Interview with Jim DeMarco, CTO of Charging, Billing and Care at NSN

Interview with Jim DeMarco, CTO of Charging, Billing and Care at NSN

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Dominic Smith (DS) caught up with Jim DeMarco (JD), CTO of the Charging, Billing and Care group at Nokia Siemens Networks.

DS: Hi Jim, NSN recently unveiled its new end-to-end BSS solution. Tell me about the Compact Unified Charging and Billing (Compact UCB) platform?

JD: As CTO of the Charging, Billing and Care group at NSN, I am responsible for looking after our BSS stack across our customer base globally, and over the last 6 months we have been revising our strategy in this area and looking at how we can best serve our customers.

We identified that one of the key un-served markets for us has been customers who need to stand up a new business or a new vertical quickly. These customers need to launch a new business or a new business line, and they typically need an end-to-end billing and charging solution. When we looked around at what we had within NSN, we quickly recognised that we are very good at the ability to handle convergent charging, but we needed a strong and proven partner who could handle all of the customer account management, billing, CRM and order management – all of the pieces that are actually required for customer operations. 

And when we looked at the partner options for these customers, by far the best choice was Cerillion. We already had a relationship with Cerillion that had been around for a while, but we are very pleased to have re-established it as a key strategic partnership serving customers who are either entering a new market or consolidating their operations. 

DS: Can you further explain the scope of the Compact UCB solution?

JD: When we look at our customer base and look at what the market is demanding, we are seeing an evolution of the way in which we must charge for things and handle customer transactions. Unified Charging and Billing is our overall solution across the marketplace for exactly that – for unifying the charging and billing environment. 

Unified Charging and Billing, or UCB for short, is based upon our charge@once unified system which incorporates online and offline charging for any type of transaction globally, and has the ability to add in policy management and any kind of mediation, so it is a fully generic multi-service capable charging engine. Within that context it does all the charging and cyclical processing required for managing anything a customer spends money on. The overall solution also incorporates key partner technologies around customer operations, billing, accounting and critically, the ability to handle customer orders and the customer relationship. And this is where Cerillion comes in very strongly. Our compact version, aptly named Compact UCB, is a pre-packaged unified solution based on NSN’s charge@once suite and Cerillion’s Revenue Manager, Service Manager and CRM Plus to help operators stand up a business, or consolidate a set of businesses, quickly and effectively. This combination provides customers with not only an end-to-end solution, but also a very targeted solution that fits their needs today and has a path to their future. 

DS: What differentiates Compact UCB from the other convergent charging solutions available today?

JD: Firstly, there’s our ability to handle charging in the new environment. By this I mean a heavily data driven setup, with massive smartphone influence where you are seeing sometimes 37 different simultaneous transactions going on because every single app on the end user’s phone is pinging the network. So even the smallest operators now need to handle charging on a massive scale and know precisely what they are charging for, and also what they can’t charge for. Plus, we’re now seeing globally the impact of policy management, allowing operators to form and shape service to protect their networks from heavy users.

Policy is an evolving business, and few have learned to link their network policies with their marketing offers, which we see as an evolving critical piece of the business. So, ironically, as networks have become less and less important to the user, we believe they are becoming more and more important for operators to differentiate their offerings. Matching world class real time rating and charging with the evolving concepts of customer usage management – we really are best at that.

The other key differentiator for us is the ability to work with customers and not require them to throw things out that don’t need replacing. A lot of static business is exactly that – once you have put in an accounting system you don’t want to have to throw it out again just because you have upgraded your charging engine. So whilst we have the end-to-end suite, we work with our customers on their true needs, helping them keep non-changing pieces of their existing infrastructure, and then ultimately have a long term roadmap that lets them transform their business over time as necessary. The key thing here is that transformation should let them grow their business rather than suffering a huge amount of turmoil turning six into half a dozen. The NSN approach is to work with customers on their terms, not impose our own.

DS: So what benefits can the solution bring to the operators?

JD: In my experience most operator struggle to launch campaigns and be proactive in the marketplace. As such, we are bringing with the Compact UCB solution two key benefits for operators:

  1. We can stand up a new system fast. That is, by providing a pre-integrated end-to-end solution the new system can be implemented very quickly without the need for lengthy systems integration projects.
  2. And when the system is up and running, operators also have the ability to launch new offers extremely rapidly. A key strength is that we provide a completely generic engine that is service agnostic and doesn’t care what the underlying network technology is. It provides the ability to introduce new rating plans or rating-plus-policy plans very quickly, with these plans being purposed right into the customer care engine. One of the critical points about the integration between our solutions is that we have taken our offers and they are so very easily put into the Cerillion product catalogue – which is one of the strengths that Cerillion brings, because it is a very clean and crisp approach at the centre of how you handle customer management.

So our solution is very fast to launch, it is flexible in terms of the ability to deliver new offers to the market, and because there are not a lot of moving parts, we don’t have to do a massive EAI integration between our system components. We have the ability to let the operator operate, without worrying about the complications of a middleware integration platform.

DS: And what about the end-customers, what benefits will they experience?

JD: In terms of the customer experience, one of the things that we really love about working with Cerillion is that Cerillion brings the ability to have orders worked on from within customer accounts, so there’s no need to synchronise separate order management and customer account engines.

I have spent many years working with operators who suffer from the “runaway order” – where a customer puts in an order, it disappears somewhere in the ether, and the response to it is then to create another order which disappears into the ether again, and so on and so forth. That creates an operational nightmare for the operator, but the nightmare is nothing compared to what the customer experiences – where the customer says I’ve paid for this, I wanted this, but I’m not getting this.

For us, being an engine that sits as a transaction engine working for the customer account management engine that Cerillion brings, it really delivers on the end-to-end customer experience. If you’ll forgive the cliché, but Cerillion is the one company I’ve worked with that really provides a 360 degree view of the customer. So, with Compact UCB we bring to the table the ability for customers to understand exactly where they stand in terms of their relationship with the operator.

DS: And finally, how has the market responded to the launch of Compact UCB and what is it like working with Cerillion?

JD: We spent the second half of 2010 working very closely with the Cerillion and NSN development teams building a pre-integration of our systems so they can be packaged as a single solution. We have invested in making this solution work so that when we sell Compact UCB to customers today, they are buying one packaged end-to-end solution that is ready for delivery.

We are already gaining significant traction in the market with this new solution and expect to be announcing some wins very soon. We are also thrilled about the relationship with Cerillion. It’s a good cultural fit between the two companies, and frankly our teams have become friends with each other. And that’s one of the key things about business and it’s one of Cerillion’s distinguishing characteristics as well. Cerillion’s reputation with operators is that their customers like the attention and like their sense of real close tight-knit relationships. That’s exactly how we are working together as well.

DS: Jim, thank you very much for taking the time out from a very hectic Mobile World Congress.