, such challenges can be mitigated and turned into opportunities.
Why make a move to customer-centric convergent billing system?
Today, customers are at the core of telecom operations making them the dominant partner in their relationship with telecom operators. The days of providing fixed line services and raising a single invoice for customers are at an end. Triggered by evolving consumer demands, more business partners have joined hands with telecom operators, like content providers and resellers 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 telecom operators to create a bundle of services and cater to the specific needs of customers.
What makes up for the ‘ultimate’ convergent billing system?
Telecom operators must look for the following salient features that make up for the ultimate 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 to customers, 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, telecom operators reached out to consumers through direct selling and later ramified their operations by joining hands with resellers. With business models evolving, convergent BSS systems must adapt to emerging business models embraced by telecom operators.
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 product/offer definitions as well as rating/changing scenario definitions. The ideal convergent billing system must ensure new services are implemented quickly and easily.
Allow new charging models to be added
Data service usage has reached a new high. For telecom operators, this translates to an increase in network capacity investments as well as maintenance rather than an increase in revenues. An ideal convergent 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 value they’re getting is 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 is 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.
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A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.