In a world where convergence is king, long-neglected back-office functions are coming to the fore, being recognized as critical business enablers.
For example, billing is certainly no longer an ugly duckling as businesses now recognize its strategic importance, both because it provides the revenue and it can deliver competitive advantage in customer service and satisfaction.
Convergence is the single-biggest driver in this transformation. Offering services such as mobile TV, quad play, interactive gaming and Web 2.0-style social networking increases the pressure on billing, customer care and other back-office functions. Billing systems should be able to charge for any type of service and in a way that is acceptable and understandable to the customer.
Traditionally, service providers have tended to set up dedicated systems for each new service: subscriber and service data have been held in disparate, closed systems.
This "Ëœsilo' approach is no longer viable as differentiating triple- or quad-play services demands the ability to bundle services and offer cross-service discounts.
Already, there is a trend for operators to move to convergent billing and charging systems capable of handling this increasing complexity.
The pressure is on
Billing and other back-office systems must be flexible. Operators should be able to apply discounts across products and services to provide incentives to subscribers and reward particular usage patterns.
The system must also accommodate different pricing and billing structures - flat rates, pay per view and subscription services, and any mix of these - often involving the same customers. Individual customers may well pay for different features in different ways, choosing post-pay or pre-pay options. Real-time charging will be critical in managing this, minimizing risk and ensuring that usage is billed correctly.
As operators offer a greater range of third-party services, their debt exposure also increases. Subscribers should be warned in advance when their credit is running low, and access to services barred as soon as credit runs out, rather than allowing an unsupported debt to build up.
Real-time capabilities are also vital in other areas, such as authorizing services as part of the service delivery process, handling online transactions and settling payments.