Version Number: 1.5
The recent increase in sophistication of equipment, training, systems and processes
afforded wireless Internet service providers (WISP) an enhanced ability to deliver
quality service. Industry growth bears this out. However, even now WISPs typically
do everything from scratch. These companies design their own systems and operational
processes. They build customized business procedures from scratch too. Billing
is usually still done in the traditional way: by manual data entry and monthly
However, with increased technical sophistication, WISPs have found that significant
cost savings are possible. New hardware and better training reduces costs and
improved service. Customers are happier. No wonder then, that WISPs are starting
to look at improved business process products to improve customer service, reduce
costs, run leaner staffs and improve customer contentment. Here we review one
of them, the Aria Systems complete Web-based
billing system geared for both large and small WISPs.
- Extremely well thought out.
- Simple interface
- Powerful policy rights engine
- Highly customizable
- Personalized support
- Very affordable
- Requires initial set-up by Aria
- Significant complex functionality (while available) is not apparent
- System customization must be done through Aria (Security reasons)
Edward Sullivan, formerly founder and president of Laserlink, a virtual-ISP
company later sold to Covad, founded Aria Systems with many of his old team.
Laserlink provided v-ISP services to companies such as American Express, Gateway
Computers, Univision and Amway. It was one of the largest v-ISPs in America.
This heavy background in ISP back-office services informs the flexibility in
implementation that Aria’s product boasts. This is important, as much of what
the Aria product can do is not readily apparent. The company is in beta launch
now. As of this writing even its Web site is not yet complete. In fact, this
is the first public review of this billing system.
Setting Things Up
The Aria Systems background in ISP services reflects strongly in the initial
setup phase. This is a totally Web-based product with no software to install
or servers to manage. Aria handles all those tasks in its application service
provider (ASP) data center. Customers or CSRs simply sign onto a site to enter
data. However, logging onto the demo sites to review the product doesn’t sufficiently
cover the available functionality.
Aria explained in conversations that it includes a set-up stage with each client
to assess the client’s business process and pricing system. The Aria staff looks
closely at the business process to define pricing options and optional add-ons.
Aria also addresses the policy permission categories that each WISP will need
for its staff. Typical wireless service provisioning and billing takes place
at different times. Hardware may be billed up front. Installation generally
will be billed upon installation signoff. Finally, service will normally begin
at the same time as installation and may be pro-rated. It can get complicated
quick. The set-phase is where the complex business elements are defined and
arranged to provide a simple final interface. This final product consists of
three different Web screens.
The Aria suite contains three elements: The customer registration screen provides
end-users the ability to self-provision wireless and additional services. This
is normally the only screen end-users ever see. The main CompoSeR screen provides
the WISPs customer service rep (CSR) information and (to some extent) control
of the customer’s file. This suite includes administrative controls that enable
the WISP to assign policy or activity rights to its staff based on pre-set criteria.
The third site is the user self-service (USS) screen, which addresses the WISPs
account information with Aria. It allows the WISP to change billing and contact
information, to view its invoice history and to see its usage histories.
The registration screen is extremely simple. It allows the end-user to sign-up
for service without assistance. The user can choose among service plans desired,
access billing and payment information and any customized elements for a particular
WISP. The site walks customers through a straightforward 9-part provision process.
Customers can change or modify some elements of their chosen plan later.
The CompoSeR screen is the heart of this product for the WISP. The WISP can
search for customers with any of 12 pre-configured search tools ranging from
phone numbers to service plans. Once a customer is selected, the CSR accesses
each of the tabs needed for that customer, whether it be the contact tabs, service
plan, and payment/billing/usage history or service credits. An administrator
panel provides control of the WISP staff permissions. The administrator can
review the audit trail of its business here, such as tracking refunds, credits
and activity of each CSR or by date. The administrator may alter activity permissions
Lastly, the USS screen manages the WISP’s account details with Aria including
all details of its billing, credits and usage.
In everyday use the Aria Systems product family is deceptively simple. It possesses
heavy complexity that is managed almost totally in the background. It works
extremely well. Still, one-question remains: Is it expensive?
Aria was very forthcoming about its pricing system, which is flexible. The
company wants to be able to provision large firms successfully and still leverage
service to smaller operators.
Aria charges up front for the initial set-up phase, which includes professional
service advice and setup. Pricing varies depending on the necessary work. If
the WISP can cover this cost in a single lump sum the monthly charge to manage
its customer can be less than $1 dollar per user. If smaller firms cannot afford
to cover all of the initial set-up costs, Aria can defray some of this expense
by charging a smaller set-up fee and a monthly service fee ranging from $2 to
$5 per customer. Certainly this is affordably for almost any size firm.
Clearly the Aria Systems family of products is a welcome new addition to the
tool kit of the WISP operator. Aria’s extensive ISP background bodes well for
its ability to understand and fulfill the real challenges of CRM and billing
for wireless operators.
It is a product well worth looking at.
Tim Sanders is founder of The Final Mile, a fixed wireless consulting
group. His experience was gained running a multi-state fixed wireless ISP. He
can be reached at www.thefinalmile.net.