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Billing Software Evolution in Action

Posted on:Monday March 25, 2024

“2023 was a busy, challenging, but successful year” says Ellie Allseybrook, Business Development Director at Inform Billing.  “Our primary objective was solidifying our platform for our next stage of growth building on the foundations that we have laid over the past 14 years. Our track record has seen the business grow at around 15% year on year and we intend to see Inform Billing double its revenues in the next 3-5 years.  Whilst we ended the year comfortably ahead of our target for gaining new customers, we also felt the continuing impact of M&A activity within the channel.

“We set out to gain the ISO 9001 and 27001 certifications and achieved this, demonstrating our commitment to providing our clients with reliable, secure and top-tier services while maintaining a strong focus on quality and continuous improvement.  We were thrilled to win four prestigious industry awards, a record reflecting all corners of the business and providing external recognition for all the hard work behind the scenes.

“2023 was also a bumper year for our Eclipse billing software as we delivered releases with 55 new features and enhancements.  A highlight being our new ‘Automated MSP billing’ functionality, delivering automated billing of in-month subscription variations with the touch of a button, making reconciliation of MSP services such as licences and back-ups significantly easier and more accurate.

“Lastly, we also spent the year developing and preparing to launch our ground-breaking and stand-alone business intelligence solution: Inform Analytics.”  Allseybrook explains: “As a business we have strengths in securely managing and interpreting commercially sensitive data in great volumes and as a true independent, providing confidence that insights will not feed a wider agenda.  With our extensive market experience and track record of successfully delivering data projects, we invested in a dedicated team with specialist expertise to deliver accessible ‘Analytics as a Service’ to the channel.

“Our analytics solutions power ICT resellers and MSPs to easily identify trends, reduce risks, increase profitability and drive informed decisions.  We’ve built a standard set of dashboards providing an ‘off-the shelf’ centralised and real-time view of relevant data but can also provide fully outsources business analytics..”

“Billing remains at the forefront of what we do, as we continually improve our software and services to offer the best billing solutions in the market.  Analytics is a natural extension, utilising our core competencies and providing both a real point of differentiation to us and significant benefits to our customers.”

“The telecoms landscape continues to change at a rapid pace and there are areas of particular interest: “The roll out of full fibre will create opportunities for everyone in the channel, billing providers included.  However, it also presents challenges and the impending PSTN switch off will impact on resources and profitability.  With this in mind, through our analytics offering we have built a dedicated dashboard designed to give visibility, track performance and identify trends, supporting resellers to formulate and deliver their strategy for migrating legacy services.  Insights are delivered in real-time, seamlessly integrating via API from Inform Billing’s Eclipse billing platform.

“The continuing transition to recurring revenues still plays a big part in generating opportunities for the channel and billing providers need to play their role in enabling resellers to capitalise on those revenue streams.  At the same time, whilst call revenues are diminishing, other consumption or usage-based opportunities are evolving, again providing significant opportunities for the channel to utilise its expertise in monetising recurring and consumption based commercial models.

“We expect to see a continued trend towards automation, with technological areas such as AI and IFTTT growing over the coming years.  These are again key to how customer value is shifting and therefore it’s imperative that resellers and MSPs have the right capability from their billing provider to take advantage of these shifts as they happen.  At Inform Billing we have customers spanning traditional telecoms, IT, mobile and IoT as well as utilities, waste management, banking and even hospitality all using our software for billing.  We are developing partnerships in diverse markets relevant to the subscription economy, opening future opportunities for both Inform Billing and the channel.”

Allseybrook explains: “At a very simple level, the most important requirement of a billing provider is to provide a stable cloud-based platform, enabling resellers or MSPs to get bills out accurately, on time, maintaining cashflow.

“On top of that critical requirement, there are many standard elements of functionality within our Eclipse platform that provide an advantage to resellers when margins are under increasing pressure.  For example, it is more important than ever to verify all incoming costs from suppliers and through revenue assurance tools, account for every line, charge and service delivered, maximising revenues as far as possible.  At the same time, through the extensive reporting suite it’s easy to manage costs, understand profit and most importantly, know if an individual customer is making you money.

“Aside from meeting these fundamental requirements, billing service providers now need to extend their offerings with extra features and services to augment their value proposition.  Self-service functionality, particularly relating to mobile services, has also evolved from a nice to have to an essential requirement for many.  Inform Billing added the ability to monitor unbilled usage, add mobile bars and complete SIM swaps for certain suppliers back in 2020 and have now extended integrations to offer mobile self-service options with API integration into Abzorb, Gamma Mobile, Giacom & Zest4.  Additionally, we provide a comprehensive branding service to white-label the portal seamlessly aligning with the reseller’s website.

