Bell Canada has run into some problems in its efforts to integrate its billing systems for Internet and phone customers.

For more than a year, Bell was sending its customers a single bill, but the letter says the company will

resort to two separate bills “”once again”” during what the carrier calls a “”transition period.””

Don Blair, a spokesman for Bell Canada, said the return to two bills is not due to any technical problems concerning the integration of the two billing systems.

“”It’s not a technical challenge, it’s just a long process for us to do this,”” he said. “”There’s a lot of very extensive undertakings and certain things that can’t be (changed) until very late in the cycle. And so we want to make sure everything changes appropriately before we begin to send it out as an all-in-one bill.””

Paul Hughes, director of the billing and payment application strategies at the Yankee Group in Boston, said Bell’s legacy billing system poses a unique challenge to the carriers’ IT staff because it involves older computer languages. Bell is also challenged by the 200 different billing systems it has across the country, he added.

The trick is to find and maintain a third-party software solution, or a “”bill-consolidation engine”” that can successfully integrate two billing systems that may not speak the same language, said Hughes.

“”What you face is the ongoing challenge of making sure communications between multiple systems occur so that you actually get the one single bill from the customer,”” he said. “”A lot of carriers have tried to do it. Some have been successful, some have not.””

When it comes to dealing with software glitches at “”the legacy billing system level, you have an issue that may take a long time to re-code what was there,”” added Hughes. “”It can become a huge programming effort to make it work effectively. Sometimes this can be fixed in a number of hours, sometimes it can take days.””

Bell aims to offer a “”One Bill”” system in late 2003, where all services, including Bell Canada, Bell Mobility, Sympatico, and Bell ExpressVu, are on a single bill.

Comparatively, Telus has been offering an integrated bill to landline phone and Internet customers for just over a year.

Jill Hewitson, the carrier’s vice-president of billing services, said customers have the option of receiving one bill or two.

“”The charges are sent between a point-to-point connection between the two systems,”” she said. “”We have created a gateway to put charges from other systems into a core system. And so (everything) is fed into that gateway. And part of that gateway connection will have the landline telephone number that the (Internet fee) is to be charged to.””

Hughes said it may be easier for the newer carriers such as Telus to integrate their billing systems because the languages they use are newer, and chances of smooth interoperability are greater. But, he said, it should be noted that legacy systems used by such carriers as Bell are tried and tested in serving millions of people.


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