Independent cellular service provider, Nashua Mobile, has built much of its success on the back of a powerful and flexible billing engine it calls the Cactus Billing System.
The system, developed for Nashua Mobile by Barone, Budge & Dominick, was put in place in 1994 and has grown alongside the service provider’s business since then.
Not only has the Cactus system needed to scale up for massive growth in call transactions, it has also accommodated the two mergers that created the Nashua Mobile of today. Cactus is more than a billing engine – it provides Nashua Mobile with an integrated accounting, reconciliation and stock control system that underpins core processes such as service activation, billing, management of creditors and stock and customer care.
Says Wally Fernandes, IT director at Nashua Mobile: “Accurate billing and customer information is at the heart of a telecom service provider’s business. The Cactus system, with advanced functionality such as a rules-based tariff engine and corporate tree structures, has helped us to differentiate ourselves by presenting subscribers with rich and detailed bills that they can use to make intelligent decisions about cellphone use in their organisations.”
“The Cactus system processes an average of 130 million call transactions a month, or some 4.3 million transactions a day. MTN’s billing for the average of 9.6 million messages it sends out for First National Bank’s In-Contact service is processed through the system,” says Fernandes.
Itemised billing is one of the system’s key features. Customer information is stored in a tree structure that allows Nashua Mobile to reflect each client’s hierarchical structure in the Cactus system.
This flexible tree structure allows Nashua Mobile to generate reports and bills that meet the needs of different users within its corporate user base – individuals and the accounts department may get an itemised bill detailing all calls, while managers could receive management information such as the most frequently dialled numbers among their subscribers.
“All the information that Nashua Mobile’s service representatives need to provide high levels of customer care is at their finger tips, while subscribers can also access their information through an e-billing portal,” says Fernandes.
A sophisticated tariff engine, meanwhile, allows Nashua Mobile to generate information on which tariff plan a particular subscribers should be using based on his usage profile. This is a major value-add for Nashua Mobile’s customers, since it helps them to optimise cellphone spending by choosing the right package.
The system’s accounting module provides Nashua Mobile with an up-to-the second view into each client’s account. As calls and events are processed, the subscriber’s current invoice is updated in real time. The system provides the flexibility to manage each account on a balance brought forward or open item basis.
Thanks to the stock control module, Nashua Mobile is able to easily manage customer purchases, return of stock, stock counts, and supplier warranties. When items are sold to a client, they are recorded and an invoice is generated and managed as part of the accounting process.
A build in node-to-node rule engine connects it to operator networks. Transactions such as service activation and deactivation are captured at the front-end, and then automatically processed in near real-time and submitted to operators.
The Cactus system is built on an Oracle database running on a Unix platform. Most application and data processing takes place on the application servers, while end-user interfaces were developed in Visual Basic, with a current project migration project underway to port all user interface and workflow components to C#. Most front-end applications are browser-based to allow users to access them remotely through the Internet and facilitate easy distribution of application updates.