Billing and monetisation solutions allow channel companies to grow their business. Comms Business finds out more about the solutions and capabilities that are available.

Billing and monetisation solutions are at the centre of reseller and MSP operations. The ability to bill customers accurately and on time is fundamental to any revenue, customer or growth ambitions, and resellers and MSPs have plenty of options for billing providers at their fingertips.

Whilst the technologies that power billing and monetisation solutions are evolving, the core needs of many resellers and MSPs have remained the same. Keith Pearshouse, managing director, Symbiant Technologies, explained, “The fundamental needs of MSPs and resellers have not changed much over the past 20 years. At the heart remains the need to issue timely and accurate invoices, right first time every time and the ability to turn a saleable product or service into a profit generating source. Products may come and go but the fundamentals of billing and collecting money will remain.”

Shaun Bodsworth, managing director, Inform Billing, added, “In today’s fast-paced technology landscape, MSPs and resellers play a crucial role in delivering IT solutions to businesses of all sizes. However, effectively managing billing and monetisation can be a challenging task for channel companies. To streamline this process, they need robust billing and monetisation solutions.

“The primary objective of any billing provider is to provide a stable, cloud-based platform. This platform serves as the foundation for resellers to generate accurate and timely invoices, a critical element in maintaining a healthy cash flow. In an environment where profit margins are consistently under pressure, efficiency and precision are key.”

Channel companies often find their billing provider of choice can help their business stay compliant and competitive. Ant Molloy, CTO, Giacom, explained, “It is essential for a billing vendor to be an industry expert. MSPs and resellers rely on their billing provider to guide them, keep them informed of industry changes, especially those of a regulatory nature, and assist them to remain compliant.

“In a fast-paced industry such as ours, a billing vendor must invest heavily in quality product and development teams that are focused and dedicated on ensuring the software responds to and meets the ever-changing needs of the market.”

Molloy said resellers and MSPs commonly select a billing provider with channel expertise so their business challenges are understood and appreciated. He added, “Billing vendors can provide support, reviewing and optimising the processes of their MSPs and resellers to keep them as efficient as possible, ensuring maximum value is leveraged from the software.

“Similarly, billing vendors can add value by helping MSPs and resellers to configure and optimise the reporting capabilities of their billing software, providing valuable business intelligence that can inform the way they buy and sell services. In many cases, this can also provide insight into how services and customers that are less profitable could be adjusted to make them more worthwhile.”

Billing and monetisation platforms are also helping resellers and MSPs adapt their operations to suit customers that prefer subscription-based services that can be scaled up and down according to business need.

Pearshouse, from Symbiant Technologies, said, “Increasingly customers are expecting to be offered products they only pay for when being used. Such transactional relationships need the ability to issue invoices on an ad hoc basis.”

The right provider can also help resellers and MSPs manage customer groups where new customers have been acquired across a range of sales channels.

Pearshouse explained, “Having a billing platform capable of interacting with sales platforms or importing information to create new customers and automate product ordering can help to improve efficiency and the whole customer experience. Sales partners want confidence they will be paid the right commission on time, every time. A fully integrated sales management and commissions offering is increasingly a must have.”

Pearshouse added that integrating the billing system with the customer relationship management (CRM) system can be an advantage. He said, “With the proliferation of accounting and CRM systems MSPs and resellers need certainty that their billing supplier can interact seamlessly with them and support automation of recurring processes to minimise operating costs while maximising accuracy. More MSPs and resellers now ask us to include a CRM module because they don’t want to be paying twice.”

Simon Adams, managing director, PRD Technologies, said that MSPs and resellers need “flexibility, integrations, and automations” from their billing provider, as well as a recognition that most resellers and MSPs are different.

He added, “We will take the time to understand business requirements, challenges and offer a solution which meet the needs rather than a just off-the-shelf single system fits all type approach. We typically eliminate or significantly reduce the three- or four-day manual billing processes for MSPs while, with most telecom resellers, we aim to achieve invoices being ready day one, or two every month.”

Adams also discussed the importance of opening up access to transformative features and enabling compliance. He said, “Feature rich high functionality and reporting capabilities are important, even our entry level platform is suitable for start-ups and core resellers. Data security is critical and comes with increased overheads, however no corners can be cut here. Most telecoms and MSPs require us to be ISO27001 compliant – not just a third-party hosted IT environment. It is an increasing challenge we must meet.”

Giacom’s Molloy added, “The trends of integration and automation have become crucial aspects of any modern business software, and billing is no exception. Intelligent task automation makes the billing process much more efficient and accurate by reducing repetitive manual processes. This can have a big impact on the bottom line, reducing costs by freeing up personnel, and speeding up invoice dispatch for improved cash flow.

“For billing systems to adapt to changing needs and increasing demand for automation, they need to provide greater levels of integration with end user self-service, CRM, quoting and support tools. This, in addition to out of the box integrations with a multitude of vendors and networks to streamline order and support processes, will ensure data integrity is maintained between systems while minimising the need for human intervention.”

Molloy explained that Giacom has directed its development teams to focus on automation. He said, “Unlocking our partners’ time through increased automation has, and continues to be, a big focus area for our development teams. Our objective is to streamline partners’ ordering, billing, and self-serve processes with automated, end-to-end software solutions. This delivers improved accuracy, efficiency, and customer service while requiring far less oversight, giving partners back their time so they can concentrate on growing their businesses.”

Work from anywhere

How people across the UK carry out their jobs was changed by the pandemic, with hybrid working now normalised and an increasing number of remote roles. Pearshouse, from Symbiant Technologies, explained how those drivers are impacting the billing and monetisation providers.

