Billing in a brave new world

Tony Poulos
09 Jun 2009

TM Forum\'s Management World conference was staged in Nice last month under the catch phrase, Strategies & Tactics for Tough Times. Tough times indeed, but the mood at the event could only be described as positive. Delegate numbers of 2,800 were only slightly down on last year\'s record turnout, despite travel bans and swine flu. For those who did make it, there was a veritable feast of information on all topics dear to telecom and media hearts. With four main tracks and over 200 presentations to choose from there was something for everyone.

The Revenue Management and Charging streams ran hot as service providers\' worldwide grapple with new products and revenue streams in the emerging FMC transformed world. Monetizing content and services is proving to be quite a challenge, but the smart operators are seeing this as key to avoiding become just a big fat pipe. Lively panel debates on the morals of flat rate vs usage charging generated some interesting scenarios, as did the concept of operators acting as the payment gateway for syndicated content.

The recent success of Apple\'s App-Store and the rash of \'me-toos\' is a worry to operators and they are looking to work with companies like Microsoft and RIM that have announced that they will work with them utilizing their billing capabilities and offering to host applications on the operators\' behalf.

But this is only part of the problem. The new virtual marketplace is placing increased pressure on service providers to be an active player, not just by providing the bandwidth and billing but by profiling customers so they can be easily identified (I dread to use the word targeted\') for push advertising and promotions, thus providing value to advertisers and media buyers that expect to work with demographic profiles for maximum returns. Keynote speaker, Ogilvy\'s Rory Sutherland, highlighted the mentality differences between telcos and advertisers as being poles apart, but not irreconcilable.

The T8 World Summit, held alongside Management World, is where senior executives from major communications, internet, cable and media industries meet to develop a vision on the key collaborative steps needed to unlock new markets and revenues. The summit this year also focused on how to further enable the digital economy to grow. The discussion ranged from next-generation communications networks; cloud computing to virtual billing, customer care, authentication, advertising and other enabling services. Made available as web services, these would leverage huge existing investment in secure data-centers, customer information management systems and billing capabilities that many players have, especially in telecom and could drive major new revenue streams.

The challenge is now whether billing departments can manage these new demands. The success of any venture will depend squarely on not only generating revenues but charging accurately, in real-time and the prompt collection of monies. If this is done well, operators may have inadvertently stumbled onto a new revenue stream as third-party billers for less competent players. If it is not done well, someone else may be only too happy to do it on an outsourced basis.

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