Editor’s Note: This, the second of two articles, addresses migrating consumers to electronic bill payment and presentment. See the PHONE+ September issue to read more about converting consumers to EBPP.
E-billing, although not quite the norm, is catching on in the consumer market. Adoption can be attributed, in part, to subscribers growing accustomed to online conveniences at the office and seeking them out at home. But persuading corporations to take the EBPP plunge is a completely different sale. A service provider isn’t dealing with a $75 payment for usage by a family of four. Bills can be in the millions of dollars, and include usage from thousands of employees and dozens of departments. Surprisingly, such challenges are proving to help EBPP gain traction in enterprise markets. Service providers are answering the call by providing solutions that dig deeper and provide their corporate customers with even more statistics, analytics, and ways of showing usage and trends.
Qwest Control presents local and IXC bills side by side as indicated by QLS and QLD.
“The corporate customer adds another layer of complexity for the service provider in terms of e-billing,” says Scott Kolman, director of product marketing for Amdocs. “Not only do these enterprise customers want to capture the information on particular usage for an individual or a department, but they want more management of the multiple bills and linking that back to the business.” Enterprises, he adds, want to institute rules in terms of what an individual has rights to use, such as types of services, ordering and provisioning - not just billing.
Verizon Communications Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. are among the telcos working to give their corporate customers this holistic, electronic selfmanagement capability. Again, the core is ebilling with added functionalities that enterprises need to run their businesses.
While enterprises may be much slower than consumers to embrace electronic bill payment, they welcome electronic presentment, management and manipulation.
“Enterprises have several to thousands of bills. And they had boxes and boxes of bills in the old paper world,” says Connie Bainbridge, e-media manager for Verizon, noting Verizon has helped businesses reduce their paper file space and the need to thumb through thousands of bill to find one charge. “Electronic queries are so much easier and faster,” she says.
Peggy Foley, director of billing solutions, custom solutions and e-media for Verizon, says the amount of data the telco needs to retrieve, manipulate or analyze for the enterprise can hit the terabyte level.
“On the electronic media side, with our bill manager, there are approximately 10,000 different files we create every month for customers,” Verizon’s Bainbridge adds.
Verizon offers its corporate customers a Web portal for e-billing and management and a bill manager downloadable via CD-ROM that work with one other, Foley says. The difference between the two is not all the features are yet available on the portal and the downloaded application offers a faster processing time, he says.
It works like this: A corporate end customer logs in, goes to the billing module and views an account hierarchy, Bainbridge says. The customer then can drill down from the summary level to a circuit number - or even a telephone number - and access any details regarding the bill.
BellSouth offers some different options, including electronic data interchange, allowing the corporate customer to program its own reporting; magnetic tape files that can be mailed to customers or downloaded through an FTP site or direct connect; and a bill-management software service.
“It’s the large end customers that use the software to load billing data and manipulate and query that data,” says Bill Barr, director of business customer care for BellSouth. “The big thing is obviously the complexity of the service and the amount of data. Enterprises often need to be able to allocate charges internally so they can charge different departments.”
Qwest also has recognized the challenges in corporate e-billing. “One of the complaints of large business customers is that telecom billing is difficult,” says Jim Rudolph, product manager for Qwest Control, the RBOC’s self-service tool for large business customers. Qwest Control allows customers to sort via account number, account name or use filters to find something quickly.
And that ease of use, Rudolph says, is convincing some of the large business customers, which traditionally prefer paper bills, to give ebilling a chance. “When you show this to large customers, it actually solves one of their biggest concerns…paying all their accounts in a single transaction by bank account or credit card,” he says. “It simplifies the process for them.”
With Qwest Control, customers are able to select the accounts they want to pay, so they can retain control over which ones are paid and when, Rudolph says. The application also provides a transaction number that can be entered into an accounts payable system.
E-billing enables corporate customers to eliminate paper and more easily manipulate billing data to understand and allocate costs, identify problems, audit against rates plans and more.
Telution Inc., for example, has developed a billing analytics portal that works within its customer self-care module. The company built on the process it used to create invoices and added a process to load all billing information in a special database for customer reports, says John Konczal, vice president of product marketing for Telution.
The aim is to make customer self-care even easier and more customized for the corporate end user. In that way, he says, the service provider isn’t selling just a bill view online but an entire solution that, in turn, helps the corporate business.
After the billing information is collected, a “multidimensional cube architecture arranges the data so it is optimized for customer queries,” Konczal says. “The tool allows end customers to manipulate this data as they see fit. They can save the way they query the data, and more important, they can export data to Microsoft Excel, for example, and start to manipulate the data with outside applications.”
Telution also includes built-in reports end users can customize to generate their own billing reports. Features such as these are another way service providers can sell value-added services.
The entire solution is Web-based so service providers can give instant access to their corporate customers. There is no software to buy and download, which can be a selling point to corporate customers.
CTI Group also seeks to automate typically complex and time-consuming tasks. The service bureau, which offers SmartBill bill analysis services to corporations through telcos and other distribution partners, has augmented its service with SmartSpend to provide a softwarebased auditing service for telecommunications billing. CTI CEO Brad Houlberg says it turns auditing from what was a professional services function to an automated task with room for the channel partner to provide and charge for consulting. In the fourth quarter, CTI Group will offer telcos the ability to integrate SmartBill into their Web portals. In early 2005, the company will enable workflow from SmartBill to SmartSpend, allowing users to audit their bills before payment.
Telution’s Konczal says service providers are finding their corporate customers want even more customization. “They want to be able to customize the Web site, such as arranging where the reports are found,” he says. Branding, also, has become an important component. One of Telution’s customers, Z-Tel Communications, supports Darden Restaurants Inc. with this solution, allowing Darden to see its logo on the Web interface and letting Darden prioritize records as it sees fit.
Z-Tel calls the offering Communications Briefcase, and it offers everything from simple electronic billing to account management, Konczal says. One of the key selling points is the personalized branding and the ability to prioritize quickly and easily.
Verizon also is exploring the customization angle, Foley says. The carrier has worked with one large corporate customer that has its own successful analytics system.
“We were able to work with this company to see what complements they have to our system and what works well together,” Foley says. “And we may very well get some great ideas from this customer.”
Konczal says service providers also are being asked about different ways to download and export the information. “For example,” he says, “a corporate customer might want to export directly from the Web to a general ledger, so we’re seeing requests for XML.”
In general, corporate customers, says Noam Potter, e-care product manager for Amdocs, are looking for unique telecom functionality and more options online. And that’s what the service providers must offer if they want their customers to adopt electronic self-management.