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  Intercomms Issue 18
Issue 18 Articles

Reconcile Your Differences and Keep Your Relationships Strong

Mehdi Ahari
Mehdi Ahari
Klaas Scheppink
Klaas Scheppink

Mehdi Ahari and Klaas Scheppink of Ascom talk to Robert Alcock on Reconciliation and the way forward

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Mehdi Ahari and Klaas Scheppink are Senior Consultants at Ascom’s business unit Systems & Solutions and have been involved with software development and systems integration in telecommunications for over 20 years. They are part of the Global Sales team responsible for the international telecommunications wholesale market. Both have been working with Ascom in Germany for many years and have directed and actively participated on multiple innovative projects in all aspects of International Interconnect Business. At the moment, Klaas and Mehdi are working on a completely new approach of managing bilateral relationships.

Q: With revenues being pushed to stretching point at the moment in all fields collection for the carriers is a key problem what are the main challenges in complete reconciling?
A: Last year we spoke with InterComms about Invoice$hark, Ascom’s unique software solution to be integrated in a carrier’s BSS environment and linking up to the accounting system. In a nutshell, this solution has specifically been designed for large international wholesale carriers to support the capture and complete management of incoming declarations and invoices from other carriers. Then it performs a full automated audit of all incoming line items and recommends disputes based on minute/volume differences or rate issues, based on the expected cost/revenue as determined by the carrier’s billing system processing its own Call and Event Detailed Records (CDRs). Tracking all processes related with dispute management and Accounts Payable / Receivable, our customers are now able to detect and immediately parry excess charges, as well as assuring their revenue and swift handling of incoming disputes.

However, while Invoice$hark is completely covering all aspects from a commercial and financial point of view, many carriers tend to get stuck in analysis of disputes when there seem to be a problem in the billing system related to rating the single CDRs. In such cases a carrier really needs to align its own set of CDRs with those requested from the counterpart in order to verify what traffic may have caused the differences.

Q: Are there any practical areas that are being overlooked that can be simple
to fix?

A: Event reconciliation is nothing really new. There are a couple of solutions available and I don’t want to speculate how many carriers are still struggling with spreadsheets as the probably most widely used tool. Equally there is a strong objective to keep your relationships strong. This relationship can be strengthened by being transparent and showing your partner why you think that your view in a dispute is the correct one. In this context I also want to refer to the interaction between the software modules. For example, by hooking up the Event Reconciliation with the Invoice Audit Solution on one hand and enriched CDR archive on the other, we are able to easily find and extract all events that are believed to be the basis for a certain dispute case. It is for sure not hard, but the clue lies in a tight integration, and that indeed is often being overlooked.

Q: Why are carriers turning to your event reconciliation system?
A: A simple but common problem that carriers face, is that while traffic may be routed correctly through the network, the network inventory in the billing system used to resolve the correct inbound or outbound carrier may not have been updated in time and therefore resolve a wrong carrier. Or, settlement scenarios in the billing system may have been configured incorrectly, hence wrong allocation of cost or revenue. Other typical issues are dialcode differences, differences in recorded CDR properties, etc.

By going into the technical details represented in the CDR and comparing these call details with the CDRs provided by the vendor/customer, anomalies can easily been identified. Sometimes mis-configurations are known and silently corrected by the technical people during the billing cycle, but still – when not properly rerated – huge amounts of CDRs may not have been rated correctly and charges end up to be wrong. Deploying the combination of financial and event reconciliation, carriers will be able to easily detect such cases, find corresponding CDRs, and show their partners all details why they should win the dispute. On the other hand, if a dispute is being lost, the carrier has got all the data available for correct re-rating and could even send a late-invoice for the otherwise lost revenue to another carrier! The ability to optimize their margin has always been a good reason to deploy new systems like these.

Q: And what major changes have they seen?
A: Two major impacts have been observed by our customers. In the first instance they have the ability to compare their own switch and business specific data against the counterpart’s switch and business specific CDRs. This is analogous to the ability to compare a basket of apples with a crate of oranges; at first sight it seems undoable, but when you know what you are looking for and what really matters, it can turn into a tangible job. Our solution facilitates a simple and easy to use normalization of data of both disputing carriers, without loss of information on either side. Second impact has been the ability to analyse and perform reconciliation across all the data set of two disputing carriers, as opposed to randomly selecting a small subset of data, do a visual inspection of differences and extrapolate observed discrepancies across the whole data set under dispute.

Q: Is there a key example of this?
A: One key example of this was identified through an interesting situation. One of our customers was in dispute with a carrier partner. They were receiving invoices for termination to a set of destinations with higher figures. All normal analysis of line item disputes did not shed any light. Once resorted to the CDRs, we managed to identify that in one of the switches, Post Dial Delay of between 1 and 5 seconds were accidentally being added to the call which were terminated through the specific switch. This would not have been possible without complete analysis and comparison of the offending records.

Q: Will there be any significant changes in this area in the near future, that need to be forewarned about?
A: These days there is increased sophistication of business optimisation and monitoring systems. What is missing is that many carrier account managers in the search for improving margin, tend to negotiate more and more exotic contracts and arrangements to improve their niche. This invariably is leading to errors in measuring traffic according to such complex agreements, thus increased level of disputes. Ascom has already engaged in a major project to facilitate the contract negotiation process between carriers, monitoring the contract during its life cycle, and ensuring that both interim and final calculation of charges are closely observed. The project closely integrates to existing offering from ascom such as Invoice$hark, as well as tools to connect to external systems via its open architecture and set of APIs.

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