July 21 2006 11:57 AM

If the experiences of our client Bell Atlantic Mobile are a sign of the future, e.billing will become a necessity for any company seeking to satisfy its customers. Not only do many consumers accept e.billing, but many demand it. But how does a company create and manage an e.bill system? 
Define Requirements
Once a company decides to roll out an e.bill program, an implementation manager must be assigned to lead the project, document the scope of work and develop a project plan. Depending on a company�s needs, defining requirements can be either quick or complex. Details of services to be offered, Web-flow navigation, the complexity of the site and the paper bills it replaces are only a few factors to be decided. 
The more detail you can get, the easier it will be to implement the project. The level of detail will vary from company to company. Utility bills are one of the easiest formats to implement. Phone bills are more complicated, cell-phone bills even more so. 
Bell Atlantic Mobile needed an e.bill solution to handle bills for customers with up to five accounts. Security was a major concern, so a series of rigid security checks was designed. Customers can log onto the cellular leader�s site to view their bills only after they are mailed a log-in code. If anyone tries to access billing data and fails to log in properly three times, the account is shut down and a new access code is mailed to the customer.
Easy Navigation and Scalability
Knowing customers won�t abide by a �World Wide Wait,� Bell Atlantic Mobile needed easy navigation through its system. Customer service, �contact us� screens and an 800 number for integrated voice response were also key. To make the transition as transparent to its customers as possible, Bell Atlantic Mobile mimicked its paper bills for the new online bills. 
The New Jersey-based company has nearly seven million customers on a wireless network spanning 180,000 square miles in the East and Southwest. No wonder it required a system that could scale rapidly as more and more customers sign on for the e.bill solution. 
Managing a site and ensuring scalability require a truly state-of-the-art data center. Bell Atlantic Mobile�s site is run on Princeton eCom�s $6-million system infrastructure developed with Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, EMC and Oracle.
Bell Atlantic Mobile bought a complete, turnkey e.bill solution, but felt the proprietary eLockBox and ePayBill products particularly met its needs. eLockbox software captures exception payments, ensuring 99.6% postable payments to its settlement bank and connects directly into its accounts-receivable system to automate accurate and immediate bill posting and settlement. This process could take up to two to three weeks using home banking and Internet portal payment programs. However, the ePayBill solution integrates the Internet electronic bill presentment and payment Web site with a real-time pay-by-telephone capability. Other EBPP products followed, including a value-added electronic collection product, eCollect, in October 1999 and the auto debit payment option in January 2000.
Development and Testing
After completing the definition phase, programmers started a working design document to review for coding. A design walk-through was conducted to ensure Bell Atlantic Mobile was satisfied with the design�s functionality and that it met all of the company�s requirements. After both companies signed off on the working design document, development hit high gear. The implementation manager updated the project-flow timeline. This critical document � a joint effort between Bell Atlantic Mobile and Princeton eCom � outlined the project from development through �live� implementation. The Internet team then developed the site as defined by the design prototype. Web-flow navigation, Web page design, file-transmission triggers and email triggers were critical. Next, the production team wrote and tested all file transmissions between Bell Atlantic Mobile and Princeton eCom. Any anomalies were flagged and corrected.
Bell Atlantic Mobile�s bill text files needed to be mapped into our internal database to assure correct online bill display. Bell Atlantic Mobile has two billing systems: Vision and I2K. Princeton eCom connected to both and can support integration with any legacy system used by a company. 
In-process Testing
Once the code was mature, the development team began formalized testing, which was verified by the quality assurance department. To assure all programs ran as designed, in-process (IP) testing proceeded � unit by unit � to prepare our programs for a final test. IP testing included server file transfer, Internet user navigation, Internet presentment, data transfer, customer-service navigation and data transfer, as well as email and voice response units. Final acceptance testing showed all outputs were exactly as defined by Bell Atlantic Mobile�s business requirements. A final walk-through with the client verified all test results, and the project was ready for production.
Initial Rollout
Bell Atlantic Mobile first offered the new e.bill solution to a select group of employees. Soon after, the pilot was extended to 3,000 customers in selected bill cycles. To encourage participation, a rebate incentive was offered upon completion of a site survey at the biller.com Web site. The survey results provided feedback for enhancements before a full-fledged customer rollout. 
When Bell Atlantic Mobile kicked off its EBPP system by offering bill presentment in fall 1998, customers viewed and analyzed their bills online for the first time. They quickly responded by adopting the system rapidly and demanding full electronic-payment functionality. Now, a whopping 17.6% of the company�s online customers use Bell Atlantic Mobile�s full EBPP solution. And this number is growing rapidly.
Ongoing site management
So now the site is up and running, customers are using it and it�s time to relax and put the system on automatic pilot. Right? Wrong. E.bill use grows quickly, and the system must be monitored for scalability daily. You need to build in capacity so the system can handle demand before it hits. Princeton eCom uses a threshold monitor that postulates, �if demand reaches X, we initiate Y action.� �Y� includes bringing more processing power online to ensure continued responsiveness and reliability.
Customers must be satisfied with the level of technical support they receive, as well. System availability must be monitored and assured. Because customer service is crucial for Bell Atlantic Mobile, the company asked for a 24/7 Internet-based customer database. The database has easy-to-use, browser-based screens that outline customers� exact payments and how they were processed. To assure uptime, an e.billing site requires continual system and site maintenance, high redundancy of all hardware and mirroring of critical data. And, as with all technology, it must be continually upgraded.
The Bottom Line
Many benefits of e.bill are immediate. In Bell Atlantic�s case, they included more satisfied customers and savings from a dramatic reduction in incoming customer-service calls, thanks to the question-and-answer and �contact-us� Web screens. But other real benefits emerge only with time.  E.billing keeps a company on technology�s cutting edge, ahead of the competition and enduringly popular with customers. 
Because EBPP systems are so complex, implementation can be time-consuming and costly. As technology changes at warp speed, the capital investment needed can rise exponentially. Obsolescence poses a real and expensive danger. For most companies, it�s best to find a partner who can supply a cost-effective solution that can be implemented quickly. Getting up and running with EBPP quickly can eliminate the danger of losing market share to competitors.
Steve Greenwood is the senior vice president of Marketing and Strategic Alliances atPrinceton eCom, a leading application service provider for EBPP for both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business solutions. For more information, visit the company�s Web site, www.princetonecom.com.