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Interconnection Billing System of Grameenphone Ltd. Essay

1.0 Introduction

In early 2008, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) announced that reorganization of the country’s telecom interconnection architecture as per International Long Distance Telecommunication Services (ILDTS) Policy – 2007 has to be completed by the mid of August, 2008 (BTRC, 2008a). This announcement by the telecom regulator obligated relevant telecom operators (e.g. mobile and fixed networks) to take necessary measures to complete the re-organization task within the deadline while ensuring there is no or minimum subscriber inconvenience and revenue leakage due to this reorganization.

Grameenphone Ltd., the largest cell phone operator of the country having a subscriber base of about 17 Million at that period (BTRC, 2008b), had to approach this regulatory directive with great importance as interconnection termination charge is the source of 2nd largest revenue stream for the company (Grameenphone Annual Reports, 2008 – 2011). It launched a cross-functional project to complete the interconnection restructure task smoothly.

This Project Team identified prevailing interconnection billing processes and systems of the organization as one of the key improvement areas. It was felt that existing in-house developed tools lacked the flexibility to accommodate the change in network architecture. Management wanted replacement of manual billing related tasks through fully automated systems to ensure faster transactions and generation of customized reports. After through assessment of other alternatives within the allocated budget by experts from relevant cross-functional teams, Intec Interconnection Billing System (IIBS) was procured from one of the leading vendors of the world, Intec Systems Ltd. (CSGI, 2012).

This paper focuses on the evaluation of IIBS, a hi-tech information system and its contribution to Grameenphone Ltd., a technology-based organization. Major sources of information are my experiences as a member of this billing system implementation project team and later use it for about 03 years; and interviews and email exchange with core technical persons and other stakeholders of IIBS. In some areas, training materials provided by the billing system vendor and web entries have been consulted as well.

2.0 Overview of Intec Interconnection Billing System

2.1 Telecom Interconnect and Related Facts: Bangladesh Context

“The term Interconnect in the telecommunication world means a business model where different competing telephony providers coexist and interconnect to each other” (4gbilling Inc., 2012). As per Bangladesh Telecommunication Act-2001, any telecom operator must ensure ‘any-to-any’ connectivity so that its subscriber(s) can conveniently communicate with the subscriber(s) of other telecom operator(s) (BTRC, 2001c); as a result, telecom operators interconnect each other directly or through interconnection exchanges (it is the case in Bangladesh after reorganization of national interconnection architecture in 2008) and also establish connectivity with foreign operators through international gateways.

Figure 1: Block diagram of Interconnectivity (adapted from ILDTS Policy’07, BTRC 2008a)

After establishment of inter-connectivity, telecom operators pay each other interconnection access charges for the traffic (i.e. voice call, SMS, & MMS) generated by its subscriber(s) to the other at a rate mutually negotiated or enforced by the regulator. This interconnection payment and associated tasks, e.g. calculation of interconnect traffic volume originated and received, generation of invoices, and validation of other operators’ invoices are dictated by their mutual interconnection agreements and/or relevant directives from the telecom regulators (Interconnection Regulations, 2004).

2.2 Interconnect Billing Systems

With the worldwide trend of telecom de-regulation, interconnectivity gets crowded and telecom operators are in need of interconnection billing system offering detailed analysis of interconnection. The objective, of course, is to make “smart and well informed business decisions to enhance revenue streams” (4gbilling Inc., 2012).

The major tasks accomplished by using Interconnect Billing system are: -Inter-operator settlement for traffic exchanged with other operators,
-Resolution of interconnection billing disputes,
-Generation of various reports;
-Detection of various telecom frauds and assist in management of those.

2.3 Technological Features of Intec Interconnect Billing System (IIBS)

IIBS lies at the downstream of Mediation Server in the telecom network architecture. It works under client-server model. The servers are powered by HP-UX (Hewlett-Packard, 2011). It has dual server: one houses Database & other runs Application (Intec Training Material, 2008).

Figure 2: Network Diagram of IIBS (adapted from 4Gbilling Inc., 2012)

In the client side computers, there are different modules for invoice generation, reporting, and reconciliation of CDRs from other operator, etc. These clients are connected with the IBS application server using LAN (Local Area Network).

