Has automation delivered operational efficiency, streamlined processes?

operational efficiency
Image credit | LeoWolfert

For years, billing teams have strived for operational efficiency, streamlined processes and accurate pricing and collection over a vast range of products. Now, we might actually be seeing the rewards from those efforts.

The telecoms industry has been witness to countless conferences, seminars, webinars and white papers on the subject. There were even publications and associations focused on billing and the processes that surround it. CFOs and CTOs have come and gone from the constant pressure of managing the relentless cycle of billing runs, real-time charging, pre-paid management and the never-ending campaigns invented by over-zealous marketing departments.

It may be hard for some people to comprehend, but billing, BSS and operational efficiency have always been at the heart of competition. They were – and still are – differentiators. When regulators fired the starting gun, the incumbents were caught off guard. It would take at least six months and a million dollars to change a tariff in a system. But their new competitors came to the market with state-of-the-art systems and could add or change tariffs for a whole range of products and services in much less time, and a lot less money.

For many incumbents with legacy systems, the cheapest and quickest way of introducing a new product was to buy a new billing system, most of which were standalone and billed a single product or service. This led to telecoms companies having dozens, even hundreds of billing systems in some extreme cases.

It wasn’t long, with the help of new technology, before a new race was on to drive down costs, streamline processes, reduce headcount – and systems. Convergent billing systems came into being, allowing different types of products requiring different rating algorithms to run on one system. Mainframes were replaced by Unix and Linux-based servers and vendors provided and supported systems rather than using in-house development teams.

This streamlining of processes became an integral part of digital transformation and operational efficiency. It was also closely linked to revenue assurance that not only monitored leakage but was used later to ensure the integrity of the whole BSS stack, more like business assurance.

The latest iteration of this story began in the cloud. With cloud-based services came Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and even a subset known as Billing-as-a-Service. Could this make the most sense for operational efficiency and streamlining? Despite the inherent fear of ‘losing the crown jewels’ by outsourcing entire billing operations, in many cases, when done, it highlights how unreliable, expensive and risky the old ways were.

In this era of high-speed communications and fast processors, dynamic and flexible cloud hosting, excellent software design and automation, we have reached the next level of billing sophistication.

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to full BSS automation, as Cerillion’s Dominic Smith observes: “In the past, most CSPs placed equal importance on people, processes and technology. However, the enforced changes in working practices of these past few months have shown that a dependence on people for the processes and technology to work can be a big problem. Business, as usual, must be underpinned by robust BSS/OSS systems and process automation.”

With the cloud at its core, we can now automate processes to the extent that produces demonstrable benefits for all stakeholders. The CFO is happy because automation has reduced costs, improved cash flow and, with the uptake of subscription billing, made his revenue more predictable. The Billing Manager is satisfied because he is monitoring and managing streamlined systems – and he has made the Revenue Assurance manager happy (because manual auditing is a thing of the past). IT departments are even happy because billing systems were complex beasts to maintain and expand. As Smith says, “BSS automation ultimately means that people can be focused where they add value and drive the business forward, rather than just keeping the engine running.”

Most importantly, automation is making the customer happy. A customer who can manage his journey, choose his own services, packages and one-off deals and who can get a timely response from customer service, via bots or apps or the web, is happy.

The journey from legacy systems to automated processes has not been easy. It has been long, hard and expensive, but we have achieved it.

We now run telecoms companies where operational efficiency, streamlined processes, reduced costs and increased cash flow are, if not ubiquitous, entirely and demonstrably possible.

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