Elevate heightens billing expectations

9th May 2016

Not surprisingly, billing platform pioneers have gone in precisely the direction of the industry, led by the cloud, big data and security, and, like Strategic Imperatives, they have themselves become agents of change.

Not surprisingly, billing platform pioneers have gone in precisely the direction of the industry, led by the cloud, big data and security, and, like Strategic Imperatives, they have themselves become agents of change.

The launch of Elevate early last year was a notable victory for Strategic Imperatives. It concluded the development of a comprehensive rating and billing engine and created a platform for a number of complementary services to be introduced this year that will, says Wail Sabbagh, Managing Director, take the company to the next level.

“Firstly, we plan to introduce intelligent fraud detection,” he said. “Elevate already supports the standard threshold/alerting approach but this is no longer sufficient to deal with the sophisticated levels of fraud experienced by the channel. We have worked with a number of technologies over the last year as part of our R&D drive, in particular Amazon Web Services (AWS) Red Shift which has shown great promise. Our task now is to productise and refine what is an industry first.”

Sabbagh has also set his sights on creating a unified billing and provisioning implementation that manages the full customer lifecycle from provision to bill across multiple tier 1 networks. “We are moving closer to achieving our ambition,” he stated. “The next step is to further integrate Elevate with CPconnect, our SI service that provides a unified interface to multiple network providers such as Openreach, BT Wholesale, TalkTalk and Vodafone. This year we plan to add support for zero touch TalkTalk billing integration in addition to the WLR3 capability we made available last year.”

The running message is that billing is no longer regarded as a product, it’s a strategic service that must be delivered against strict SLAs. With this in mind Strategic Imperatives set about re-writing the billing landscape. “We asked our customers one question, ‘What would a perfect billing system look like?’,” said Sabbagh. “We took their answers and our experience of turning complex requirements into intuitive solutions and launched a multi-million pound project to design and develop a system from the ground up. We threw out the rulebook and created Elevate.”

Sabbagh defines his vision of billing as The Power of Now, a term that describes a key driver for Elevate which he believes will change how communication providers view and use their billing platform. “The Power of Now is all about real-time,” he said. “Elevate works in real-time, responding instantly to changes in customer and pricing data, immediately re-calculating and giving clients a constant oversight of their business performance, with all the data they need at their fingertips. Elevate’s real-time approach is reflected in the visually rich and dynamic dashboards created by users from a library of widgets and reporting tools.”

At the heart of Strategic Imperatives’ proposition are SaaS-based solutions with no on-premise requirements, best of breed integration using published APIs, an intuitive user experience and no contractual tie in. “We are also committed to equivalence and bringing solution parity to the market,” stated Sabbagh. “Our pay-as-you-use pricing and start-up packages level the playing field for resellers regardless of their size. We provide the same solutions and service wrap to channel giants such as TalkTalk, Vodafone, Daisy, Gamma and Plusnet as we do to the smallest reseller, enabling a provisioning and billing level playing field and ensuring minimal technological barriers as resellers build their businesses.”

Another step change in the channel’s expectations of a billing system is reflected in the shift in attitude towards technology, business support systems, processes and propositions, pointed out Sabbagh. “Best of breed integration, automation, SaaS and usability are now fundamental requirements that cannot be easily retrofitted to existing systems,” he observed. “We have also gained a far better understanding of the nature of a true cloud proposition. Gone are the days when a cloud offering simply meant hosting an application remotely. Communication providers are now asking about dynamic scaling, disaster recovery and security, all difficult questions to answer when a product is based on legacy technology.”

Integration has also become a key driver for most businesses, regardless of size, as they seek to build processes based on best of breed platforms rather than a ‘one size fits all’ solution, pointed out Tim Sayer, Head of Business Development. “Nearly every business we speak to is asking about the availability of our APIs as they seek to integrate billing with CRM, order management, accounts/ledger, collection and other systems,” he said.
Sayer also noted that high profile security breaches inside and outside of the comms sector reminded everyone, again, about the importance of security in all manner of software systems.

“One of the inherent benefits of AWS is an enterprise level of security that’s out of reach for most software developers and the majority of communication providers,” added Sayer. “But it’s an integral part of what we deliver to our customers because of the way we have leveraged the AWS architecture. Closely linked to this is the impact of fraudulent usage on many communication providers, so we, and other vendors, have provided a suite of tools to allow suspect activity to be monitored, alerts raised and action taken.”

Using Amazon’s enterprise cloud infrastructure has enabled Elevate to offer high levels of security with the introduction of automated vulnerability scanning, two factor authentication and financial grade encryption. Big data is another key trend that will influence the billing market, noted Sabbagh.

“Hats off to our colleagues at Union Street who have used big data principles to introduce the recent Benchmarking service,” he commented. “We have big plans in this area, fraud detection and analytics in particular. The AWS infrastructure enables Elevate to utilise massive data warehouse engines such as Amazon Red Shift as part of our proposition to offer a big data service that would otherwise be financially out of reach of all but the largest network operators.”

Such propositions, along with connectivity, networking, cloud services, complex bundling and complementary services must be at the heart of a modern billing system, not just an add-on to a bygone era, believes Sabbagh. “The future of billing systems is driven by their unstoppable evolution from standalone products to being an integral part of a fully integrated open service platform utilising best of breed CRM, billing and provisioning services, based on agreed industry standards,” he added. “We also see a market for a library of complementary micro services such as payment management, banking integration and credit scoring, all flourishing as part of an open integration architecture.”

We have seen that Strategic Imperatives’ go to market strategy is defined by the cloud, big data, security and the evolution of the channel. Here’s another reason why. “Cloud is key for true SaaS,” said Sabbagh. “In developing Elevate we utilised AWS, the same infrastructure that supports many of the world’s Fortune 500 organisations. Our approach eliminates the need for complex infrastructure and will seamlessly grow with our customers’ business.

“In terms of billing systems, our biggest opportunity lies with those resellers who, after reviewing their IT stack, have come to realise that the future lies with SaaS-based, integration led and open billing platforms. The channel has always recognised that it operates in a world where it must adapt to survive, and the same is true of billing systems.

“When we introduced Elevate our intention was to transform the billing market. Elevate has pioneered the introduction of auto-scaling which instantly delivers greater capability and capacity on-demand. We call this approach ‘elastic magic’ because users never experience unpredictability or reduced performance when their processes ramp up demand, and it runs so smoothly that it feels like magic.”

Another topic on which Strategic Imperatives exerts a telling influence is focused on the development and elevation of industry standards. “We are working with industry bodies to establish and maintain standards for the benefit of everyone,” said Sayer. “We’ve become advocates for the channel, engaging in collaborative discussion and forum participation around regulation, processes and technology. We’re well regarded as industry experts by our clients and the industry regulators who call upon our expertise to validate proposed changes to the channel ecosystem.