Client computers may run Microsoft Windows operating systems. The clients can access IIBS’s application through Graphical User Interface (GUI) or through web-based Oracle Discoverer (a customized tool) says Mr. Raiyan Karim, System Engineer, IBS of Grameenphone Ltd. (Karim, 2012).

A team within the Information Technology department are assigned the task to configure and operate IIBS while the users are spread all over the organization ranging from Finance to Regulatory Affairs functions.

2.4 Categorisation of IIBS as Information System

As an information system, Intec Interconnect Billing System (IIBS) can be categorised in several perspectives.

From hardware perspective (Bocij et al, 2008: Chapter 3), IIBS has the primary capture/ input technology in use is the LAN connectivity with an upstream application server, very powerful CPU as processor, 25 Terabyte online magnetic disk storage and output can be taken through either monitor display, e-document or printed papers.

From software perspective (Bocij et al, 2008: Chapter 4), IIBS is an application software, to be specific, application to process large databases containing CDRs.

From management-level perspectives (Laudon and Laudon, 2012), IIBS can be categorised mainly as a transaction processing system as it deals with instances of interconnection traffic exchanged (i.e. call/ SMS/ MMS made to & received from other operators). This system serves requirements of operational management and but, the outputs from this system has a wider circulation to different management levels even up to top executives mainly due to importance of associated business activity (interconnectivity) for telecommunication industry.

From organisational function (Laudon and laudon, 2006) perspectives, IIBS is an Information Technology business area specific information system. It handles digital customer call records for generation of interconnection billing details.

From the perspectives of reach (Boddy et al, 2005: 37-38), IIBS is identified as an intra-organisational IS. Though its core use lies within the IT department of Grameenphone, this system is very frequently accessed from other parts of the organizations e.g. Finance, Marketing, Regulatory Affairs, etc. Moreover, as IIBS contributes to achieve overall organisational goals e.g. reliable settlement of interconnection revenue, help in developing market offerings, it can easily be termed as an intra-organisational IS.

3.0 Supported Organisational Processes

The organizational processes supported by IIBS can be analysed by using two approaches: a) CIPSODAR model of information system (Heeks, 2011a) and b) usage and applications of computer based IS by organisational level (Bocij et al, 2008: P 45).

3.1 CIPSODAR on IIBS

IIBS captures processed CDR (Call Detail Records) from Mediation server (“a system used to convert data of certain datatypes to other datatypes, usually for billing purposes”, Wikipedia, 2012). These mediated CDRs are feed into IIBS as inputs.

Figure 3: IIBS on CIPSODAR model (adapted from Heeks, 2011a)

The captured CDRs have to contain at least 06 information fields which are in numeric form (Intec Systems, 2008): i.Unique CDR identification no. associated with each call made to & received from other operators, ii.phone no. of call originating subscriber,

iii.phone no. of call recipient subscriber,
iv.call start time,
v.call duration, &
vi.Intelligent network marking used to identify post-paid or pre-paid subscriber.

These mediated CDRs are further processed by IIBS, i.e. classifying based on various pre-set criteria e.g. pre-paid, post-paid, originating operator, terminating operator; sorting thereof based on each criteria, and finally compiling. IIBS has remarkable processing capacity as it handles about 70 Million CDRs in every 6 hours (Karim, 2012).

IIBS uses two types of storage: one is online which has huge storage capacity to store CDRS for consecutive 04 months and another is older CDRs which are moved to magnetic tapes for archiving.

Output from IIBS is billing details categorized based on interconnect operator, incoming call flow, outgoing call flow, or duration e.g. day-wise or month-wise. Recipients can generate invoice to be issued to other operators or customized reports using the client side invoicing or reporting modules of IIBS.

The outputs generated from IIBS data help the organization to decide on its interconnection business strategy e.g. integrate additional interconnect capacity with some operator or formulate business plan e.g. promote calls to other operators by lowering customer charge.