He said, “Customers expect to access their account information at a time that suits them. An intuitive customer portal, provided free of charge by their billing supplier, with easy access to invoices, summaries of services and the ability to raise product orders and generate enquiries is an essential. Such enquiries and orders need to be fully integrated into whatever CRM system is being used to ensure they are logged, auctioned and reported.

Molloy, from Giacom, agreed hybrid working is making its mark. He said, “The work from anywhere movement has had a huge impact on new technologies and changes to the way MSPs and resellers work. It’s increased the need for automation and integration to bring disparate teams and processes back together, streamlining and standardising. This shift reduces a lot of manual effort and frees up a lot of time which MSPs can use to meet the changing needs of end customers and grow their business.

“Businesses now expect the same level of service and means of interaction in their work relationships as they get in their personal lives. This is driving the need for self-service and a proactive, personalised customer experience. MSPs and resellers are relying on software to do the heavy lifting on these aspects, helping them to retain their existing customers and attract new ones.”

A challenge for billing vendors

Billing and monetisation platform vendors are facing increased competition from a range of financial platform.

Adams, from PRD Technologies, explained, “We have noticed an increasing number of businesses using alternatives to traditional billing platforms, instead using invoice functionality within third-party software such as Sage, Xero, ConnectWise, AutoTask, and Microsoft Dynamics. This is a challenge to traditional billing vendors, especially at the lower end where CDR processing is becoming less critical with bundling and fee call plans.”

Adams emphasised the limitations of those alternatives for channel companies. He said, “These invoicing systems cannot process usage data so more businesses are using Intelligent Billing as a rating engine to generate the required outputs which feed into invoicing systems. We are especially seeing this in MSPs and fibre, but now more so in telecoms. Intelligent Billing can integrate with these sub-systems.

“Partly due to this, we have noted a trend towards custom level requirements where telecoms have very specific integration and automation requirements. It is fair to say enquiries for our entry level out of the box type solutions have declined, but custom level requirements have increased significantly.”

Meeting needs

So, what add-ons might a channel company consider when selecting a billing vendor? Molloy, from Giacom, explained, “The billing system is often the only place an MSP or reseller can access a single view of an end customer and the various products and services they use. This is why it is so powerful and exciting when a billing vendor expands its software capability beyond simply producing a bill, and why it’s the perfect place for MSPs and resellers to look at adding additional functionality.

“The obvious place to start with an add on to a billing system is with an end customer portal. Giving end customers access to their bills and data is crucial, but a good billing vendor will think beyond billing data. An end customer portal can become an extension of an MSP or reseller’s website, taking on their branding and their messaging.

“It can be used as a tool to upsell and cross sell the products across their portfolio to their existing client base. Adding in self service capabilities will result in fewer inbound calls for MSPs and resellers, and therefore a lower cost of service.”

Bodsworth, from Inform Billing, added, “Billing providers in the channel must balance essential requirements with innovative add-ons to meet the evolving needs of MSPs and resellers. Staying ahead of industry trends and offering flexible, cloud-based solutions is key to success in this dynamic landscape.

“As the channel and digitalisation continue to evolve, billing providers can showcase the power of their software and services in diverse markets. It is an exciting time for those who are ready to embrace change and seize new opportunities.

The aim should be to provide a platform that is simple to use so resellers and MSPs can make the most of their capabilities. Adams, from PRD Technologies, said, “It is about making things easy and being able to offer business transformation through value and functionality. [That could involve] allowing telecoms and MSPs to add new revenue streams venturing into new sectors and into overseas markets.

“[For example], Intelligent Billing supports multi-currency, including local tax compliance. We are seeing increasing demand for converged reseller and MSP billing. White labelling for providers to offer billing services is also an increasingly popular add-on.”

Preparing for an exit

Another consideration when selecting the right billing and monetisation solution for your business could be whether the chosen solution can help illustrate the financial performance of your business. Molloy, from Giacom, discussed the role a billing provider can play in preparing for a sale.

He said, “With so much consolidation in the Channel, it’s also important to recognise that billing providers can play a pivotal role when planning exit strategies. Getting the right guidance at the right time from an expert billing provider with lots of acquisition and consolidation experience can ensure the business and its growth opportunities are presented in the most favourable light, helping to ensure any transaction delivers maximum value.”

That struck a chord with the view of Pearshouse, from Symbiant Technologies. He said, “We expect there to be many more mergers and acquisitions in the market. Having access to accurate management information across a range of metrics easily obtained from your billing solution is key.”

Pearshouse emphasised the significance of recurring income. He explained, “Contracted recurring income is often a key factor when assessing value. Make sure that contract management is simply supported by your billing system.”

The future

Once thing is for certain, change is coming for the Channel. The connectivity infrastructure on which many channel services are run is being upgraded – with the era of all-IP in front of us – and access to disruptive technologies like AI is more open than ever before. Selecting the right billing provider for your business can be instrumental in navigating these changes.

Bodsworth, from Inform Billing, explained, “The telecoms industry is undergoing rapid transformation due to the emergence of technologies such as full fibre, 5G, IoT, artificial intelligence and digitalisation. Billing companies, especially those operating on fully cloud-based platforms, are better positioned to accommodate these changes.

“In an all-IP world, the demand for integrated systems and self-service capabilities is growing. Billing providers are responding by investing in their API sets to enable seamless integration with other systems and suppliers. Moreover, the rise of subscription-based services has introduced the need for flexible billing platforms capable of managing revenue assurance and profitability.

“The value of a billing provider extends beyond software functionality. It lies in the provider’s experience and expertise in navigating the ever-changing market. Easy access to this knowledge and support is essential for MSPs and telecoms resellers.”

This feature appeared in our October 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.