Converging trends are turning billing providers into linchpins of the comms and IT channel, according to Inform Billing Managing Director Shaun Bodsworth.
Three trends of great significance are currently impacting the billing sector – a big increase in demand for mobile and IoT billing, continuing entry into the resale space by traditional non-voice specialists and rising expectations around systems integration. "Mobile and IoT is a growth area attracting new entrants, but existing dealers are also seeking to gain increased flexibility in their offering and greater autonomy by equipping themselves with billing," stated Bodsworth. "Having the right billing capability to offer flexible tariff packages and flexible options for pricing and bundling is critical to transforming the mobile and IoT space."
Bodsworth continues to see increasing numbers of IT resellers moving into voice for the first time and greater numbers of resellers have a requirement to bill more complex recurring revenues such as connectivity and cloud-based services - including Office 365, data back-ups and other IT related subscriptions. "While relatively straightforward, these have traditionally either been billed as a one-off or annual fee or at an enterprise level rather than on a reseller model," added Bodsworth.
Expectations are also rising around integration, noted Bodsworth. "When resellers are looking to integrate two or more complex systems, such as billing and CRM, the complexity of any meaningful integration should not be underestimated," he commented. "Rather than having integration for the sake of it, this is where an experienced billing provider should be able to offer advice, support and recommendations."
All of these trends require billing providers to ensure their wrap-around support, advice and expertise matches up to their physical product offering, emphasised Bodsworth. "Billing has become much more of a service package than solely a software requirement and we are seeing a huge increase in the value to resellers of Inform Billing’s experience and expertise," he explained. "Demand for our managed services has increased 400 per cent over the past three years."
Billing has become much more of a service package than solely a software requirement. Demand for our managed services has increased 400 per cent over the past three years
Inform Billing's cloud-based Eclipse Next Generation billing platform was launched to the channel in September 2017 and continues to roll out to its 250 strong customer base. The platform was built from the ground up and incorporates tried and tested functionality alongside 40 new features as well as a new interface, simple navigation and improved security. "We invested over £1 million into this version and continue to plough 45 per cent of revenues back into continually developing the software, prioritising enhancements that lead to a smoother customer experience," said Bodsworth.
"We are also developing a range of partnerships and integrations with other complementary applications in order to offer joined up solutions. Our roadmap will see us continue to develop solutions that enable automation to ease and simplify the billing process through the use of advanced technologies."
Resellers without billing capabilities such as these may be restricted by their limited commercial offerings. "It could mean missing out on additional margin opportunities and other benefits that billing provides," added Bodsworth. "In contrast, resellers who are nimble and creative with propositions are able to react and drive changes in the marketplace from a solutions provider’s perspective."
With customers spanning traditional telecoms, IT, mobile and the IoT as well as utilities, waste management, banking and even hospitality all using Inform Billing's software, it is clear that the company is developing partnerships in diverse markets relevant to the subscription economy, opening up future opportunities for the channel - especially around customer ownership.
"With increasing channel activity around mergers and acquisitions comes greater emphasis on the definition of true customer ownership," noted Bodsworth. "Who owns the customer can be a contentious issue and is not always clear cut. It often comes down to who manages the customer relationship and who has the legal contract with the customer. Billing is critical to ownership. For example, if a reseller is buying network services from a supplier who is also responsible for billing and possibly even for cash collection, then it’s debatable if the reseller has true ownership of that customer."
Because having a billing capability provides complete customer ownership, without it exit routes and business values are likely to come under pressure. "Resellers with billing and total customer ownership will see enhanced multipliers and greater value in their recurring revenues," stated Bodsworth.
It's a fact underscored by Paul Billingham, Director at Knight Corporate Finance, who said: “It’s been proven on many occasions that resellers with true control over their customer base – with their billing independent from their network service provider – will see a positive and significant impact on the value of their business."
A billing systems’ greater purpose therefore is to empower resellers to provide a total solution, create additional value through their business and gain complete ownership of their customers. "Customer ownership is at the heart of being a reseller," added Bodsworth. "Rather than being a necessary evil, billing is fundamental to being a reseller."