Actions include implementation of internal business strategy or contractual obligations of interconnection agreement. The results derived from such actions are inter-operator settlement and dispute resolution for interconnection traffic, gain competitive edge or retain stronghold over market. The outputs from IIBS billing details helps to detect and take action against telecom frauds, to meet regulatory compliance by generating reports for telecom regulator on regularly and ad-hoc basis. It is useful in revenue projection through trend analysis of interconnection traffic.

3.2 Organisational Levels and IIBS

As mentioned in earlier section, IIBS mainly functions as transaction processing system and hierarchically destined to serve the operational management. The operations managers ensure processing activities of IIBS. In this level, IIBS serves as a solution to generate reliable invoices, validation of other party invoices, resolution of inter-operator invoiced /data related disputes, and generation of various reports.

Figure 4: IIBS & different Organisation level (adapted from Bocij et al, 2008)

In upper level of the organisational hierarchy, IIBS generated reports serve as tactical tool. Based on interconnection traffic trends and invoices, they generate interconnection revenue forecast, interconnection capacity requirement etc.

IIBS reports are consulted by Top Management level also. Settlement of interconnection revenue is a key issue as it counts for the 2nd largest revenue stream of Grameenphone (Grameenphone: 2011). Interconnection traffic volume is a key indicator of customer attractiveness of competitors’ market offerings. Based on the trend of interconnect traffic, business directions are made to product development team.

4.0 Evaluation of Information System

Intec Interconnect Billing system (IIBS) may be evaluated from two perspectives: a) IS Cost / benefits model and b) DeLone/ McLean model.

4.1 Benefits and Costs of IIBS

Benefits

As IIBS is mainly a transaction processing system, its benefits can be better evaluated using Process Benefits Model (Heeks, 2011b). Based on user experiences and discussion with IIBS technical teams (2012), several benefits are being generated from IIBS, along both efficiency and effectiveness categorises. The below table summaries these benefits:

Sl.Process BenefitExamples Cited by Stakeholders (Discussion, 2012) 1CheaperIntroduction of IIBS has reduced no. of manpower required to do the task than it was required previously by one-third employees. 2MoreIn comparison to previous ad-hoc system, IIBS processes more CDRS while keeping the resources requirement about the same (except storage). 3QuickerIIBS processed about 70 Million CDRs in 6 hours whereas prior system could process only about 50 Million CDRs at the same time.

Invoice generation and processing of other party CDRs for the purpose of interconnect dispute resolution has become faster. 4BetterPreviously CDRs were processed through manual systems. That system lacked consistency in interconnect billing reporting due to its business logic. 5NewIIBS has introduced Graphical user Interface for the clients which help them to generate customized reports on interconnectivity round the clock. Previously, the reporting was made ad-hoc basis as per requirement from Project Team

Table 1: Benefits of Information Systems (Heeks, 2011b)
Costs of IIBS

Costs of an information system can be measured in 03 criteria: i) implementation costs: measured in financial terms; ii) operational costs : both financial and unexpected outcomes, and iii) loss of previous operational benefits (Heeks, 2011b).

Costs of IIBS in this view:
Sl.CostExamples Cited by Stakeholders (discussion, 2012)
1.Implementation CostsImplementation of IIBS has cost the organization about 1.2 Million USD as payment to vendor, Intec Systems (IIBS Business Case, 2008). 2.Operational Costs (inc. Problems)IIBS requires about slightly higher (1~3%) storage for processing of CDRs in comparison to previous system.

3.Previous operational benefits lostIn case of prior billing solutions, modification could be done by internal experts, now change request needs to be made with the vendor which is expensive after free service period.

