Billing And Payments: How The Cloud Manages The Boring Bits

Billing and payment systems are eye-wateringly dull. Nobody sane wants to make a career from this kind of financial tedium and teeth-numbing API integration. But that makes them an ideal candidate for a cloud service: that way, someone else can take care of all the hideous detail.

Picture by MC Morgan

I couldn't exactly say that's the thinking behind Zuora, a software-as-a-service payments and billings company which had its official Australian launch in Sydney yesterday. But it certainly seems like the logical way to look at it. Just as running an Exchange server is a fast path to misery, trying to attach commerce services to an ERP system is a task best left to an aspiring masochist. Yet payment systems are essential, especially if you want to start selling a subscription service (whether that's a business app, a music service or something as yet undreamed of).

Zuora CIO Tien Tzuo certainly hopes people will be tempted to make that shift in a world where software-as-a-service is an increasingly common model. "Where innovation used to be delivered as a product, it's now delivered as a service," he said. As well as the often-discussed benefits of reducing capital expenditure in favour of opex, Tzuo also argued that subscription services, especially those without a long-term contract, can build consumer loyalty. "When consumers get a taste of subscription services, they want more," he said. "You build a constant relationship with customers, and you get loyalty -- it's better than transaction by transaction stuff."

Zuora's flagship local customer is Servcorp, better known for running serviced office facilities. Servcorp will be using Zuora to provide the billing systems for Gnee, a hosted telephony service that lets businesses easily shift their number between multiple devices. Servcorp already has billing systems, but CIO Matthew Baumgartner seems more than happy to ditch those and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

"Our business has always been subscription-based, but I'd like to to migrate everything after the testing phase. Zuora can do it better than us now. We want the lion's share of expenditure on innovation, not keeping the lights on." Baumgartner's sense of relief is palpable. Nor did choosing an external provider minimise choices on how billing might work for different products: "We didn't want a billing system that locked us into predefined workflows."

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