Xplornet, the largest rural high-speed internet service provider in Canada, replaced their home-grown system with enterprise-class, cloud-based solutions and streamlined processes to support business growth, increase efficiencies, and improve the customer experience. In this guide, Cathy MacDonald, COO, and Portia Hallett, VP Operations, review best practices for successfully implementing a subscription management environment.
Xplornet’s advanced technology, 4G satellite and terrestrial network, flexible billing and payment options, and superior customer service have all propelled the company from a small startup in 2004 to Canada’s leading rural broadband provider. And the company continues to experience exponential growth.
To support this growth, Xplornet needed to make a major transformation. The scalability limit of its homegrown billing system had been reached.
In early 2012, the home-grown system was replaced with enterprise-class, cloud-based solutions that has enabled the delivery of an improved customer experience.
The choice for the future was Salesforce for the CRM platform and Zuora for subscription management. The resulting combination provides the scalability, flexibility, visibility, and control required to meet the rapidly changing needs of the marketplace.
Work as a team began twelve months before the actual implementation. The team members included employees who are engaged in Information Technology (IT), marketing, billing, sales and customer service on a daily basis. As a result, they brought with them rich insight into what they wanted from the new system.
Because the company was implementing Salesforce at the same time, the overall project touched many functional areas, including IT, finance, billing operations, call center, internal sales, marketing, and third-party distribution groups. Many companies bring in outside consultants for the planning process. At Xplornet, internal people were used for three key reasons.
Internal resources were supported with representatives from the two technology vendors as well as a few contract individuals with specific project skill sets to complement the team’s capabilities. Team members were able to draw on the in-depth knowledge of these experts to learn about the new solutions so they could better exploit the new functionality.
The business users documented both current and desired processes and together examined the process mapping to understand process flows. Inputs from business users helped IT identify the gaps and disconnects with existing systems. The vendor representatives provided insight into how to best leverage the technology to meet the needs expressed by the business users.
One of the key requirements was greater agility in rolling out new products and new rate plans to Xplornet customers. This was a critical factor because Xplornet serves multiple government groups and value-added resellers who require custom-built rate plans. The ability to respond quickly to their diverse and continually changing requirements was a must-have.
In addition, the business users needed the ability to configure the product catalogue on their own, to add new products and rate plans quickly and easily, without assistance from IT. So the team discussed at length the best processes to put in place to optimize the capabilities of the configurable product catalogue. The added benefit, of course, was that it would reduce the load on the IT staff and empower the business to make the necessary changes quickly.
This upfront planning effort with a team of business stakeholders and IT, complemented by vendor experts and contract individuals with specific project skill sets proved to be a critical factor in the project’s success.
Once a firm understanding of the new processes was put in place, and how to best leverage the new systems to meet business user requirements, the team was ready to move into the development and testing phase.
With respect to testing, a detailed test plan was created. Here again, involved business users were engaged so that what they did on a day-to-day basis could be translated into the new system. Business users were then asked to write detailed test plans to ensure that the new, streamlined processes, that were an outcome of the planning process, as well as the overall system, would meet expectations.
To help in this endeavor, through the leadership of the Director of Business Systems, testing experts, and frontline employees with testing experience, sessions were held on how to write effective test plans. We extended the test of the billing system to include testing of the billing-related front-end activities that would be performed on Salesforce. In this way, testing of the system and streamlined processes were conducted on the entire order-to-cash process.
With test plans in place, the team began working on a detailed implementation plan. Here, the cross-functional team worked closely with vendor partners in loading the system for stress tests. Multiple iterations of loading data into different environments were conducted to prepare for implementation. The actual testing was performed by the business users.
The thorough testing served two purposes.
With many business users from a variety of functional areas participating, testing proceeded quickly. In retrospect, having more experienced testers while maintaining the need to get through the testing quickly of all possible scenarios would have been beneficial and reduced implementation follow-up items.
As a result of the testing phase, the detailed implementation plan was completed. The simultaneous implementation of Salesforce and the Zuora solution meant data loads needed to be synchronized and all information updated properly at implementation time. The plan spelled out how to accomplish this.
Overall, the project was highly successful. Below are some of the lessons learned along the way:
To this day, the cross-functional team meets for a full day, or even two or three days, on a single process. The team works together to visually map out the existing process, the disconnects, and suggestions for improvement. By striving to fully understand the current and desired states, Xplornet has been able to discuss what to do to make sure all needs are addressed. IT works closely with the business side in establishing the priorities for implementing changes.
Since the implementation, Xplornet has scaled and improved its processes to drive growth. The company now issues invoices across the entire month, it has become more agile in the pricing of its product to market, and it now has more visibility into subscription billing.
Call centre and billing operations people can view customer billing histories and identify problem accounts as well as high-value customers. Call centre technicians can bring up a customer’s billing history right from the service desk in response to a customer call.
Most importantly, business users are delighted by what they can get out of the system. And in the process, strong relationships have been forged between business users and IT. Those relationships have positioned IT to be more aligned with the business and to be even more nimble in driving more continuous process innovation.