Table 2: Costs of Information Systems (Heeks, 2011b)
4.2 DeLone & McLean Multi-Perspective Evaluation
DeLone & McLean (1992) have described one of the most popular models of evaluating success of information systems (Heeks, 2011b).
Figure 5: Multiple perspectives on IS success/failure– DeLone & McLean (1992)

DeLone & McLean model can be measured suggested by Boddy et al (2005).
4.2.1 System Quality
These are the required features and characteristics of the information system (Heeks, 2011b). In the case of IIBS, as per IT experts and users from other business functions (Discussion, 2012), it is reliable, includes enhanced features both in terms of system operation and output generation and the response time is also considerably faster

. 4.2.2 Information Quality

“Information quality concerns the characteristics of the information produced by the system” (Heeks, 2011b). In the case of IIBS, outputs generated are (invoices and various reports) are clear to interpret, quite high on completeness to serve intended purposes, and useful and accurate, except a few rare cases. Grameenphone RAFM (Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management) team validates output of IIBS to be highly satisfactory. 4.2.3 Use and user satisfaction

“Use and user satisfaction are concerned with the interaction between the information produced by the system and the recipients” (Heeks, 2011b)

IIBS, being an integral part of Grameenphone’s interconnection system, it is used in daily basis for the whole period required to process interconnect CDRs for the concerned day and to serve report requests from cross-functional teams. Information necessary to make a revenue projection or serve regulatory report requests on monthly or ad-hoc basis are served timely basis from the system.

Users are overall satisfied with IIBS but they would prefer if the system had flexibility of producing further customized reports. Except very few cases, the information required vs. delivered from IIBS had no significant deviation. The Graphical user interface, easy maintenance, easily scalable, and web-based access are few contributing factors to user satisfaction. Software satisfaction is quite high amongst regular users while occasional users found the interface a difficult to use.

4.2.4Individual impact
It “relates to the extent to which the information produced by the system influences or affects decisions” (Heeks, 2011b).

Reports generated from IIBS system are quite helpful to identify any problem in the area of interconnectivity and normally decisions made are correct. These decisions are quite effective also. Usually key points are placed to top management weekly basis. Productivity improvement in interconnected areas is remarkable. It allows observing trend of interconnection traffic generated and received ant to decide on optimal interconnection capacity, etc.

By these measures for other decision issues e.g. market attractiveness of other operators customer charge are not in that brighter side as there are many relevant factors therein.

4.2.5 Organisational impact

It “measures the effect of the information produced by the system on organisational performance” (Heeks, 2011b). Interconnection is a regulatory compliance issue and it also generates revenue of about 100 Mn. USD for Grameenphone (Grameenphone, 2011). Considering this importance of interconnectivity for Grameenphone, it may be concluded that the organizational impact of IIBS is significant. The investments made vs. benefits enjoyed from IBS (e.g. lower processing time, timely invoicing to ensure timely revenue settlement) are in quite positive side.

In overall evaluation, IIBS is a successful information system meeting the requirements of stakeholders and also exceeding the costs by benefits in great margin.

5.0 Factors for Success of IIBS

A large number of information systems fail to achieve the desired objectives, especially in the developing countries. In this context, success of Intec Interconnect Billing System (IIBS) in Grameenphone Ltd. is quite remarkable. We can analyse the causes behind the success using 1) IS Implementation Outcome Model (Laudon and Laudon, 2006) and 2) Design-Reality Gap analysis using ITPOSMO (Heeks, 2011c).

5.1 Information System Implementation Outcome Model

In the ninth edition of their book, summary model of information systems success and failure factors were presented by Laudon and Laudon (2006).

Figure 6: IS Implementation Outcome Model (Laudon and Laudon, 2006)

Applying the model on IIBS, we can come up with following: •User involvement and influence: In the requirement finalization stage during procurement of interconnection billing system in Grameenphone, actual users were member of the cross functional team and their views were taken with great importance. Later, these requirements were used as reference to select the vendor and customization negotiated with them. •Management support: Required management support was available during implementation of IIBS in Grameenphone.

The project team was highly empowered having Chief Information Officer as Project Sponsor and other senior managers in the Project Steering Committee. •Level of complexity/risk: Though IIBS is a high-tech information system, it is highly structured, and the project team had required technical capacities on-board. •Management of the implementation process: IIBS was endowed with required financial and human resources and proper training sessions was arranged also.

