When buying big is not better

Witnessing the loss of $34 million in a single day has made D&B Results senior partner Gavin Bunshaw acutely aware of billing system disasters.

The utility consultant, who is also a former Telstra employee, warned businesses about being drawn into "overpowering technology"; for instance, buying a Ferrari isn't always the best transport solution.

It's like buying a Ferrari to get from point A to point B, then you need to travel from Sydney to Auckland - and there are no ferries, Bunshaw said. A lot of enterprises that go down the path of buying big, he said, end up "shooting a chicken with a cannon".

Speaking at Sun Microsystems' CIO Utilities Symposium, Bunshaw said the goal is to match the computer vision to an enterprise-wide business model; it also includes understanding the organization's acquisition strategy.

He used telcos as an example of organizations that can end up having 50 billing systems and no defined strategy.

And don't believe vendors that claim the only customization a US product needs is a date change, he said, as this is usually just the beginning.

Upgrades shouldn't take two years, he said, adding that flexibility is key.

"Can you wait nine months to put something into production to compete? We really need to drive less dependency on IT," he said.

"Look at what you can configure to stay on your upgrade path; don't end up pumping millions of dollars into maintenance.

"Avoid customizations that hinder you, this means having a documented and known data model so you don't need 30 consultants just to understand what the data is," Bunshaw said, adding that he was sick to death of bleeding edge.

"Look for known technology and find a vendor that can support you, then leverage vendor costs among multiple customers."

Bunshaw said the biggest myth about billing systems is that table-driven systems result in speedy changes.

"Sure it might take one minute to change, but it will take three months to actually test that change. I know of one company that lost half a day of processing, $34 million disappeared and it put the business behind six to 12 months," he said.

When purchasing a billing system, Bunshaw said it is common for organizations to start with a $5 million budget and end up spending $20 million believing they need all the bells and whistles.

Other speakers at the symposium included Aurora Energy business development manager, Bob Darwin, who presented details on a Tasmanian trial involving broadband over power lines.

Following completion of the trials, a proposal will go to the board in May to fund a complete rollout of the project which is the first of its kind in Australia.

Sandra Rossi attended the symposium as a guest of Sun Microsystems

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