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Charging ahead in Europe

For some time it has been popular to talk about the saturated European telecoms market, both in a retail sense, where high penetration and long contracts reduce the frequency of new customer acquisition, as well as in the Business Support Systems (BSS) industry where there’s been an accepted perception that the demand for new systems has waned due to the maturity of the market.

But if there’s one thing we should learn from history it is that all things are cyclical and statements insisting that an industry, trend or cycle has plateaued are short-sighted at best (“the era of boom and bust is dead!”). This certainly seems to be the case now with charging and billing amongst European communications services providers (CSPs). Whilst there are still the established and well entrenched large operators, several factors are driving a surge in the demand for new or replacement charging and billing systems and with them the legion of ancillary platforms that follow in their wake.

New technology

New network technologies such as LTE are driving upgrades and changes to charging platforms to cater for the online authorisation and pricing of usage and the introduction of more personalised offers. This is particularly true where legacy charging engines have come up from the network side and have been focused on the underlying switching and signalling rather than the customer experience. In this scenario the charging and policy systems have access to only a limited subscriber record, rather than the rich customer information, history and profiling that is available from the IT side Business Support Systems (BSS).

And this is not just in the mobile and data telecoms world, but increasingly across a wide range of other industry verticals too. The customer expectation of immediate pricing notification and real-time adjustment of credit requires a change in many of a company’s systems. Product catalogue, billing and balance management platforms are then needed to support the definition and management of the balance and allowances to which those online charges and usage are allocated. And of course all of this must be presented to the customers and the operator’s staff in intuitive and easy to use front-end applications, often requiring changes to the self-care and CRM systems too. In short a complete BSS replacement.

Diversification and agility

As companies begin to see slowing or declining customer acquisition, common routes to bolster growth are through diversification and more targeted marketing. New operating divisions setup under new brands are frequently given a higher level of autonomy than the operations of their parent company, and often this includes choosing a new BSS that is more agile than the very large enterprise systems in use by the parent. This increasingly results in the deployment of a new BSS suite capable of serving these new requirements and fully under the control of the new team.

All this is driving a surge in demand for telco-grade charging and billing systems by businesses whose needs until now have not always warranted the level of flexibility and functionality typically associated with a large telco biller. It is also creating new opportunities for BSS in the cloud, as companies who don’t have the resources or infrastructure to procure large enterprise systems are increasingly able to access the latest charging and billing technology on a Software-as-a-Service basis. And the market for such cloud BSS platforms will only increase.

Building the business case

The increase in the number of European CSPs who are coming back in to the market for charging and billing platforms is undoubtedly good news for the industry as a whole. After several years of malaise whilst the OTT service providers have been eating their lunch, CSPs are finally fighting back by making the investments they need to improve their agility and create more personalised and valued services.

Whilst opportunities are growing again for billing and charging vendors they are most certainly not low-hanging fruit. BSS investments have always needed good business cases, but now the navel-gazing has finally finished CSPs are building these cases based on revenue growth and customer experience goals, rather than the simple rationalisation and cost-saving arguments used previously. And BSS vendors who can align their propositions with these objectives and offer both on-premise and cloud deployment options will be well placed to ride this new wave of growth.

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