Telecoms & ICT Billing Series: 5 Things Billing Should Be Doing for YOU
We speak to Union Street Technologies about automation and billing software
Union Street is one of the leading providers of provisioning, customer management, and billing solutions in the UK right now. For any communications provider (CP), an effective billing platform is crucial to monitoring (and in some cases recouping) costs from suppliers whilst managing the onward billing of customers. Union Street believes that its award-winning software and comprehensive support wrap not only ensure that today’s CPs have the support they need, but also empower them to streamline repetitive and time-consuming tasks.
I had the opportunity to speak to Vincent Disneur from Union Street, about the five tasks they believe a good billing software should be able to perform for a modern CP. As Disneur told me, “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 Everyone Else Doesn’t?
In a competitive market like the one for billing solutions, I was keen to find out if Union Street has something that sets it apart from the crowd before we began discussing the importance of automation features. According to Disneur:
“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.
“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.”
In regard to the automation side of things, Disneur noted that aBILLity’s built in Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) solution for provisioning lines with Openreach provides some unique benefits.
“aBILLity’s WLR3 module delivers a seamless, single-pane-of-glass solution for managing the billing and provisioning process.”
1. Automatic Download/ Import of CDRs
When it came to the five key automated features that a billing platform should have, the first thing Disneur cited was an “Automatic download and import” routine for call data records (CDRs). 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: “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 transforms what can be an irregular and very manual process into a reliable automated routine. Not only does this free up time for billing staff, it can also lead to other benefits.
“By automating this process, billing managers can deal with exceptions – calls that can’t be rated for some reason – in almost real time. It also helps to detect fraud, even when no-one is in the office, because it’s constantly downloading and rating CDRs.”
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 effectively.
2. Fraud Detection and Alerting
Fraud will always be an important topic in the communications world. However, it’s become increasingly significant in recent years as the number of people suffering from cyber attacks and other issues has risen. “Dial-through-fraud, along with other types of comms-related fraud, continues to be a big challenge for the industry. How big is difficult to quantify as many businesses won’t publicly state that they’ve been a victim of fraud, but it’s certainly not something that’s going away.”
Disneur explains how automation in the billing platform can enable CPs to react proactively to fraud occurrences. “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.”
“We allow users to set their own detection criteria if they want to and we also have intelligence in the system to track spend automatically.”
Union Street also works alongside the Telecoms UK Fraud Forum to publish known fraud numbers. This black list is also updated in aBILLity, so if it detects that any calls are made to one of these numbers, the billing team will be alerted automatically.
3. Service Charge Reconciliation
Service charge reconciliation is a third area where the billing platform is well placed to add benefit through automation, as Disneur explains. “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 Fulfilment
Union Street believes that the billing platform can also increase efficiency in provisioning and fulfilment operations through integration with those systems. “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 one step beyond integration in this regard, having made its provisioning software an integral part of its billing platform. “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 that Union Street has noticed – like many comms companies today, is that a lot of channel partners are making the transformation into service providers (also known as wholesalers) and hosting their own telephony platforms. Earlier in the conversion, Disneur had talked to me about CPs needing to continuously collect CDR files from their suppliers. Just as important to Service Providers is the export of CDRs.
“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 Billing Automation So Important?
Ultimately, automation is a hot topic for many communication companies in an increasingly agile digital world. Automated billing services from organisations like Union Street help to save time, reduce errors and increase productivity, helping brands to achieve more consistent results.
“Billing personnel are essential to the smooth running and profitability of a communications provider. Having them perform repetitive tasks for long periods of time is hardly the best use of such a valuable resource and not many people are able to maintain concentration when working in this way.
“Play to their strengths instead. Give them a billing platform that can automate laborious and time-consuming elements of the process whilst also providing tools for detailed revenue analysis. In doing this you’re allowing your billing staff space to look at the big picture, freeing up their time to concentrate on analysing revenue streams, to optimise profitability and to provide valuable business intelligence.”
“With automation, you can make sure that your billing staff is enjoying their job more and making the most out of their time.”
UC Today Billing Series
Read the full Telecoms & ICT Billing software series on UC Today.