article

Drill Down

Posted: 9/2003

Drill Down
Driving Enterprise E-Billing Adoption

By Khali Henderson

Electronic bill presentment and
payment (EBPP) represents an invoicing nirvana for service providers seeking to
reduce costs of printing and postage of thousands of monthly customer bills. For
service providers serving commercial customers the benefits are compounded,
because many statements of CDRs and management reports are so voluminous as to
fill boxes. Like heaven, online-only billing remains a lofty destination such
service providers can only dream about. Whats standing between them and
billing bliss? Low customer adoption. Fortunately, experts say this is a
temporary situation. They cite advances in the technology and experience-based
techniques that promise to speed enterprise customers embrace of online
billing and payment processes. In particular, they implore: Forget presentment
and payment; its online management thats the ticket.

Some self-service offerings for corporate customers are
indistinguishable from those for consumers. That is the challenge and the
opportunity for service providers, says Seth Nesbitt, group manager of
product marketing for Amdocs Ltd. Service providers can now differentiate
themselves by the breadth of their self-service offering by going beyond the
good, but simple electronic bill payment and presentation technology to empower
the corporate customer to manage their own telecommunications services.

Amdocs Corporate Self Care System allows service providers
to empower enterprise to manager their own internal telecom operations from cost
allocation to feature and service provisioning as well
as
viewing bill summaries and facilitating online
payment.

What weve seen is that EBPP is growing into a mature
self-service offering, Nesbitt says. Customers are looking for
functionality beyond bill view.

Integrated communications provider CIMCO Communications Inc.
has embraced this philosophy. CIO David Braner explains: We call the whole thing Web
Services. We did not want to call it billing because we were trying to
do more than just provide an electronic image of the bill. We try to provide
services within the product that helps people manage their telecom. Thats the paradigm shift that CIMCO has not only attempted,
but also accomplished.

We are not just providing a bill; we are taking away the
burden of managing the internal cost-recovery functions that take place in
corporate America, he adds.

KEY TOOLS

As one example, CIMCOs proprietary billing system
provides a comprehensive set of tools for its commercial accounts. Upon login to
a secure site, the customer is presented with an overview of billing and
services available to them. A number of prepackaged reports filter and sort CDRs
by data elements such as cost, minutes, number, description, etc. A
reverselookup feature allows the customer to see the name, as well as the
number, of the party called.

Among the advanced management features of CIMCOs system are
the ability to assign and manage cost centers; allocate expenses for shared
services (e.g., an Internet T1 that is used by several departments) based on
headcount, square footage or other parameters; associate specific lines to cost
centers/allocations; and break out service types or charges by cost center.
Uniquely, CIMCO also allows customers to change their line descriptions and
allocations right up to the bill run so that they dont have to wait until the
next cycle to reallocate expenses.

The real-time nature of the data has additional benefits,
Braner says. Customers have real-time access to call detail a feature that
has been adopted by one inbound call center to provide the traffic analysis
sorted by time of day it needs to plan staffing at its center. It also enables
another service CIMCO calls WatchDog that alerts customers to calls outside
preset parameters. The idea is to find out about unusual calls during the
month so one is not surprised when the bill comes, he says, adding that CIMCO
runs daily inquiries on customer call records and send them an e-mail with a
link to the detail when a potential problem is identified.

Adrienne Steiss of CSG Systems Inc. says there are a lot of advantages to the electronic method.
Instead of going through paper bills to sort, if you have 100 employees and
50 have cell phone bills, you can assign privileges to users to review those
charges and tell which ones are personal and which are business. Today, that has
to be done through a manual process.

She says CSGs customers also are moving beyond e-billing to
self-service. Check my account, update my account, changed billing address,
e-mail those changes can be completed online, she says.

CONVERTING CUSTOMERS

CIMCO introduced its service 18 months
ago and now claims 99 percent adoption among its customers, which primarily are
medium-sized and large enterprises. CIMCO CEO Bill Capraro says the quality of
its e-billing system and the nature of the customer base emboldened his team to
systematically roll out the service and manage the exceptions.

You have to realize that our customers are getting huge
boxes of paper, he says. When someone is spending $40,000, call detail is
unmanageable. The concept of having it all online in real time is a big
advantage.

He adds, We had many customers beta testing the systems
before we put them into general production. … We spent a lot of time and
energy doing one-to-one marketing with our customers to determine what the needs
were.

In contrast, InfoHighway Communications Corp., which is just
embarking on its e-billing migration, is taking the one-to-one approach. Initially, we started with house accounts and friendlies
and we are expanding it, says Peter Karoczkai, senior vice president of sales
and marketing for InfoHighway. The company in June announced it would be using
the COMX customer care, order management and bill software from Telution Inc.

Karoczkai says a concerted conversion campaign is planned for
2004 when InfoHighway is more experienced with the software and determines how
best to position it with customers. He is optimistic about the prospects. What we are experiencing is that once people use it, its
tough to give up. Its a little bit of a bug; once you catch it, its tough
to let it go, he says. Once you reach critical mass, it will become the
norm and thats what people will demand.

