Unraveling the Tangled Web of Billing
February 03, 2010
By Jeff Freund
Today's topic is the rather unglamorous topic of Billing. It may not be that flashy, but as a business it is one of the most important things we do - it's how we collect money from our customers!
I remember a time earlier in Clickability's life when the actual work of stuffing the bills into envelopes was a task that several of us shared each month (my particular expertise was in folding the bills in thirds). As menial as the job was, It was one of my favorite things to do each month as it was a way to tangibly see the fruits of our labor and over time the stacks of envelopes got higher and the dollar amounts on the bills larger. We have come a long way since then in terms of improving and streamlining our billing process, but it still remains something of significant complexity.
This process touches almost every team in the company, including the following roles and responsibilities:
- Account Management - tracking overage issues, and upsell opportunities
- Technical Operations - managing and maintaining the systems that collect and provide usage data
- Engineering - building and maintaining the Clickability Platform, which includes data collection, aggregation, and reporting
- Professional Services - tracking hours and projects to ensure that implementation work and PS projects are billed appropriately
- Technical Support - tracking hours used working on cases, and deciding what is billable vs non-billable
- Finance - running all of the data through a process to generate bills, rigorously reviewing them for anomalies, and ultimately sending them out to customers.
Not only are multiple departments and people involved, but multiple systems as well: our CRM to track Support Cases, our Accounting Software to do the billing and accounting, and several of our own technology components. Changes or breaks downs in any of these systems can cause big headaches in billing.
This topic is top of mind the week for two reasons. The first is that we had a great "Continuous Improvement Moment" in delivering our January bills. After some headaches with the December bills, the teams rallied to provide thorough and timely tabulations of billable hours, improvements to our usage billing scripts, and prescreening of data. The Finance team only had to spend half as much time processing the monthly bills as a result - our CFO personally saved over 10 hours of his time! Fantastic!
The second reason this is top of mind is we recently concluded that we needed a better approach to managing the end-to-end billing process, particularly around the internal technology and systems behind it. Initial goals will be to define the end-to-end process, determine ownership of each step, and ensure that change controls are in place so that changes to any one part do not have undesirable consequences. Ultimately we will look to improve and streamline the processes even more, but for now completely defining, understanding and rigorously controlling the current process will be a great step forward.