Just when you thought ‘bill shock’ was a thing of the past, it’s back! And it’s back in a place few would have pointed to — cloud infrastructure services.
In the race toward higher margin growth in B2B services, cloud is one of the ICT services that many telcos will want to have as a key portfolio offering. That offering will often take the shape of an in-house cloud service married to a mix of public cloud offerings and positioned as a multi-cloud brokerage type service. In that model, the telco commercially fronts the service to SME and large enterprise customers and takes responsibility for providing accurate spend and usage insights and settlement on whatever payment basis is agreed with customers, along with any financial incentives geared toward increased or more efficient usage.
With cloud service providers the champions of on-demand, pay as you use services, providing an accurate, up to the second view on usage and spend aggregated across cloud providers should, you would imagine, be straightforward.
Working with a number of telcos and cloud providers on multi-cloud brokerage offerings, however, has highlighted the potential for ‘cloud bill shock’ — discrepancies between what an enterprise believes they have used in terms of cloud infrastructure services and what they are spending.
Businesses of all sizes have the ability to start any service on any cloud at the touch of a button. Although this allows great flexibility for service delivery, it can also lead to major problems in terms of tracking, management and operation of the service. Each service can span multiple independent cloud platforms, so bringing all this together into a single view is essential for telcos to supply a premium multi-cloud brokerage service. Tracking and management of the costs apply everywhere, both on the telco and enterprise customer side, as charges apply to both in reseller agreements.
Once the single view is available, the challenge then becomes displaying the data in a timely manner. End of month billing doesn’t help prevent bill shock, so charging data needs to be retrieved, processed and displayed in real time, or at least as close to the chargeable event as possible. This can have some issues as cloud providers aren’t necessarily used to delivering their billing records in “telco” real time periods. Some can be done in hourly installments, some per day and some can pass on charges incurred from a given token/time but this is far from the current millisecond level for a 5G network.
The important part of the process is delivery of the details that the business customer wants, not what the telco wants to be able to see. In many cases this may actually be the same data, but potentially presented in a different way. Whatever the data is, however, it has to be accurate. This means the charging data might need to be displayed in terms of the whole service (potentially across multiple clouds and other services), per cloud provider and then down to the levels of the hardware and software components making up the delivery of that service. Again all of this is required in near real time, to ensure tracking of costs is made as accurate as possible.
There is a benefit to both parties in the agreement — the enterprise customer of the cloud provider and the telco themselves. Whichever way it is retrieved, instant display of charges can help prevent incorrect or inaccurate billing and prevent dissatisfaction at the end of the month. For the telco, API driven reporting will be a must — indicating what total charges there are across the entire spectrum of services they supply, with a requirement to go down to the individual enterprise customer level and possibly further down to the individual department level.
Similar reports will also be needed for the customer, especially for the finance teams, but operations staff are more likely to be looking for dashboards that visualize the costs being incurred and enable them to quickly spot trends and spikes. Delivery of this data via API, streaming of events or just a simple set of pie charts on screen will enable this tracking to be done quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, the telco and enterprise can understand that the data they view is derived from the same base set and is consistent across both parties.
Additional benefits include the ability to trigger notifications on spend and to personalize all the trigger points. This means that customer cloud costs or total cost across all services can be monitored and reacted to in real time. Tiered billing can be provided, in real time, as thresholds are crossed, and the telco can be more proactive in engaging better price models as usage changes over time.
All this data can lead to development of enhanced charging plans for both sides. For instance, real time discounting and markup can be used, allowing all customer spend to be tracked and discounted as appropriate based on total service supply, not just cloud, voice or data. Where third parties are used in delivery of the service, real time markups will enable enterprises and telcos to see the true costs being incurred, and not be exposed to an unwelcome shock when the bill arrives.
With just these few examples, it is evident that real time charging of multi-cloud brokerage services is key, as is the ability to manage data from multiple sources, across multiple service types and charge and count each item in an efficient and easily presentable way.
A significant increase in the delivery of enterprise portfolio services via digital marketplaces puts an additional requirement on telcos to provide assured, accurate and consistent real time spend control and utilization insights. This covers both in-house and third party services, such as cloud, and associated services, such as security. This specific requirement cannot be met via existing billing systems.
As a real time monetization engine, the MATRIXX Digital Commerce Platform not only provides the interface into cloud provider BSS systems to collect granular enterprise level or enterprise department level storage, compute and network usage data, it can then feed that data in real or near real time to enterprise digital marketplaces for customer consumption. Crucially, it also provides that same data for operational observation and billing engine consumption by the telco for those customers that have a commercial relationship based on a monthly billed cycle.
The next step will be to offer flexible ‘pay now’ payment terms for some enterprises via the digital marketplace. Either way, in providing accurate and assured spend and usage data for third party services such as cloud, and ensuring that tallies with billed data, the role of a dynamic, real time monetization engine is key.