When is a cloud billing system not a cloud billing system?

Cloud technology is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics for the IT and telecoms industry today, so it’s unsurprising that vendors across the complete BSS/OSS spectrum are racing to position themselves at the leading edge of this high growth area. Cloud billing is one such area that is evolving rapidly, but it is becoming harder by the day for buyers to understand the marketing hyperbole and figure out exactly what Cloud Billing means.

Is a Cloud Billing system one that bills for cloud services? Or a billing system that resides in the cloud? Or are there other key characteristics that define what Cloud Billing really is?

To some vendors the answers to these questions don’t seem to matter. Just put cloud in the product / solution name and hey presto, you have a ‘cloud billing’ system! Of course this just creates massive confusion in the industry and risks damaging the sector immeasurably. What the industry needs is consistency and clarity so that buyers know what they are really getting themselves into.

So firstly, let’s look at billing for cloud services.

In the days before convergence, it was not uncommon to look for a GSM billing system or a cable billing system, for example. So the type of service a system supported was clearly part of the vendor positioning. A quick internet search for GSM billing would give you a list of vendors providing GSM billing systems. Simple stuff. But convergence of services and technologies has meant that modern billing systems have broadened to become more service agnostic. And a good billing system should be able to deal with products and services based on any type of underlying technology, be that GSM, fixed line, cable or cloud.

The situation with Cloud Billing reminds me very much of being asked “do you do IMS billing?” at a conference way back in 2006. I remember being rather perplexed with this question and wrote an article in our Evolve newsletter at the time. IMS subsequently became part of the technology stack used to deliver services, and thankfully nobody would ever ask that question again. Billing for IMS-basedservices is a given now, and the same should be said for cloud services. Any billing system worth its salt should be able to bill for cloud services, irrespective of where that system is installed.

What about a billing system that resides in the cloud?

Cloud technology is generally comprised of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). A billing system can be delivered on customer site, installed at the vendor premises or hosted by a third party. If that third party location happens to be IaaS or PaaS then you have a billing system that resides in the cloud. But isn’t this just a different name for hosting?

So when is a ‘cloud billing’ system not a Cloud Billing system? When it’s the same old system just hosted somewhere else. Buyers beware!

Billing systems are software applications, and therefore Cloud Billing is ultimately a specific type of Software-as-a-Service, call it Billing-as-a-Service or BaaS if you like. And the key to what makes a Cloud Billing system can be found by looking at the characteristics of other SaaS applications, including the likes of Salesforce, Basecamp, Harvest and SurveyMonkey, to name just a few. So what do all these have in common?

They are multi-tenanted applications hosted securely in a public cloud

You don’t need to buy any hardware, and don’t pay separately for the hardware capacity you use – it’s all part of the service

Everyone uses exactly the same software version, with application upgrades rolled out regularly and automatically for all customers

Each customer can configure their own specific business rules and processes, but there’s no software customisation

You can sign-up online for a free trial before any commitment to use

Implementation is a matter of days or weeks, not months and years

The commercial model is based on what you use, rather than upfront software licensing and prohibitive implementation fees

These are the characteristics that we believe define a true Cloud Billing application, and they are the foundations on which we have built our own brand new Cloud Billing solution, Cerillion Skyline. You can find out more about this by heading over to www.cerillionskyline.com, where you can of course sign-up for a free trial.

Let us know what you think about Cloud Billing by adding your comments below. You can also join the wider debate over at Billing Views, where Alex Leslie (@billingviews) and Ed Finegold (@finegold) are doing a great job in marshalling the discussion.

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