“Integration in general continues to be a key requirement.  Everyone wants and expects their systems to seamlessly integrate reducing duplication and manual entry.  In response to this ever-increasing demand and as part of our ongoing development, Inform Billing has significantly invested into our API set, enabling customers to build links between other systems and/ or other suppliers and Eclipse in a more structured way.  We have specifically worked closely with The Layer to provide an off-the-shelf integration between our two platforms, to the benefit of our mutual customers.”

“Thirdly, we have increasingly seen requirements for billing systems to accommodate MSP services from Office 365 licencing to back-up licencing, to IaaS as well as voice and data in all-inclusive or unlimited packages.  There is a common theme that these services can easily be billed through accounting or CRM systems, but what these systems will not do is accurately reconcile supplier invoices.  Inform Billing has invested in an Automated MSP module specifically designed to streamline subscription management and enable effective reconciliation, addressing the challenges of subscriptions, quantity changes and billing processes that occur throughout the month.”

Allseybrook believes a billing partner needs to cater for the diverse needs of its entire customer base and provide a combination of powerful software backed up with a wealth of knowledge and expertise to tap into.  She explains: “Inform Billing provides an independent, flexible solution with different propositions for different scenarios.  For new entrants who have never done billing before all the way through to large PLCs who want to de-risk, we have a tailored bureau service where the portal is part of the solution, but most important is the service, ongoing support and expertise that comes with it.

“Another area to consider is what else can your billing provider help with?  This is where our brand-new offering, delivered through Inform Analytics provides additional meaningful value and a real point of differentiation.  Complementing our existing billing services, Inform Analytics removes the barriers to delivering effective analytics in-house, where significant investment into data, people and tools are required to ensure success. Removing the need to invest in data preparation, select, learn and implement appropriate analytics tools or build data warehouses, data lakes, API connectors or write SQL scripts, resellers and MSPs can now access relevant and meaningful analytics utilising our analysts and developers, eliminating the need to recruit a dedicated data science team.

“The service, available by monthly subscription, starts with a range of pre-configured dashboards designed specifically for ICT resale businesses, with more bespoke options if and when required. The cloud-based dashboards provide a centralised real-time view, offering insights into usage patterns, profitability and revenue generation. Inform Analytics standard offering enables you to make informed choices regarding service offerings and pricing strategies, boosting profitability and customer satisfaction.  Taking it a step further to provide more insights directly relevant to your business and harnessing the expertise of our in-house team to make predictions and highlight areas for further attention. Inform Analytics can even take data-driven decision-making to the next level with their bespoke offering; here they will scope the full requirement and bring in a range of additional or alternative data sources, painting a more holistic picture.

“Regardless of functionality in any software application, real value comes from the knowledge and experience of the provider to both pre-empt and adapt to the ever-changing market and its emerging needs.  The ability to access this experience and expertise at ease should never be underestimated.”

“At Inform Billing customer feedback heavily influences our development roadmap.  We have outlined our proposed 2024 product roadmap, encompassing a range of updates and feature integrations that will provide the greatest opportunity and value. These collectively reinforce our commitment to providing customers with a resilient billing process and end-users with improved capabilities. Notable additions include multi-factor authentication, improvements to managing contracts in the platform, significant enhancements to our end-customer portal and the introduction of a mobile app.”

With M&A largely driving changes in the billing world in the past couple of years, Allseybrook hopes that the market will remain competitive over the coming years: “History shows that competition drives innovation as well as commercial competitiveness and this is true in the billing market, as with any other.  Some might argue that when larger and more powerful players seek to gain advantage purely through size, it becomes detrimental to the customers and market they serve.  In the same way that if there were only one or two telephony providers, the channel would be a pretty sad place.  It is paramount that resellers have legitimate choice in all elements of their supply chain, even more so in the current climate and I hope to continue to see billing providers across the industry benefit from both new entrants and new offerings in the market.”

“With so much emphasis on data driven decision making throughout the supply chain, the power of independent billing is now greater than ever.  Whilst efficiencies from buying and billing services through the same supplier might be tempting, this may be detrimental in the long term through potential price increases and exit strategies.”  Allseybrook explains: “Without independent billing, exit routes are narrowed and business values are likely to come under pressure.  It’s been proven on many occasions that resellers with true control over their customer base, and with billing independent from their network service provider, see a positive and significant impact on the value of their business”

“Resellers can truly gain a competitive advantage through their billing software, a business critical application which can reduce resource investment, enable commercial competitiveness, improve cashflow, enhance customer satisfaction and boost profitability.  Some people see billing as a means to an end, but when billing is not right it is frustrating and demoralising for the reseller and its everything to their end-customer – something they clearly remember when the time comes to re-tender.”

Allseybrook recognises part of any good partnership is staying close to your individual customers’ needs and being able to respond and adapt to changes in their requirements.  “Not only do we have a modern API driven software product, with a roadmap that we have full control of, but we also continue to invest in the outstanding training and support that has always set us apart.  We are in a very privileged position and look forward to maximising our opportunities in 2024 and beyond.”

Published in Comms Dealer March 2024 – pages 22-23 

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