For any communication provider (CP), a robust and effective billing platform is paramount to monitoring (and in some cases recouping) costs from suppliers while also managing the onward billing of customers. At Union Street we wholeheartedly believe that our award-winning aBILLity™ billing software and comprehensive support not only ensures that our CP clients have the support they need, but also empower them to streamline repetitive and laborious tasks.
Union Street’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Vincent Disneur, recently sat down with leading industry publication UC Today and spoke about the five tasks he believes an effective telecom billing software should be able to perform for a modern CP.
“Billing staff are a finite resource in a comms businesses, so they need to be able to spend their time as productively as possible. To this end, we think that the billing platform should be assisting the user as much as possible.”
What Does Union Street Have That Others Don’t?
UC Today were keen to find out if Union Street has something that sets it apart from their competitors before discussing the importance of automation features:
“When CPs are looking for a billing platform, there are lots of considerations that come into play. Security and accessibility of data will, for obvious reasons, be high up on the list. A platform’s aesthetics, reporting functionality, deployment options and integration potential are also, more often than not, factored into the decision-making process.”
Disneur continued, “There are many things that set our aBILLity™ billing platform apart from competitor products but, I believe that where aBILLity really excels, is in its revenue assurance functionality. It provides powerful features for revenue analysis that enables a CP to drill down and scrutinise revenue streams to find out what’s working, what’s not and where they might be losing money.”
1. Automatic Download/Import of CDRs
When it came to the five crucial automated features that a billing platform should have, the first thing Disneur cited was an automatic download and import process for call data records (CDR). These are the records created each time a call, text message or other type of transaction crosses over a communications network. The idea behind this concept is that CPs are receiving CDR files from their suppliers at varying intervals.
Disneur explained, “Thanks to advances in technology, CDRs are made available much more frequently than they once were. Most suppliers will now make new CDRs available every couple of hours, sometimes more. aBILLity’s AutoDownload software connects to a supplier’s server and investigates for new CDRs, downloading, importing and rating any that it finds as soon as they’re available.”
This function transforms what can be an irregular, manual process into a reliable automated routine. There are a lot of providers and networks that today’s resellers need to get their data from, and Union Street is trying to make sure that everything works together seamlessly.
2. Fraud Detection and Alerting
Telecom fraud will always be an important topic in the telecom billing industry. It is, however, becoming increasingly prevalent in recent years as the number of people suffering from cyber-attacks and other issues has risen.
These events are “not something that’s going away”, said Disneur before explaining how automation in a billing platform can enable CPs to react proactively to fraud events. “As CDR files are imported, a good billing platform should be able to identify unusual activity in a customer account and notify billing staff accordingly. They can then contact the customer who in turn can take steps to stop fraud in its tracks before it becomes any costlier. What customer wouldn’t be grateful in such circumstances?
“For CPs dealing with business customers, ‘unusual activity’ could look quite different from one company to the next. For example, it won’t be unusual for a shipping company to make numerous calls abroad but, in a school, the same activity should have alarm bells ringing. A one size all approach clearly won’t work so the billing system has to be intelligent enough to apply different criteria to different customer accounts.”
Union Street also works alongside the Telecoms UK Fraud Forum to publish known fraud numbers, the same blacklist is also updated in aBILLity. So, if it detects that any calls are made to one of these numbers, the billing team will be informed immediately.
3. Service Charge Reconciliation
The third area where the billing platform is well placed to add benefit through automaton, is service charge reconciliation. Disneur explained, “Any CP looking to optimise profitability, will need to check continuously that everything they’re being charged for by suppliers is being marked up and onward billed to customers. They also need to make sure that those charges are correct – and that they’re only paying for what they should be paying for.
“Verifying then cross-checking incoming and outgoing expenses in this way can be a very labour intense and error prone process if conducted manually, particularly with the call volumes a typical CP will be processing. This is why Union Street has developed a reconciliation tool within its aBILLity system that automates much of this process. It automatically checks for any mismatches and, if any are found, it allows the user to drill down in minute detail to investigate the discrepancy. This helps to ensure you’re never overcharged by suppliers or undercharging your customers.”
4. Provisioning and Fulfillment
Union Street believes that the billing platform can also increase efficiency in provisioning and fulfilment operations through integration with those systems, Disneur explained, “When a CP succeeds in winning a new account or in uplifting an existing customer with a new service, they must ensure that the billing platform is updated accordingly. The last thing they want to do is provision that service but forget to add a charge for it. If this goes unnoticed then a lot of money can be lost over time.
“Requiring staff to duplicate data from your provisioning software and/or CRM into the billing platform is never efficient or reliable so, as a bare minimum, integrating billing and provisioning systems is essential to ensuring nothing is missed.”
Union Street goes further in this regard, having made its provisioning software an integral part of its billing system. Disneur commented, “A lot of our competitors in the billing space offer compatibility with third party provisioning software, which often means that the system can’t read information from the billing platform or write information to it. However, because ours is a single pane of glass solution with one database and pricing matrix, when an order completes, pricing information and any one-off charges can be pushed through to the billing side automatically.”
5. Exporting of CDRs
One thing Union Street has observed, is that an increasing number of CPs are making the transition into service providers (SPs, or wholesalers as they are also known) and bulk buying communications services and reselling them through a reseller partner network. During his conversation with UC Today, Disneur had spoken about CPs needing to continuously collect CDR files from their suppliers. Importing CDRs is just as important for SPs but, of equal importance, is the capability to then export CDRs onwards to reseller partners.
“If you’re a supplier, your CP customers are going to come to you and ask how you will supply the CDR files they need and how regularly these will be made available. Once again, this is a relatively straightforward process but also one that is quite repetitive, time consuming and prone to error. The billing platform should really do this for you. In our aBILLity platform, we can configure the system to do this on any time frame that your CP partner wants. Our export routines support calls and service charge files too.”
Why is Automated Billing So Important?
Automation is now a hot topic for many communication companies in the modern day digital world. Automated billing services, like our own aBILLity billing platform, help to save time, reduce errors and increase productivity, helping CPs to achieve more consistent results. Disneur concluded, “With automation, you can make sure that your billing staff is enjoying their job more and making the most out of their time.”