Billing: The undead

Tony Poulos/TM Forum
16 Jan 2013

As featured on TM Forum's Inside Revenue Management newsletter

I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories but I'm beginning to wonder if those people working in the bowels of CSP operations, in billing and charging to be exact, have not formed their own secret society. That's presuming that they have not become totally automated and that people are even still involved with these activities.

I say this because the billing community used to be a massive, yet extremely close-knit group that came together at one of the many billing-specific conferences held in exotic locations around the globe each year including Rome, Paris, London, Madrid, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Istanbul, Cannes and Washington (well almost all exotic). It was not unusual to have 1,000 people at one of these star-studded events!

There was even an official band, "Bill Shock and the Paradigm Shift," made up of real billing people with real musical talent, that played everything from rock to ballads. We had vendor sponsored parties atop the Eiffel Tower, dinner cruises down the Thames and the Seine and awards nights at London's Zoo, Madame Tussaud's and the Natural History Museum among the dinosaurs. At one event, none other than Joan Collins was on hand to hand out the trophies for the best billing implementation, best billing product, best billing personality, etc. and the lucky door prize, which I gleefully accepted. Ah, those were the heady days of billing.

Of course, I'm using the term billing here in a much broader context. Billing was the center of the BSS universe back then. Mediation, payments, collections, revenue assurance and customer care all revolved around billing, the last because 90% of call center calls were billing based! We have since lumped all these things, and then some, under the mantle of revenue management, and more recently, a move towards the term business assurance.

Call me old school but I still like the term billing. I suspect it has always been viewed by senior management as an area involving the dark arts. They knew it was there and they knew it was critical to the survival of their business but it was better left alone, not to be disturbed by those 'upstairs' just in case they were forced to have a conversation involving convergence, adjunct, real-time charging, etc. Billing departments were part of finance and you didn't mess with them. Just leave them be, knowing that every month bills would go out on time and money would come in.

As a result, there was little challenge to letting billing people out once in a while to attend billing conferences and get some sunshine under the guise of finding out what was new in billing practices. Little did they know that they turned into party animals when let loose! But they also discovered that billing was changing and that, with the introduction of converged billing and pre-paid systems, they would be changed forever. All those new products and services marketing was coming up with would also need new and very expensive platforms to be billed from.

Today, it seems that billing departments don't exist as standalone units; they are part of a much broader revenue team that now includes those rebel OSS people that used to manage pre-paid platforms independent of post-paid (sacrilege). Now, thanks primarily to wayward data usage and forced regulation, we need everything charged in real-time. What's happened to billing?

Billing-specific events have gone, but does the spirit of billing live on? Does the same camaraderie still exist out there? 35,000 people receive this newsletter each month (it used to be called Inside Billing) so I am presuming many of them are diehard billing people. Some are active in our online communities, but the majority has fallen silent. Rise up, get vocal! Would you like to see billing back on the main agenda, maybe even with a specific event or summit, or should we just arrange a series of billing reunions to see who is still alive and talk about our grandchildren?

Maybe our catch cry should be 'Bring Back Billing' or 'Billing is Not Dead.'

Perhaps we should take a page out of the boring business intelligence and data warehousing book and call our science 'BIG Billing' encompassing everything to do with the money end of the business. Rise up you billers, I'm open to any suggestions.

Tony Poulos is a market strategist at TM Forum

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