Soothing the billing blues

Cost efficiency and flexibility – these are often top priorities for businesses looking for solutions to handle their billing needs.

It was those two concerns that sent Toronto-based Futureway Communications Inc. (renamed FCI Broadband as of June 2) on a hunt for a new platform to replace the costly and rigid system its billing processes had been running on, according to the telephone and Internet services provider’s vice-president of customer service, Giulio De Gasperis.

Futureway was using a heavily customized off-the-shelf package at the time, but “it didn’t lend itself to the fast-growing, fast-changing environment we are in,” said De Gasperis. In addition, “there was also a lot of vendor support required, and it was a very costly venture keeping in-house staff to maintain the system.” The billing application needed 10 management and programming employees to support it, he added.

Two products were on Futureway’s short list, one of which was the Advanced Customer Management Engine (ACME), an ASP billing platform by Toronto-based CRM and billing solution provider Datex.

According to Jim Dawson, president of Datex, ACME goes beyond other customer relationship management CRM solutions, which may only handle bits and pieces of CRM, such as contact management, pre-sales or trouble ticket issue resolution. “We treat [ACME] as more of a customer lifecycle management tool,” Dawson said, adding that ACME takes the customer through the contact, prospect, sales contract and resolution stages – the full deal.

The solution provides its own back office support system, which includes accounts receivable subsystems and centralized locations for financial transactions of customers. Standard functionalities include: an inventory system, internal messaging, advanced reporting option, order entry and interfacing for provisioning of new services.

On top of that, ACME is a hosted and managed service, which means customers “don’t have to worry about hardware platforms, or having the IT department keeping it up and running; there is no software to be installed.”

In the end, Futureway chose ACME, De Gasperis said, because the solution “got a lot of good reviews from previous customers, and because of the commitment that [Datex] could turn over the new system very quickly.”

And according to De Gasperis, Datex kept its promise – the system was up and running in 90 days, with one notable bump along the way: “The one thing was that data migration took longer than expected,” he said, adding that there was a simple explanation for the slowdown. “If you have garbage in one database and the new system won’t allow it, you have to clean it up before you migrate the data.”

Dawson said the solution could have been launched in a few days, but Futureway “requested that our system adapt to their environment… [and contain] a certain amount of customization for their purposes.” In contrast, he said, Datex has a new customer in the telecom space that at press time was to be up and running in about a week.

Not only has ACME smoothed out Futureway’s billing processes, but it has also helped alleviate the cost of IT staff – now reduced to two full-time and one part-time support personnel. Handling inbound calls in Futureway’s call centre, the solution has enabled easier and faster access to customer records; and whereas with the old system it would take two weeks to make a change to a product; De Gasperis said with ACME, it now takes 15 minutes.

There’s also a lot more process validation integrated into the system, which makes ACME a cost-effective solution, he said. “The CRM portion makes sure we’re assigning the right product to the right person…the new system offers possibilities of validation that we never had before.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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