In that little neck of the media woods that is telecoms journalism, being assigned a billing system story was to draw the shortest of short straws. Billing was boring; it was where operational support systems people went when they found OSS too exciting; etc etc. But then, they hadn't talked with Scott. By Ian Scales.
Scott Swartz is CEO of US-based MetraTech, a provider of what he calls billing and compensation solutions. Compensation?
"Business is based on relationships," says Scott. "Those relationships are built around agreements. What we help our customers do is monetise those agreements. So first there's billing. We all understand that; we spend our lives being billed. There's subscription billing, usage billing, retail and wholesale and so on, but in today's world the other side of this becomes important... and that's compensation. It's called different things in different industries - revenue share, commission, remuneration, settlement, but basically if you look at any business there are always other products and services that you bundle from somewhere else. So you owe them money."
The backdrop to Scott's business (generic billing and compensation - not just for telcos) and the thing creating the opportunity is an increasingly complicated online, digital e-world, where complex commercial arrangements are generating an avalanche of billing and other data - 'big data' to use one of this year's buzz-phrases.
Scott is selling big systems to handle big data with a view to systematising the compensation which, he claims, is a job still often done with manual records and spreadsheets.
And if you run down a list of rising business sectors likely to be in need of help on the turning big data into a reliable compensation process, then M2M has to be near top of the list.
"M2M is about taking all those durable goods - washing machines, cars you name it - and making them animate," says Scott.
"You're talking about compensation as a result of fluidly-negotiated, multi-part contracts. Lots of them. And you're talking about evolving (not static) business models. We're good at that."
It's a pitch that seems to be getting attention.
MetraTech'ss clients include the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. (DTCC), which Scott says handles $5 trillion worth of securities a day. It also includes Microsoft and British Telecom.
There are two approaches. From the 'enterprise' side the company offers MetraNet a traditional own-your-own platform solution, but the company also has the trendy and necessary cloud or SAAS offering called Metanga launched in 2011.
Does he see the SAAS taking over?
Horses for courses: "When you have an outfit like DTCC, you don't get to change a line of code without permission." This is critical stuff and something like a multi-tenant cloud is just right out of the question, he says. So the cloud and the enterprise products, while doing similar jobs, will continue to be distinct.
Microsoft's use of MetraNet (the enterprise product) for its own cloud services environment is a good case in point. Here is a business that suddenly became highly complex on the compensation side as MS rolled out its cloud services. Suddenly - just because that's how cloud services work - Microsoft was providing services with and past (rather than through) its traditional distribution channel but it still needed to 'compensate' the 16,000 partners who initially sold the services. MetraNet fitted the bill.
In M2M Scott sees that sort of data collection (by definition) and compensation requirement evolving in spades. M2M applications that might involve millions or billions of tiny events (petrol consumption and engine management figures from thousands of 'animated' autos, for instance) might then require slicing and dicing so that various incentivised partners can be paid the right amount, or enriched with the right data - car servicers, insurance companies, road toll companies and so on. The data starts to get very 'big' and the complexity goes exponential.
MetraTech and other billing and business operations specialists (both within and beyond the traditional telecom billing pool) are viewing M2M as the next 'big data' thing.
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