By Dan Baker
It’s been 20 years since the first commercial software for telecommunications service providers appeared on the market.
And ever since then, the solutions game has been a kind of three-partner dance between:
- An operator seeking a solution to gain functionality and improve its business operations;
- A software vendor who develops a generic software for multiple operators; and,
- A systems integrator who is responsible for the deploying and integrating the software solution into the service provider’s organization and business processes.
In the billing space, for example, there are dozens of vendors offering — more or less — a similar set of functions and features.
One 20-year veteran of the business support solutions (BSS) business — UK-based LogNet Systems — follows a rather interesting approach to differentiating itself.
Instead of staying in a software vendor’s familiar comfort zone of just developing software tools, LogNet Systems also reaches out to play a more strategic role with its service provider customers and systems integrator partners.
LogNet Systems‘ CEO, Kirill Rechter is here to explain.
Kirill, what’s your approach to becoming a strategic partner?
Working with strategic partners is an essential component to the success of any on-going billing project. By strategic partnerships I do not mean just formal business relationships among the parties involved in a project. More importantly, there is a sense of trust that develops over time among the billing vendor, system integrator and service provider. This trust greatly contributes to the success of a billing project and the delivery of strategic benefits to everyone involved.
An important step in creating a strategic partnership is understanding the strategy and objectives of a service provider. What are the goals of the billing project? For some service providers the objective is to streamline business processes and reduce operational complexity and costs. Others may have identified a new business opportunity and would like to enter a new service market and expand their service offerings.
We have an approach to working with service providers that we call Modern Billing. Modern Billing is a framework for helping service providers turn their billing operation into a competitive advantage and make it an enabler for business growth. It means empowering a service provider to deliver on the strategic decisions taken at the executive or board level. And working closely with system integrators is another important element of Modern Billing, for that allows us to maximize our billing solution and broadly solve a problem for the service provider.
But aren‘t you competing head-on with the role of the systems integrator?
On the surface, it may appear that we are competing with the system integrator for the attention of the service provider. However, we complement the efforts of a system integrator and are partners in the success of a project.
Our role is to develop the billing software solution. Our billing solution is called MaxBill and it serves as the basis for the business value that a system integrator delivers to a service provider.
A system integrator, especially one that has a long standing relationship with the service provider, is often in the best position to understand the service provider’s strategy and implement a solution that helps deliver on that strategy.
System integrators tell us that they are attracted to working with us because we include in our MaxBill solution an extensive library of predefined best practices for many billing, service delivery, customer management and related functions. These best practices allow a system integrator to not only deliver feature-rich functions, but more importantly, create efficient workflows and business processes.
What’s your software development philosophy? How does that align with an integrator’s business?
Defining and implementing business processes is a major function that a system integrator fulfills during a billing project. In our solution, we provide a maximum set of tools for the system integrator to be successful at this. With our solution, a system integrator will not need to extend the software and can focus on helping the service provider achieve its strategy.
It is very important to highlight that we have made our billing solution system integrator-ready. This means that MaxBill can be configured directly out-of-the-box by the system integrator. A system integrator can do this independent of us. Of course, we provide our system integrator partners extensive training, support and documentation.
Can you give me an example of how your business process-centric approach differs from the typical software vendor model?
For the most part, all billing vendors offer similar base functionality. Some vendors focus on a particular vertical market and others focus on a specific tier size. However, this is where the similarities end. Even today, the business processes in most billing systems are hardcoded and very difficult for a system integrator to independently adapt to the needs of a service provider.
The truth is that the business processes of most service providers are dictated by the functional limitations of their billing and other business support systems. This is a problem that affects service providers of all sizes and in all vertical markets. The outcome is inefficient workflows that often require manual input, even for routine tasks.
Our situation is quite the opposite. MaxBill provides a preconfigured foundation and serves as the framework for the process. A system integrator typically begins a billing project by measuring existing processes and then leverages our library of best practices to rollout the appropriate business process for the service provider.
Our Modern Billing approach positions a system integrator with the agility to make ongoing changes to business processes as the service provider’s business evolves. The changes could be as wide as an overhaul to customer experience management processes in response to new competition or significant changes to service delivery processes in compliance with new regulations. Or, these changes could be ongoing, such as dynamically adjusting pricing or the contents of service packages.
Not all software vendor/integrator partnerships are successful. Where have you seen problems arise?
Problems arise when a system integrator partner tries to act as a software developer and the same vendor partner starts to act as a system integrator. This is not a good situation and when it does happen both parties often lose their focus on the needs of the service provider customer.
We have been in this business for nearly 20 years. We have enough experience in a wide range of billing projects in many different vertical markets. This is reflected in the tools we provide to our system integrator partners. It would be highly unlikely this problem would arise with our system integrator partners.
Do you work exclusively with systems integrators?
Sometimes our service provider customers maintain their own integration resources. In this situation our customer’s integration team becomes our system integrator partner. We give our customers the freedom to choose whatever system integrator path they want. They can work directly with us or with a system integrator of their choice.
Listening to you, I get the sense that being a smaller solution vendor or integrator is not a handicap in the market.
Yes, this is certainly true for us and our system integrator partners and service provider customers.
We do not believe in vendor lock-in and want to provide both our system integrator partners and service provider customers the best tools without dependence on us. The point here is that we do not burden our service provider customer or our system integrator partners with expensive and time consuming change requests. This is a common practice in the billing space that we do not agree with.
We work with system integrator partners and service provider customers who share similar visions in an effort to establish long term business relationships that benefit everyone involved.