Billing becoming critical

Carriers are spending millions upgrading their billing and CRM systems, reports Randal Jackson

The major telcos in New Zealand and Australia are spending tens of millions of dollars upgrade and replacing their legacy billing systems.

A recent article in The Australian highlights the difficulties the telcos are facing. The newspaper says the sector’s four biggest players are set to sign off on more than A$1 billion (NZ$1.08 billion) in new business and CRM systems by the end of the year.

That’s because of the wide range of services the telcos are now offering, straining legacy systems to the limit. There is an urgent requirement to integrate fixed-line, broadband and mobile billing with CRM systems, to create an environment where new marketing initiatives can be quickly launched and effectively carried out.

The Australian says Optus is spending A$300 million over the next few years to streamline its billing systems after the system it installed in the 1990s went badly over time and budget, costing more than A$1 billion. Vodafone has a new A$150 million billing and CRM project, AAPT expects to spend A$150 million over the next three years and Telstra has admitted it needs a major overhaul and has created a special billing directorate. It has already begun work for a new A$100 million CRM system for its consumer division.

In New Zealand, telcos are also spending up big on new CRM and billing systems.

Telecom recently went live with a new prepaid mobile billing system, based on the Singl.eView and Inter-mediatE products from Intec, a telecomms equipment provider that also makes telco billing systems.

Telecom CIO Mark Ratcliffe says the project is the first part of a plan to replace and consolidate important parts of Telecom’s billing infrastructure.

Greg Patchell, Telecom’s general manager of technology strategy and capability, says the project was led in-house, with EDS doing much of the work, and dozens of other suppliers involved. “We’re really chuffed how it has all come together,” he says.

He won’t put an exact figure to the cost, other than to say it has so far been “tens of millions of dollars”, with $10 or $20 million more to be spent by the time it is finished.

The rollout over the past 18 months has meant refreshing and consolidating legacy billing systems, but the incumbent ICMS system will remain the core system for issuing bills. “It will be around for quite some time,” Patchell says.

The old IBM mainframe is gone and the systems are running on Sun boxes.

The new systems are about applying rating to the money-making parts of the business: mobile, data and broadband.

These are rules-based, whereas code had to be cut for ICMS to make rating changes.

“There aren’t many telcos who have cut over their billing systems,” Patchell says. “Billing is notoriously problematic because it touches everything.”

As a newer and smaller telco, TelstraClear doesn’t have quite the same legacy issues as Telecom. But it, too, is moving to consolidate its billing from two platforms into one, spending what billing and collections manager Sean Aitken says will be “multiple millions of dollars” to do so.

TelstraClear inherited the Mega billing system when it bought Clear. Around 30% of its customers are billed through Mega. The remainder are billed through the Arbor system, which came from the TelstraSaturn side of the business. Arbor is a tier one telco billing system widely used around the world.

“We’re planning to migrate everything to Arbor as a strategic platform,” says Aitken. Unisys recently performed a migration scoping study about that plan for TelstraClear.

For business customers, TelstraClear is providing CallVision’s OCR (online call reporting) system, which allows customers to analyse bills.

The other major project associated with the billing changes, and with CRM, is “order to bill”, which will align systems and processes, streamlining in a repeatable standard way how TelstraClear deals with new customers from day one.

TelstraClear will roll out the new systems, and the migration, over the next two years.

Computerworld also approached Vodafone about its plans but the mobile provider didn’t want to talk because, as a spokesperson put it, “it is of no benefit to our customers [to do so].”

Vodafone is engaged in a major billing system upgrade using software from CRM vendor Siebel. The project encompasses New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.

IBM is the project integrator.

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Tags managementbillingtelcos

More about AAPTAAPTEDS AustraliaIBM AustraliaICMSOptusTelstraClearTelstra CorporationTelstraSaturnUnisys AustraliaVodafone

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