In fact, vendors and service providers already are reporting
that customers are seeking out e-billing capabilities. CIMCOs Capraro says
more than half his prospects request a demonstration of the e-billing
capabilities, and its a primary reason they buy.

Corporate customers are pulling e-billing functionality out of
service providers, adds Amdocs Nesbitt. The burden is being put on the
service provider to tell [the customer] what is its self-service offering. They
are being challenged to provide more functionality, to turn more functionality
over to the corporate customers.

Ironically, it is by offloading more of its tasks to the
customer that service providers may improve adoption, experts say.

By providing those types of value-added services, you then
start to build a culture of encouraging that customer to go to the Web so that
becomes part of their normal way of doing things, says John Konzcal, vice
president of product marketing for Telution Inc. I dont think its
sufficient enough to tell them they have to go to the Web site once a month. You
have to build a whole program around it that continues to proactively tell the
customer to go to the Web site but also when the customer goes to the Web site,
there are some other value-added capabilities there that encourage them to come
back.

Konzcal lists the ability to view unbilled usage, sort charges
and allocate costs as examples of value-added capabilities. Telution also
provides for a push-pull invoicing. We send out an e-mail with a link,
explains Ken Kennedy, vice president of client delivery for Telution. That
cuts down on the barrier for the customers. Instead of taking them to the corporate site and prompting for
a password, we actually take them to the invoice with a click of a mouse. From
there, they have the ability to do automatic payment by credit card or EFT. To
Johns point, its about simplifying how the customer can get there and
providing incentives.

Incentives also can be financial in nature, sources say,
proposing credits for customers that migrate to the service. Brad Linden, vice
president of Xpedite, a provider of multimedia messaging solutions, says most
customers will change if you make it worth their while. He recommends offering
customers discounts off their next bill or prizes to the first 100 users that
switch to the online service.

Others expect the e-bill to become mainstream and the paper
bill to become a premium service. We foresee a model down the road where the
electronic format is the norm and if you want paper, that will be something you
pay for, says Karoczkai. [We are considering sending the] summary for
free, but we may charge for
paper bill.

Steiss of CSG says one Tier 1 carrier customer that deployed
its TotalCare e-billing and self-care solution has experienced an 8 percent
adoption rate. Of those, more than 40 percent have turned off paper completely.

Vendors caution it may not be possible to go paperless,
however. Now that companies are obliged to provide auditable records, they may
require hard copies of CDRs, says Telutions Konzcal. Furthermore, he says,
some customers view the paper invoice as representative of the contractual
relationship with the vendor. There is still a belief among end customers that the bill
is like a contract between the end customer and the service provider. Unless I
get that in paper form, it doesnt have the legitimacy I require in order to
pay that bill, he says.

Similarly, sources say electronic payment also may be a slow
conversion in the enterprise market. Particularly, if there is an existing payment
infrastructure in place, that may be one of the last things to move to an e-care
platform, says Amdocs Nesbitt. That said, after weve done ordering,
reporting, bill view and all of that, I think eventually payment functions would
be migrated.

InfoHighways Karoczkai agrees. I think the future is
take a look at the bill online, review it, show them what causes the variations
and give them an option to pay online. This makes life simpler for everybody. At
the end of the day, we benefit because we get our money faster.

He adds, I would go out on a limb to say that option is so
attractive that I see the industry potentially offering discounts to customers
if they pay on time and pay online.

CIMCOs Capraro says his company sends out a remittance slip
and summary invoice but will set up EFT on request. Even with that reduced
printing and mailing requirement, Capraro says CIMCO has reduced the number of
days sales are outstanding by 25 percent since going to e-billing. Braner says
this reduction is because CIMCO is able to get the bills out quicker in time
for an earlier bill-paying cycle.

CSGs Steiss says another unintended consequence of
e-billing is a reduction in customer service calls relative to billing and usage
questions. Now, what we are seeing in the last 12 months … is
measurable results in terms of decreased calls into the call center, she
says.

A June study by Gartner Inc. confirms business-to-business
billers (not telecom-specific) can save from automatic delivery of billing and
migrating phone calls to Web-based self-service. The typical business biller in the Gartner survey, conducted
in January, could save $2.7 million per year. If service calls were automated,
the average surveyed biller could save $1.36 million per year. The most
significant savings accrue to billers from automating invoice disputes, Gartner
repots. Surveyed billers could save more than $3.2 million by managing disputes
online and more than $1.6 million if just half are resolved online.

Automating disputes also has the significant benefit of
reducing days sales outstanding for billers, thus enabling the billers to put
money to work faster for their own companies, says Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for
Gartner.

Litan adds, By looking at cost savings, however, a biller
can forget that e-billing generates significant business value for the company
by enabling it to deliver superior and efficient customer service that keeps
customers coming back, and attracting new ones as well.

Links
Amdocs Ltd. www.amdocs.com
CIMCO Communications Inc. www.cimco.net
CSG Systems Inc. www.csgsystems.com
Gartner Inc. www. gartner.com
Info Highway Communications Corporation
www.infohighway.com

Telution Inc. www.telution.com
Xpedite www.xpedite.com
Yankee Group Inc. www.yankeegroup.com

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