Telephony (Fixed Line and Cellular), since its inception, has been bringing people closer by enabling communication in one form or another. Over the years, the means and modes of communication have evolved, driven by advancements in technology and adoption of new products/platforms created by Telecom OEMs and vendors. In today's world of Mobile Communications, penetration and adoption of Mobile devices has far outnumbered that of fixedline phones. The "Telephony Evolution" which started with voice over fixedline phones connected to Networks manned by switchboard operators, has transformed into High Definition Voice, Messaging (SMS, IP based apps), Rich Communication Services, IP Voice/Video and Data over mobile devices. Riding on the core telephony backbone, many "Value Added Services (VAS)" have also been developed for providing additional features and better User experience. Mobile Communications and Telecommunications as a whole, has evolved expeditiously and it wouldn't be wrong to say that our generation is living in a truly connected world. With all this information (Voice, Video, Messaging and Data) flowing across interconnected networks, what becomes critically important is to have a robust Billing and Invoicing Solution to keep track of and generate appropriate invoices for the type and quantity of services used. For a telecom service provider, its "Billing Solution" is among the most important functions which drives its revenue generation and revenue assurance.
With the rapid changes in mobile communications, Billing and Invoicing Solutions have also been evolving over the years. Proprietary Billing Solutions integrated into the OEM platforms are being replaced by decentralized solutions that are often simple, yet, can handle billing/invoicing loads for various types of traffic. These "Micro" Billing Solutions are lean and are focused towards specific billing/invoicing and Analytical needs of mid and lower tier Telecom providers. The two biggest advantages of having such a solution in place are the incremental cost savings, and the flexibility that such solutions offer when compared to full blown Billing Solutions that have a bunch of features that often do not find a use-case. Once integrated into the Cloud infrastructure of the Telco/provider, operational challenges like rapid deployment, decentralization, security, scalability, etc. are also mitigated. As an analogy to the classical example of "David vs Goliath" these "Micro" Billing Solutions are nimble and can fulfill almost all the primary Invoicing and Analytics needs of an Enterprise at a fraction of the cost when compared to paid commercial Billing software.
"Call Detail Record" also referred to as "CDR" is the smallest information unit in a Billing Solution. Each CDR uniquely identifies an individual transaction which could be either Voice (over traditional or IP Networks), Messages (SMS/MMS), Video or Data. Individual CDRs are usually written into files with each file often containing multiple rows of CDR data. These files are stored and later processed by the Billing Solution. As is evident, it is extremely important that the telecommunications application generating the CDRs must include all relevant fields that are required to generate the billing data/invoices. In most implementations, the CDRs include additional fields that are not directly used for billing purposes. These additional fields contain vital pieces of information that allows the Billing Solution to augment itself and be used for
A Billing Solution should handle the specific Billing/Invoicing needs of the telco/provider where it is deployed. Such a solution should not only handle current requirements but should also be modular enough to accommodate future enhancements. Keeping the scope of the solution in mind, the following considerations should be a part of the design and development process -
Software components and considerations:
Multi-user with Role-based Access Control and Privileges:
Among the most important contributions from the software development community is Open Source software. With the exceptional capabilities and features offered by Open Source software, it is possible to build a complete Billing Solution by integrating Open Source software components along with custom logic that would control the solution and its attributes. The building blocks are available; however, the core logic would still depend on software programming and scripting. All the individual components must be tightly integrated to create an autonomous and seamless solution.
The design considerations and the information presented in the earlier sections of this article, can be used to create an "in-house" Billing Solution from scratch. This solution can be used in a production environment to process live CDR traffic and replace 3rd Party commercial Billing Solutions resulting in significant cost savings for the organization. Such a solution can not only serve as a Billing/Invoicing Platform but can also be used for CDR storage, Invoice storage, generating dynamic reports, partner invoice validations and analytics on Live traffic.
Key attributes of such a Billing Solution -
Software components that can be used for such a Billing Solution -
If a problem or goal is divided into smaller portions and then each portion is solved, the whole problem gets solved and the goal is achieved. Though this article talks about a Billing Solution, the basic principles for creating a software solution from scratch, or for that matter, solving any problem remains the same - breakdown the problem, design, improve, redesign, integrate, test and deploy. Though often hidden under layers, the core design is crucial as that would support all the current functionality and future enhancements.
The landscape in the already crowded software and technology space, is ever changing and dynamic. Software that is relevant and significant today often gets overshadowed by something innovatively fresh, though, seemingly insignificant. Thus, in current times, innovation, precision and openness to change hold almost an existential significance for software solutions as well as for businesses as a whole. The strength, the core, though, remains with the design. Follow lean, nimble and agile principles in your designs; after all, "David" followed the same principles to defeat "Goliath" thousands of years back . . .