Billing providers get ahead

As Ofcom prepares to review the rules governing the accuracy of the industry’s billing systems, the billing providers themselves are already setting a new benchmark for cooperation and efficiency as they prepare for the inaugural meeting of the new FCS Billing Group.

Building on work originally undertaken by five of the UK’s largest billing providers, the FCS Billing Group oversees the development and promotion of the common industry standard for Call Data Records (CDRs), which went ‘live’ in January this year.

It also provides a forum to discuss broader issues related to billing issues and industry best practice. So with Ofcom’s recent announcement that it is consulting on changes to its Metering and Billing Direction, the industry is already in better shape than ever before to meet the challenge, says acting Billing Group Chairman Tony Cook.

“Coming together to agree a common standard to make life easier for CPs was a major step last year,” he says. “Working together within FCS ensures everybody with an interest in making billing more efficient can contribute to the common goal of taking the industry forward.”

Ofcom opened its consultation on February 14th, reviewing a Direction, last updated in 2008, which ensures that communications providers’ billing systems meet certain technical standards for accuracy.

In addition to an obligation in the General Conditions on all Communications Providers to provide accurate bills, the Direction imposes some specific further requirements on providers with a turnover in the provision of fixed and mobile voice services of over £40m a year. Such providers must have their ‘Total Metering and Billing Systems’ approved by an Ofcom-appointed third party as conforming to the requirements set out in the Direction. The Direction imposes maximum error rates for providers’ billing systems and also includes monitoring and reporting obligations.

The consultation considers whether its scope and requirements remain appropriate given market changes in recent years. However, FCS members have specific concerns about an additional proposal to remove wholesale services from the Direction. Participants at the inaugural meeting of the FCS Billing Group meeting will be able to review the Ofcom proposals in more detail and feed their experiences into the draft FCS response before the consultation closes on April 25. Members will also formally elect a Chair for the new group.

Equally importantly, says Tony Cook, this inaugural meeting will be the first opportunity billing providers have to share experiences on how the new CDR standard is working in practice. The first two monthly bill runs have now been completed using the new industry-standard data format.

“It has always been our view that the CDR standard should be an open standard,” says Tony Cook. “Its value lies in as many people as possible deciding to use it. So it is available on the FCS website for anyone to download free of charge. We only ask people to notify us if they are using it in your business to avoid any risk of errors or complications caused by people using outdated versions.

“Feedback so far has been excellent, and a number of companies who are coming into the call-reporting space have opted to make the FCS standard their default from day one. We look forward to developing both its reach and its quality still further in the year ahead.”

The first meeting of the FCS Billing Group takes place in London on Wednesday March 27th and will be hosted by Preiskel & Co at 5 Fleet Place, London EC4M 7RD. An invitation will be sent to FCS members and others who have expressed an interest in the new billing group shortly. If you would like further details on any of the above issues, or to make sure you’re kept informed of developments, contact Michael Eagle at FCS (meagle@fcs.org.uk).

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