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Vodafone tries for top billing

Years of planning and testing are set to culminate at Vodafone Australia this weekend as the carrier switches on its new billing system.

Years of planning and testing are set to culminate at Vodafone Australia this weekend as the carrier switches on its new billing system.

Vodafone Australia, which will move to a common system with its New Zealand and (to follow) Fiji sister companies, claims the system will help customer service staff and speed products to market.

Vodafone Australia chief technology officer Andy Reeves said the past week had been a busy one to ensure everything goes smoothly on the weekend.

"There's literally an army of people here to check everything and make sure it's fine," he told ZDNet Australia.

"It's been a 24x7 operation for a while."

Vodafone Australia customers have been unable to perform some tasks, such as number porting, for the past week due to the imminent system cut-over.

The new billing system will run on 13 HP SuperDome farms, three of which are hosted in New Zealand -- where the system was launched in May.

The system will be run by software from US vendor Portal Software. Other components include Siebel for customer relationship management, MetaSolv for provisioning, while IBM's WebSphere will provide the integration layer.

With these products having been chosen a long time ago, Reeves experienced a scenario that is becoming increasingly familiar to IT managers: his suppliers were acquired by another company -- in this case, Oracle.

Rather than cause project turmoil however, Reeves said the acquisitions actually made the project easier.

"With Oracle acquiring Siebel and Portal, it was really good for us.

"We'd been dealing with four vendors, and now we're dealing with one. It's a lot easier for us that way.

"The way Oracle plans it too, this solution falls into a nice, integrated roadmap."

Vodafone and integration partner IBM have spent the first half of the past week migrating data from the carrier's old Amdocs system. Reeves said this followed a data cleaning exercise, required to prepare for new data formats and tables, which had taken about a year.

The timing of the launch is key to Vodafone's end-of-year plans.

"We want to launch our Christmas product range off the new platform," said Reeves.

"With any platform this size, you would expect one or two problems. So we want to settle it down before Christmas.

"We've been aiming for this date for a long, long time," he said.

Accordingly, the new billing system is expected to help the carrier to bring products to market faster.

Reeves said creating new product "plans" previously required some software development. The Portal-based one, however, was "highly configurable".

"We don't have to go through an elongated product development cycle.

"If I wanted to create a product, before, we'd have to send that off to Amdocs and ask if it could be done.

"Whereas now ... I could key it into the system."

This still required technical expertise, said Reeves, but could be done inhouse while being watched by sales staff.

Being on a common system with its Vodafone sister companies will also allow products to be quickly rolled out from one country to the next, he said.

Reeves declined to reveal the cost of the project.