5.2 Design-Reality Gap Analysis of IIBS

Though IIBS is considered to be a successful information system, the system can be improved in some areas, observations by internal stakeholders (Discussions, 2012). These areas include re-shape the GUI to be more user friendly in perspectives of non-IT users. Reducing the storage requirement a bit can directly benefit in terms of saving expensive storage capacity. These can be attributed to the gap between information system design and reality i.e. actual implementation of the system (Heeks, 2011c). The Dimensions of design—reality gaps for IIBS can be analysed using ITPOSMO model (Heeks, 2011c:

Figure 7: Design—reality gap model to analyse IS Success/Failure (Heeks, 2011)

5.2.1 Information Dimension: Gap Rating 2.0

The system design assumed that the inputs to IIBS (processed CDRs from Mediation server) will always be in right format. But, very occasionally, there were CDRs from mediation in wrong format or missing one or more key fields. These unprocessed CDRs were stored in the error bucket and required special processing by System Engineers later on.

5.2.2 Technology Dimension: Gap Rating 3.0

The technological design contributed to gain buy-in of overall user satisfaction for IIBS. The processing of CDR files was quicker than previous system. It also contributed in reducing man-hour required to configure and operate the system. But, in the areas of storage requirement and design of
graphical user interface (GUI), there are gaps between expectation and reality.

5.2.3 Process Dimension: Gap Rating 3.0

The business processes were supportive to desired functioning of IIBS. The system produced invoices and customized reports as desired. Though, there are some requirements to be able to further customize the reporting modules. Sometimes, there are hiccups in generations of output also. 5.2.4 The objectives and values dimension:

Gap Rating 4.0

Decision to procure IIBS was made by a cross-functional team having relevant experiences and expertise. It was decided to further enrich the system by adding additional features to it so that it can handle settlement for mobile contents/ value added services with the respective content or value added service providers. But, even after 03 years of successful operation of IIBS, these additional features have not been included yet (Karim, 2012). It is assumed that potential personal interest may contribute to this non-inclusion of mobile content/ VAS related features to IIBS. Notably, currently these settlements are handled by an IT manager having a team of 05 employees whereas if the features included to IIBS, the whole processing would require no or utmost 01 employee from this team.

5.2.5 Staffing and skills: Gap Rating 2.0

The organization had competent staff experienced with configuration, operation, & maintenance of interconnect billing systems. Moreover, to get them acknowledged with the new system, required training was provided by the vendor.

5.2.6 Management systems and structures Gap Rating 2.0

Introduction of IIBS helped in reducing manpower required to run similar systems previously and following that management hierarchy in IT department was simplified.

5.2.7 Other resources: Gap Rating 2.0

In other dimensions, IIBS helped in saving processing time comparison to previous system. With increased efficiency, it contributed in monetary terms as well. 5.2.8 Overall: Total gap score is 18 for IIBS. There is an insignificant design-reality gap for the system with none being a possible cause of failure.

6.0 Conclusion

Grameenphone Ltd. implemented Intec Interconnect Billing System (IIBS) for about 4 years (since August, 2008 to till now). The major objectives of the system were to ensure accurate and quicker settlement for interconnection traffic with interconnected operators in a complicated network architecture and resolution of related disputes in timely fashion. It also aimed to generate required customized reports for users from different business functions of the organization and for managers of different organisational levels.

In consideration of stakeholder views towards IIBS and its analyses through various theoretical models, the system is an example of successful information systems. The major contributing factors behind the success are insignificant gap between design and reality. And creation of this favourable scenario is attributed to good practices of information system implementation e.g. empowered involvement of users, management commitment, and availability of key resources, etc.

7.0 References

4GBILLING INC., Interconnect Billing – Overview [Online]. Available: http://4gbilling.com/interconnect.html [Accessed 21 April, 2012] Bocij, Paul, Andrew Greasley and Simon Hickie (2008) Business Information Systems: Technology, Development and Management, 4th edn, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River Boddy, D., Boonstra, A. & Kennedy, G. (2005) Managing Information Systems: An Organisational Perspective, 2nd edn, Pearson Education Limited, London BTRC, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (2008) ILDTS Policy-2007 [Online].Available:http://www.btrc.gov.bd/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=153&Itemid=259 [Accessed 10 April, 2012] BTRC, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (2008) Mobile Phone Subscribers in Bangladesh [Online]. Available:


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