I was fascinated to read in the recent Openet research paper, ‘Charging and Billing for the Digital Economy’ that 87 per cent of operators surveyed believed that billing systems would be replaced by real-time charging systems within the next four years.

Those with reasonable memories may remember years ago when I boldly declared that billing was dead and was howled down by some quarters and accused of having been smoking an illegal substance.

Let me remind you of what I did write back in February 2011. “Putting the technological and political issues aside for a moment, I’m wondering whether it is time for a wholesale review of what we really expect from billing in the future and whether we will even need billing systems at all; at least as we now know them!

We are all aware of the need to manage charging in real time, and we now have some very sophisticated and heavy-duty implementations of online charging systems (OCS) that treat all customers and services the same way. They are usually memory resident and able to cope with thousands of transactions per second, but they basically treat everything the same way until it comes to posting to either a balance management system or debtors ledger for eventual printing and distribution of post-paid paper or e-bills.

There might actually be a case to eliminate all legacy post-paid billing systems and treat everyone the same using an OCS, policy manager, core accounting system with a little help from a universal product catalog and service delivery platform.”

The article evoked some ‘interesting’ responses. Mark Davis pulled no punches with his: “Read your article on the death of BSS three times, and I have to admit I have no idea what you’re trying to say.”

Doug Newdick spoke from experience when he wrote: “The imagined scenario where the old billing world is dead and we have a new converged one where all customers and services are billed off a single real-time charging platform is what most of us have been aiming at for the last 10 years! Billing won’t be dead when we get there, nor will it be completely different; it will just be easier, cheaper, more agile and more effective – if we do it right.”

At the other end of the scale, Shishir Modi wrote, “Pipe Dream??? Heck no!” and Harry Beane with an emphatic, “You bet your ass it [billing] is doomed!”

In May that year, at the TM Forum’s Management World event in Dublin, a capacity audience heard panellists John Aalbers, CEO of Volubill; Louis Hall, CEO of Cerillion and Lucas Skoczkowski, CEO of Redknee argue the merits of billing against the combined onslaught of online charging systems (OCS) and policy management systems. The outcome was: “It’s official – billing is not quite dead, yet!

As recently as January this year, BSS industry veteran (not in years, but experience), Olivier Suard, published an article stating “as Teresa Cottam and many others have pointed out, billing is far from dead, and is not about to be rendered obsolete by online charging.” It seems they may all be proven wrong.

OK, it may be happening a lot slower than I anticipated but if the Openet survey is right, we are heading down the exact track I foresaw in 2011, except that it will take six years to achieve. Who says we lack agility in the communications industry?

First published at BillingViews.