BigPond kicks off massive billing project

Telstra BigPond plans to go live with a new billing platform in early December to kick off a migration process for around 1.7 million customers that may take more than a year to complete.

Telstra BigPond plans to go live with a new billing platform in early December to kick off a migration process for around 1.7 million customers that may take more than a year to complete.

BigPond managing director Justin Milne told ZDNet Australia   the new platform -- based on an Infranet "core" with development work such as building of interfaces being undertaken by BigPond's engineering unit -- would go live on a trial basis with 1,000 to 2,000 customers in early December.

"Then, early next year, March, April, May, we will start to open the platform for existing and new users," Milne said. "It will be a gradual process". BigPond's existing plethora of billing systems would be run on a dual basis with the new platform during the migration period.

The new billing platform -- designed to accommodate all BigPond customers, including those on dial-up, satellite and cable, as well as DSL -- is part of an AU$100 million transformation project to build what Milne described as "an absolutely world-class Internet service provider". Other planks of the project have included commissioning of a new e-mail platform and an online tool that measures the status of customer connections.

The managing director said the billing platform would "give BigPond members a much better ride" by delivering new bill payment (including BPAY) and streamlining capabilities, as well as an online self-administration tool. For BigPond management, the new platform is expected to take some costs out of the business over time.

The self-administration tools would, Milne said, include options for BigPond members to go online to change their plans, add products, check useage and get a longer-term views of useage habits.

BigPond customers would able to pay for ADSL and possibly other services by credit card, direct debit or as part of their Telstra phone bill.

Milne declined to nominate a date by which the massive project -- involving a user base greater than the population of South Australia -- would be completed, saying "we'll take it easily.

"It won't surprise me if the entire process takes more than a year".

Several senior BigPond managers, including chief technology officer Chris Lewis and managing director of operations Phil Jones, are heavily involved in the project.

Customer migration is likely to be prioritised by demand for the billing functionality provided by the new platform. Milne said a customer whose only Telstra service was a straight DSL broadband service would not necessarily derive too much benefit from shifting to the new platform, whereas a customer who had both DSL and telephony services with Telstra and wanted the charges presented on a single bill would obviously achieve a much higher benefit.

Milne said he had just returned from a two-week visit overseas to examine what telecommunications carriers in a range of countries, including the United States, France and Germany, were doing on the billing front. All of them, he said, had billing transformation plans, with some ahead of the Australian telecommunications carrier in execution and some behind.

Milne said the process was "coincident" and highly coordinated with a billing overhaul throughout Telstra's businesses that is expected to cost the telecommunications company between AU$300 million and AU$600 million.

The carrier sends out around 83 million bills -- and 18 million reminders -- every year.

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