BlogUntangling Telecom Part 3: Understanding the Process, Can Change the Outcome

Untangling Telecom Part 3: Understanding the Process, Can Change the Outcome

December 28, 2017, Expense Management

By Larry Foster

In the first blog of this series, I outlined why your telecom bill can be a confusing process. Sanctioned utility agreements between telecommunication companies and government agencies inadvertently add complexity to billing details, making it difficult to understand precisely what you are paying for without some detective work. In Part 2, I outlined how TEM & MMS solution providers that want to represent the best interest of organizations truly need to transform their current business models.  In this concluding blog, I will talk about one specific area that you can bring to light with your mobile and landline service providers, and when applicable, partner with your TEM and MMS solution provider to leverage their collective influence to foster universal change.

Invoice Delivery Methods

As we’ve discussed, it can be difficult and expensive to obtain billing information promptly and intuitive format.  For the most part, paper versions of telecommunication invoices were replaced with electronic versions in part due to cost-cutting measures and convenience.  However, many carriers do not officially acknowledge the electronic version to dispute a charge. This increases an organization’s reliance on hardcopy representation to manage payments and mitigate disputes.  The reality is that most carriers only support a single method of invoice delivery. This means when an organization selects one of the electronic delivery formats below; paper delivery ceases unless the organization is willing to pay extra for it.

The following sections will overview the Pros and Cons of each invoice delivery method. The reason I am going into such extreme detail over these methods is so that managers can become enlightened to the current process.

Method 1: EDI AS/2

Pro: Most automated, most secure and most reliable hands-free method to receive detailed electronic invoices without requiring human intervention.

Cons: Expensive setup and annual maintenance of proprietary software carriers establish their EDI record format standards. An EDI file cannot be interpreted by humans without specialized software, and because usage records are rated with four-digit precision, but billed in two-digit precision, carriers do not guarantee that the abbreviated total of the detailed usage charges will reconcile to the total values on the summary pages.

Explanation: Electronic data interchange (EDI) is the computer-to-computer exchange of business documents between companies. EDI carrier invoices use specific computer record formats that are based on widely accepted standards which are not readable by humans. No true universal EDI invoice standard prevails across the telecommunication industry or in some cases, even across different billing platforms owned by the same company due to acquisitions and mergers.

How it works:

  • Step 1: The carrier places an EDI invoice in the client’s designated Outbound directory.
  • Step 2: The Client’s side of the AS/2 automated file transfer system checks the carrier’s Outbound directory based on the schedule that is configured for each invoice.
  • Step 3: If an EDI document is found in the outbound directory, the AS/2 starts a predefined business process that downloads the invoice. Any issue that affects a successful download is captured as a reference to correct problems.

Organizations have two choices –Assume responsibility for downloading and normalizing EDI invoices or leverage a TEM solution provider to provide this as a service.

Method 2: Carrier Invoice Portal, FTP or sFTP Downloads

Pro: Access to electronic files which may be in a variety of formats – EDI, PDF, Excel, TXT or  CSV, Tab, Pipe, etc.

Cons: Client owns the complete responsibility to manage the download process. FTP directories are relatively consistent and straightforward. However, carrier portals are dynamic and inconsistent even within a single carrier across different billing platforms.

Explanation: Carrier Invoice portals come in all shapes and sizes. Carriers will typically provide some User Guide type instructions. However, due to the frequent mergers and acquisitions, portals often change which require learning new steps. Also, carriers on occasion will execute more comprehensive changes which require the assignment of new login credentials.

How it works: Organizations have two choices –Assume responsibility for downloading invoices from vendor portals or pay a TEM solution provider to provide this as a service.

Method 3: API – Application Program Interface utilities offered by carrier

Pro: API downloads are become a more popular file download protocol, especially with the emerging multi-facet cloud-service providers like Amazon and Microsoft. APIs parallel the automation, security, and reliability of AS/2 methods without the expensive setup and annual maintenance cost of proprietary AS/2 software. Carriers offer electronic files which may be in a variety of formats – EDI, PDF, Excel, TXT or CSV, Tab, Pipe, etc.

Cons: Very limited offerings by traditional carriers.

Explanation: Carriers require organizations to take full responsibility to download their files. API operates very similar to FTP where a scheduled API “Get” call initiates a specific set of commands to authenticate and download invoice files. APIs are consistent and continually expanding to offer access to additional data files including near real-time usage which provides insight of consumption before receiving the invoice. Carriers will publish instructions how to leverage their APIs and secure a certificate to govern the secure encrypted communication between servers. Once APIs are up-and-running, they pretty much run unattended.

How it Works: Application Programming Interface (API) provides a secure bi-directional interface that automates the data exchange between two systems. Organizations that maintain sole ownership of this responsibility need to make sure they implement appropriate release and change management procedures as well as a well-documented service catalog for all their scheduled API procedures. Failure to do so could inadvertently result in a costly late payment penalty or a worst case an unexpected disconnection.

Conclusion

Organizations need to have insights into the details of how invoices are deployed, consumed and relate back to contractual agreements. Organizations that leverage TEM solution providers should put pressure on them as partners to influence the types of invoice and quality of inventory information services carriers to provide.

Overall, I hope this series has opened your eyes to the various inner workings of the telecom industry that I covered in the three blog posts. I have always believed in the phrase that “knowledge is power” and through knowledge, we can work to make change happen.

Larry Foster Bio