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Zuora first billing provider in Microsoft cloud platform

The addition looks to help ease the increasingly complex process of billing in the cloud.

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Late last week, Zuora became the first on-demand billing and subscription management provider to be chosen by Microsoft as part of the Microsoft Windows Azure Technology Adoption Program. But why is Zuora’s role so important to the advancement of Microsoft’s cloud computing platform?

For one, having a charter cloud-based billing provider will help telcos that are growing more tired and more “poor” as a result of the rooms of exception managers they have to employ to field the mistakes made by home-grown billing systems and bolt-ons to older systems. According to Shawn Price, president of Zuora, “The cadence of business has quadrupled, and there is just an enormous amount of inputs for how telephony orders enter a billing system today — whether an e-commerce front end, sales force for assisted sale, or a partner portal around cloud, or a customer support system.”

When operators have so many inputs, they struggle to handle the usage data relating to subscriptions, constituents and market segments. “Add to that an unprecedented numbers of change orders and you see why telcos and cloud providers struggle,” Price said.

In addition, the nature of charges and fees has changed and grown more complicated. “At any given time, operators billing systems have to accommodate payable-net-30 and usage-payable-net-30 in arrears as well as overage, plus all the change orders as people add onto their initial plans [e.g., adding answering service or call forwarding to voice-over-IP],” Price added.

With such a prodigious inbound flow, customer support centers and billing just cannot keep up. “General ledger systems and ERPs on top of which billing are built don’t understand the intricacies of rate plans today," Price said. "They don’t understand subscriptions or change orders, nor do they handle usage."

Because pricing and packaging are the new differentiator in a market of commodities, Price and others in TAP believe bills should be configured by product managers, not IT.

“They also should be configured once and deployable everywhere, and seamlessly, inside and outside a company,” Price said, noting that in the past a telco would perhaps launch a product or service once and then it was gone. “But with subscription rate plans and usage, you get five or six change orders for one service in a year," he said. "We’ve had some companies in a cloud experience as many as 55 changes to rating and charging plans within a year.”

The purpose of TAP is to help service providers create packages and pricing plans that can be propagated across entire ecosystems for availability to sales forces, customers, partners, and network engineering and IT. “You have to configure once and deploy everywhere to survive in a subscription economy,” Price said.

Price believes that companies that don’t have infrastructure in place, or the knowledge to manage infrastructure, will want “billing in a box” to remove friction. “When you look at VM Ware, which hasn’t had usage in its products for virtual machines, you can see why this program is necessary for companies wanting to meter, price and bill,” he said.

As part of the Windows Azure TAP program, Zuora is making immediately available its Zuora Toolkit for Windows Azure to help developers and ISVs meter, price and bill for their Windows Azure platform cloud-based applications and services.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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