BT pushes online business billing service

BT is trying to strengthen its grip on business customers by offering them Web-based call tracking and payment schemes.

BT is trying to strengthen its grip on business customers by offering them Web-based call tracking and payment schemes.

The company will soon launch a series of online billing plans for business customers, based on those it already offers consumers through the BT Together service.

Geoff Payne, head of billing systems for BT retail said the business move was part of the central drive towards transaction automation. "The idea is to move our customers into an e-relationship," he said.

He would not quantify the savings the BT hoped to make with online billing, but analyst group Gartner said a company of BT's size could save millions of pounds a year.

The new BT system is based on an application developed by US-based edocs. Edocs' software is Java-based and runs on "all flavours of Unix and NT", the company said. The application plugs into back-end systems and uses existing security without the need to build a separate security infrastructure.

It allows customers to analyse phone bills on the Web and check who gets called the most and when. It also allows customers to replace phone numbers on bills with the names of people and businesses called.

BT and edocs see this as a key feature that will reduce customer churn. "You are not likely to switch phone companies if you have just spent three months building up your address book," said edocs vice-president of marketing Ted Morgan.

Paul Fegan, chairman of the Communications Management Association's (CMA) billing special interest group, told "What BT is doing is providing a range of options for its users and that can not be a bad thing, although it's long overdue.

"But there are similar schemes offering electronic analysis available from other telcos, and users need to evaluate the best ones on offer."

The CMA has made the issue of billing a key area for its members, claiming that a large percentage of paper bills received by companies contain errors - including wrong amounts - and are difficult to understand.

The Association's "Billing for Business" initiative includes a Web facility to allow users to compare the billing procedures of telcos.

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