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Billing Specialists Ltd (BSL) obviously follows news stories about rating and billing opportunities in its chosen market place, which includes telecommunications - and not just news about NetCracker's Geneva/RBM™ software. Here are our thoughts on some recent news stories and events we have attended.


06/11/2014 - UK rail operator Arriva Cross-Country has its 'eye on the ball' with optimised yield management

We were pleased to attend a presentation in Cambridge on 5th November 2014 by Andy Cooper, Managing Director of Arriva Cross Country, which gave a good insight into how they perform yield management when selling seats on their trains.

With more than 30 years in the British rail industry (dating from the British Rail era) in charge of running passenger trains, we were surprised that a man pre-occupied with running trains on time had such strong knowledge of revenue management and customer relationhip management applications. It is unusual to attend a presentation for a largely non-IT audience and see MIS systems (with ETL processes) described on the PowerPoint slides.

Arriva Cross Country seems to be much more pro-active than other train operators when it comes to innovative selling. It is virtually unique by operating no railway stations, which means that it does more business online and through mobile apps than almost any other operator. Therefore it sells a greater proportion of advance train-specific tickets than almost any of the operators (for whom the flexible ticket is most common) and has introduced new facilities such as booking a reserved seat on a train up to 10 minutes before departure, rather than the night before.

It appeared that Arriva Cross Country's yield management systems were the closest of any train operator to the airlines proven powerful systems offering dynamic pricing. Arriva has built up seven years' worth of data on train usage, and at night it monitors performance against 'rules' defined by 'yield analysts'. The next morning they investigate any rules that have been broken (sales substantially under or over target) and can refine the prices. We were suprised that humans were involved to such a great extent, but apparently the system is self-learning.

It is pleasing to know that such a lethargic industry as Britain's railway has entered the modern commercial world but we couldn't help wondering whether the huge data asset and MIS tools that Ariva has built up will be lost if they fail to retain the franchise in the future. We believe that it is in the interest of Britain's farepayers and taxpayers that such an asset is available to its successor.


04/11/2014 - Proposal for National Roaming in the UK

How many times in the UK do people complain that they cannot get a signal on their mobile phone? Too many - that's the inevitable answer.

In an increasing number of countries the loss of signal ('not-spots') is not a problem. The reason is that whilst a customer's 'home' operator may not have 100% coverage, the chances are that almost every part of that country is within the reception area of one of the mobile operators. Their phone will connect to their 'home' operator but where there is no signal it will look for another operator's signal. In fact, some countries will even connect to another operator where it is signficantly stronger than the 'home' operator.

This automatically happens now when someone from outside the UK is roaming within the UK. Their phone will always find an operator, which means that a visitor to the UK gets a better signal than a UK resident. This is madness, as the government's Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said in early November 2014, and he proposes to force operators to provide national romaing. We agree. Having worked with clients who operate national roaming in other European countries we know it is pretty easy to achieve. There is no technical challenge, as it is already supported for international roamers, and there are already agreements in place between every operator to bill for mobile originating and terminating calls.

Some of the operators are opposed (as evidenced by Mr Javid's threat to pass legislation forcing it to happen) on commerical grounds. They are right to be concerned about some operators deliberately providing lacklustre infrastructure (to save costs) knowing that they can piggy-back on their rivals' networks to serve their customers, saving money overall where the wholesale interconnect costs are cheaper than operating masts in geographically difficult terrain or providing over-capacity to meet occasional demand. The concerns can be addressed with offset charges for those operators who disproportionately push their customers onto other netwokrs.

We were astonished when the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, opposed her colleague's proposal because she claimed it made terrorism easier on the grounds that identifying individuals would be more difficult to track. This is nonsense, as the owner of the mobile handset still needs to be identified in order to be charged whether it is pre-paid or post-paid, and this tracking can still be done in near real-time. No other European countries that we are aware of have made any such claim.


