What can telcos learn from the Plusnet fiasco?

What can telcos learn from the Plusnet fiasco?
With a rapid surge in the number of billing errors by leading telcos, time has come to arrest this trend. But how do telecoms businesses go about it? Dominic Smith has some answers…

Recently, BT-owned ISP Plusnet was slapped with a whopping fine of £880,000 by regulator Ofcom for continuing to charge customers after they had cancelled their subscriptions. More than 1,000 subscribers were affected by this billing error and they were collectively overcharged by more than £500,000. In its official statement, Ofcom said that it hoped this would serve as a reminder to telecoms businesses to adhere to strict billing rules at all times.

However, this is not the first time that such an incident has come to light. Only in October last year, Vodafone was handed a fine of £4.6m for incorrect billing, mis-selling and mishandling of customer complaints. And earlier this year, EE was also fined £2.7m for overcharging around 40,000 customers. We’ve also covered similar billing problems in the energy sector in this previous blog post.

With these latest cases, it's quite evident that all types of communications services providers (CSPs) are struggling to keep up with increased customer demand, newer technological forces and competitive pressures. The complex marketplace means that demands on the existing BSS/OSS systems are greater than ever before, especially when seen from a Revenue Assurance perspective. Typical reasons for such errors include changes in configuration within a network, newer pricing plans and strategies, and integration issues between billing and order management systems. These seemingly small errors can snowball into huge implications for businesses such as revenue leakages and service downtime, in addition to the potential PR nightmare as experienced by Plusnet.
Billing systems often bear the brunt of such errors as this is where problems usually become visible to customers. However, the root cause of such issues often lies in other systems or processes. A billing system can work well only if it is configured and integrated well in the first place. Without this, businesses will always be playing catch-up with Revenue Assurance. Also, in order to launch new products/services and overhaul network and applications, billing systems require continuous configuration and integration updates throughout their lifetime. Again, meticulous planning and preparation is required to prevent gaps arising from such implementations.
Now, many telecoms businesses have invested in automated Revenue Assurance systems to overcome such issues. However, investment in a second system, just to check on the first one, seems a little paradoxical doesn't it? How can a business be sure that the second system won't be subject to the same implementation errors? It also means that organisations have to contend with two systems, instead of one, which slows down the whole process of launching new products and services.
The recent high profile cases and fines clearly indicate that things haven't really improved for CSPs, despite the heavy investments that have gone into Revenue Assurance systems. So, what's the way out?
The spirit of Revenue Assurance should revolve around proactively striking at the root cause of the issue, instead of reactively adopting stop-gap measures. No doubt Revenue Assurance processes remain an important aspect of CSP operations. But instead of implementing more processing engines and comparing results, CSPs should gear these processes around checkpoints, dashboards and process monitoring in existing systems. Such an outcome is more seamless in a pre-integrated BSS/OSS stack, and is a better bet for organisations instead of force-fitting heterogeneous systems through integration and data replication.
Revenue leakage is a natural by-product of complex system architectures, multiple product portfolios and poor implementation. And this complexity is only going to increase with the onset of 5G services. A pre-integrated BSS/OSS suite can prevent these integration gaps and help businesses lay the foundation for effective Revenue Assurance in the future.