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Billing - the Misfit

  • Billing is the misfit in the enterprise software family. CRM and ERP – besides being three letter acronyms - are well accepted software categories. They are perceived as horizontal “suites” that can be applied to any industry. Moreover, pretty much every “enterprise suite” positions both ERP and CRM  as their major strength. 
    But if you look at billing from a business point of view – it is a critical part of any commercial model, it must be automated to be effective and it is not covered by either CRM or ERP. By all definitions, it should be up there in the enterprise software pantheon with the three letter boys.
    And I would say it is not – for two reasons. One, most  billing software is highly vertical – each industry (and practically every segment in that industry – even in Telco) has its own group of vendors.   Two, the reason for such a high degree of specialization is that Billing is too easy.
    Too easy?!! How could I say such a thing…? Billing is notoriously difficult – high volumes combined with the infinite imaginations of product managers. Just recall how many home grown billing systems have been written and continue to be written – and many are quite good. I must admit in my years in Billing to having replaced a few that were better than the product I was implementing.
    Anybody can write a billing system – as long as they stick to their business segment. Indeed most productized systems began just this way. These products just happened to be the cream of the crop and were seen as good enough to resell to other businesses.  With such low barriers to entry, there was no incentive to write a general billing solution.
    Why didn’t this happen to ERP? You would think that each industry’s specialized resource planning needs would have driven ERP to be highly vertical. The problem was that each business – each factory – was a world unto itself – a vertical approach would have driven an ERP – an un-reusable ERP – for every company that used it. ERP as a domain required a framework approach. Without it, the revolution in enterprise software that was led by ERP – would never have happened.   The heroes in this saga were the Dutch, the Danish and the Germans (BAAN, AXAPTA and SAP) from my point of view. (Only one vendor bucked this trend – Oracle which has never shied away from creating Encyclopaedia Oraclia by buying industry specific solutions).
    Back to Billing.  Billing’s issue is that like ERP is it tremendously diverse. Unfortunately in the 1990’s, unlike ERP, there was no reason to tackle this complexity. Vertical solutions were OK.  But as we approach 2010 the world has changed – the divergence that was natural to the world of ERP in 1990’s is becoming the norm in the world of billing. Even within industries – the need for commercial differentiation – is making fixed practice billing an impediment to success.  Moreover, as we see convergence between industries – from transport, to telecoms, to retail and to finance – billing has to finally address the hard issues that ERP faced so long ago.
    Otherwise – the day that billing gets its own 3 letter acronym will never come and ERP will grow impatient and absorb it completely.  The real issue for me is the perception by outsiders that billing is nothing more than rating… if this is how billing absorbs billing we will lose a lot of value add (albeit hardcoded) that is delivered today in billing.
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