Reflections on Next Generation Billing in Budapest

The IIR Next Generation Billing conference was an excellent opportunity to meet with existing friends in the billing community and make many new ones.

The discussion panels I participated in were a good opportunity to share some of the areas I’ve been looking at and take away ideas from others. We discussed themes including the move from a product centric to a customer centric world; simplicity, predictability and certainty in tariffs and charging; and strategies for maximising the customer propensity to pay.

There was a lot of good stuff discussed at the conference but some points particularly struck me:

  • People are no longer talking about ‘billing’ but about ‘revenue management’, as billing is only a part of the process
  • Organise a billing system that copes with ‘chaos’, i.e. you need to be able to bill whatever the salespeople need to sell
  • Don’t over-engineer solutions – NASA spent a fortune developing zero gravity pens for their space programme, the Russians used pencils!
  • Evolution into ‘billing as a service’ where telcos provide billing for other industries
  • The future of rating is flat rate – I’ve been saying this for a long time!
  • When the customer has an Internet service, don’t let him have paper bills – something we all know, but struggle to do

Overall, the key message for me (and this confirmed my existing thinking) is the importance of having a view of the changing market and what it will mean for billing. How will the propositions evolve and how will we bill them? We need to understand what the future propositions will look like and what their billing requirements will be.

Twitter was a useful tool to push some of these points out to a wider audience during the conference.

The venue was excellent. Both the conference and the accommodation was in the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal and I’d certainly recommend the hotel if you’re visiting Budapest.

DeFi Mobile and MAXroam did a grand job providing me with cost effective mobile telephony in Hungary. I’ll be writing more about them shortly.

Thanks also to Malev Hungarian Airlines for excellent service at every customer touchpoint, from check-in to in-flight service, although maybe you could work on the in-flight catering a bit!

Thank you to Andrea and the team at IIR for organising the event and to Tony for chairing many of the sessions in his usual indomitable style!

My only regret is that I didn’t have time to see more than a tiny bit of a beautiful city but I did enjoy our meal at KOGART, the walk in the snow up to Heroes’ Square and trip on one of the world’s oldest metro lines. Thank you Roxan!

6 thoughts on “Reflections on Next Generation Billing in Budapest”

  1. Trivial information Jonathan, but you probably didn’t know that Corinthia Hotels are Maltese-owned !! We have three of them down here in Malta.

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  2. In the interest of full disclosure, I work with a company, Openet, that operates in the area of billing mediation and charging for service providers – so I am not a disinterested party in reading your blog. However, I think your comment about the future being flat-rated could be explored a little more, as it is surely only part of the story. I think we’re all pretty much agreed that it is now impossible to differentiate a company around basic voice, messaging and it won’t be long before data connectivity will be added to that list – even though quality of service for some mobile networks is still way too variable. If we are going to commoditize (i.e. flat-rate) basic services someone has to pay for future network investments, just look at what has happened to the water and electricity networks in the UK and elsewhere (incl. Ireland), when underinvestment becomes systematic!!So, where can we look for strategic advice? The strategy guru Michael Porter is of the opinion, which is generally accepted, that only one company can profitably occupying a position of low cost provider. The rest need to innovate either by being a smarter pipe or through being an aggregator of some sort such as that offered by BT Vision. But the current trend for flat rated voice and data does not mean that we’ve reached the end of the road for billing innovation, as you suggest in your posting, the opposite is in fact true. Some ideas around what might be coming down the track include:1) Up-selling differentiated add-ons, on top of flat rated, simple basic services e.g. better tiers of service class for gamers or for those who watch a lot of streaming video2) “On the fly” context relevant impulse purchases by customers, where they will get revenue either directly or possibly through advertising/sponsored revenue3) Ad hoc purchases of certain data services i.e. a step away from the traditional subscription model, to make it really easy to adopt/drop servicesOf course, that doesn’t mean operators aren’t simultaneously pursuing serious cost reductions, which by the way is helped by discontinuing the practice of paying billing vendors to maintain complex price plans. Finally, I think Billing as a Service is a great idea, but we are some way off from that yet, at least for incumbents. Many of the legacy platforms both billing and IN are struggling to cope with the operators demands…to provide the certainty and predictability for just their own costs, not to mind others…given the overhaul required, they’re probably 3-5 years away from opening up APIs to third-parties at least.

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  3. I’m not suggesting that we’ve reached the end of innovation, however increasingly (but not exclusively) billing will be based on flat rate charging & less on events. As you say, there will be multiple tiers of flat rate, e.g. basic & premium services to cope with different customer segments – customer segmentation will get much smarter because billing systems can increasingly cope with propositions like multi product bundles with a single price point & cross product discounts.A good example of flat rate charging, combined with innovation, is DeFi Mobile – http://www.defimobile.com/In terms of ‘billing as a service’ it’s something I worked on some years ago but unfortunately was ahead of its time!Thanks for the feedback.

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  4. Thanks for the reply Jonathan. For clarity, I find it useful to differentiate between the billing and charging systems in the billing domain. Billing activities happen long after a service has been delivered. This means billing is ideal for handling the flat-rate price plans. However, as operators look to do more things in real-time, i.e. reacting to an immediate need/trigger or network conditions, Real-Time Charging will be required. I believe that is where the intelligence must reside. This transactional intelligence will allow operators to provide immediate information on costs, make relevant bundle offers, promotions etc.As your article suggests, it is an exciting time to be part of the billing eco-system.

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  5. You’re right that the term ‘billing’ is different from ‘charging’ hence the increasing use of the term ‘revenue management’. The TM Forum has now switched from ‘billing’ to ‘revenue management’ to emphasise that what was the ‘billing’ initiative is much broader than ‘billing’.I see more propositions moving into the prepay space because this improves cashflow, reduces debt issues & removes the need for credit checking. As you say, real time charging will become increasingly important here to ensure customers have the funds to complete transactions.

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