Good Billing Means Good Content
By John Alderman, Thu Mar 18 15:15:00 GMT 2004

At the Asia Pacific Billing for Telecoms Summit in Bangkok the raging issue of the day was an old one: how to build something new without trashing what you’ve already got?

If money makes the world go round, more efficiently designing the engines of its collection adds the fuel to take mobile into new areas.

Geoffrey Yuen, vice president of emerging technologies for PCCW, said that old billing systems were “like a dinosaur that will always be around.” The challenge is making a soft place for that dinosaur to live in peace, while isolating business relevant systems for further growth.

Billing is also important to get right as an user experience, because it’s the customer-facing part of revenue creation, suggested Vodafone's Saiful Alam. That makes it an important opportunity to build a brand, at one of the few points a telecom company gets to interact directly with users. Make it special, or at least friendly, and the relationship is deepened; blow it and a chance is lost forever.

Of course, all players seem thrilled as 3G takes off, offering a possible trove of new services and profits. But they nervously note that users seem much more willing to try untested features if they can pay in advance and control their expense. Tie this with observations that prepaid customers are a prime growth area, and it’s easy to see the need for real-time systems to remove the billing lag. (The window between the use of a service and payment is responsible for much lost revenue, as, for instance, customers continue to send messages well after their money has run out.)

What really makes these billing people lose sleep is “leakage” of untapped revenue as services are used but somehow escape billing systems, whether through oversight or fraud. Revenue assurance was the one subject that seemed to raise temperatures when it was brought up, and with estimates of loss in the billions of dollars, one can easily see why, especially as pre-paid customers assume a more respected position (except, I recently saw, in Japan).

Because I’m usually on the side of what’s labeled “content creation” it was fascinating to hear many attendees express the belief that their side of the business is responsible for enabling new content to develop. Hubris? Not when viewed from their perspective. Just as in a magazine more ads allow space for more ideas, with a framework in place that lets new ideas generate income without rethinking revenue tools, creativity can more easily flower.