17/06/2012 - Convergys sells its Information Management Group to Japan's NEC

Our consultants were working for UK-based Geneva Technology Ltd when it was sold to Convergys Inc in 2001, moving from a company that had just one product, a best of breed rating and billing application that had taken Europe by storm, to a giant US corporation that had not just several applications, but several rating and billing applications. Joining up with a company that had experience of CRM, provisioning, inventory management made sense. Being taken over by a company that was actively promoting applications that rivalled Geneva, and continued to acquire other rivals in the years that followed, made less sense. Convergys also ran call centres and operated data centres for its clients, but there was little overlap with its software side of the business and certainly no attempt to use their in-house installations as a proving ground for their applications.

Having two major divisions with their own separate structures inevitably led to its Information Management Group (IMG), which produced and marketed software, being sidelined. Then Convergys attempted to create a third division, Human Resource management group, but its losses were so high that it was eventually sold.

With a share price languishing around $10, against $40 in 2001 when Geneva Technology was acquired and a prediction of $100 by 2003, it was obvious to any market watcher that IMG would be sold off. The new executives had made this a priority.

At Billing Specialists we welcome the news that Convergys has divested itself of its information management arm. Sale to a Japanese corporation was, to say the least, unexpected, although who would have once imagined the sale of a famous Hollywood studios to Japan? NEC already has a successful subsidiary NetCracker Technology, and it made sense for the Smart Revenue suite of products to move under it. The good news is that NetCracker doesn't have any rival software products so it is a case of widening the range of their offers, rather than causing confusion over which one to promote. It also has a very different but compatible customer base, so NetCracker clients are potential Smart Revenue clients and vice versa. We hope that the ownership change will see a bright future for Smart Revenue - the software, especially Rating and Billing Manager (RBM™), deserves it.

The transfer of the business was swift, completing on 16/06/2012, and we understand it has gone well. However, we wonder why NetCracker is dragging its heels over removing the Convergys name from its web-site, brochures and other collateral.


14/03/2012 - UK's Ofcom may allow Everything Everywhere Ltd to launch LTE using existing spectrum

UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has announced that it is likely, subject to rivals not objecting, to allow Everything Everywhere Ltd, the joint venture of Orange UK and T-Mobile (UK), to launch the UK's first Long Term Evolution (LTE) next-generation mobile broadband services. This would be possible by making use of its existing allocated spectrum.

A decade earlier the UK government was ahead of the game and auctioned off the 3G spectrum at an astronimcal sum of money. However, this time releasing the necessary spectrum and dithering over how much money could be raised has seen the auction postponed, leading the the UK lagging behind in rolling out leading edge communications technology. The UK-originated RBM software from Convergys is already rating LTE events in other countries and will be able to meet Everything Everywhere Ltd's requirements in this short timescale, giving the operator a 12-month lead over its rivals until the new LTE spectrum is released at the end of 2013.

Consultants from Billing Specialists Ltd have been working on a project for this UK telecom giant, which has 27 million subscribers.


10/03/2012 - Mobile phone access through the UK-France Channel Tunnel at last

A deal has ben signed to allow mobile phone coverage in the Channel Tunnel, which our consultants will certainly appeciate. We've travelled more than a hundred times on the high-speed rail link to our clients in Paris and Brussels. However, the advantage of losing the signal is that you know when you are roaming and when you are on home soil. How will you know if the change takes place half-way through the tunnel - there's hardly a sign post is there?

Problem solved. On the tunnel used from France to the UK it wil be operated by a French telco, and in the UK-France direction by a UK telco. You will change status once you exit the tunnel. Simples!


08/03/2012 - UK government review of railway costs says nationwide smartcard ticketing is the way ahead

The UK government has just announced its review of last year's report from Sir Roy McNulty on how the British railways can cut their operating costs, becoming more cost-effecitve and lowering both subsidy and fares. One of the passenger-focused improvements will be the replacement of tickets made from pieces of dead tree with plastic smartcards across the network. This will enable two big changes to the revenue management of the railway:

Recording which train a passenger used would require Near Field Communications (NFC) on the train, whilst powerful discounting functionaity could offer the passenger a post-travel discount (making their next journey cheaper). Billing Specailists Ltd has already looked at how Convergys' Rating and Billing Manager (RBM) could be configured to offer an astonishing range of train passenger discounts and loyalty points.

Last updated: 8th November 2014