The Definitive Guide to Subscription Management Implementation

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.

Time for a Change: From Homegrown Billing System to Enterprise-Class, Cloud-Based Solutions

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.

  • Lack of agility impeding go-to-market. The system didn’t provide the agility required to react quickly to a highly dynamic market. For example, any additions or changes to the service plans required the efforts of IT developers.
  • Billing inflexibility dragging down system performance. The system had additional shortcomings — customers were being billed on the first day of the month which resulted in preparing thousands of bills at the same time. This dragged down system performance, which impacted the CRM system and, as a result, customer service. Modifying the code to spread the billing throughout the month and having the flexibility to manage billing and payment operations daily would have been an expensive and cost ineffective proposition.
  • Lack of visibility into financial health. Finally, the system did not give the billing team the visibility or control required to maximize the company’s revenue stream.

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.


Creating a Pre-implementation Planning Team

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.

  1. 1. Valuable internal knowledge. Employees know the business, so there would be no learning curve as there would be with outside consultants. That meant being able to move more quickly.
  2. 2. Immediate effectiveness. During the project these people would become extremely familiar with the capabilities of the new system, which would translate into immediate effectiveness when implementation was completed.
  3. 3. Sense of ownership. Their participation helped foster a sense of ownership, which helped drive adoption and ensure success.

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.

Identifying Key Requirements and Documenting Processes

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.

Constructing Comprehensive Test Plans on the Entire Order-to-Cash Process

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.

Testing, Testing and More Testing: Towards a Detailed Implementation Plan

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.

  1. 1. Minimize risk. It minimized the risk of problems during implementation.
  2. 2. Onboarding business users. It provided a valuable learning experience for the business users.

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.

8 Implementation Lessons

Overall, the project was highly successful. Below are some of the lessons learned along the way:

  1. 1. Involve business stakeholders upfront. Involving the business stakeholders from the outset, both in technology selection and implementation, was an essential ingredient to success.
  2. 2. Lean on vendors. Draw on the expertise of vendors and very specific and specialized project resources. The combination of internal business stakeholders, external vendors and specialized project resources delivered substantial value, enabling us to move quickly while avoiding missteps.
  3. 3. Use business users to define solution. Push business users to really think through what the ideal process is. Really encourage business users to think through and document the ideal processes more fully in the pre-implementation planning and testing phases. Detailed business insight early on, ensures a better end product and /or goal. With IT completing more upfront work with business stakeholders at the early stage there is a more thorough definition of the solution and improved documentation of the business requirements which ensures easier implementation of any enhancements or changes.
  4. 4. Test all scenarios. Ensure that test cases include all possible scenarios, including the negative or “rainy day” scenarios and ensure knowledgeable testing individuals are involved. Find ways to get people to think about all the different scenarios that might occur.
  5. 5. Communication is key. Emphasize communication and training throughout the project. Cross-functional team members were tasked to keep their respective groups up to date on the progress of the project. In addition, email messages, published newsletters and bulletins, employee roadshows, prepared video, and published web training were also sent to all employees. One key lesson learned is to continue communicating well after the implementation has gone live, as things don’t always go as planned. A war room was maintained for 30 days after implementation and daily all-hands meetings were held to address and communicate any issues that arose. In hindsight, 90-days would have likely been more appropriate. People will never complain that you over communicate.
  6. 6. Address quick wins. Once the implementation was live, small changes in a field or the order of the fields were requested by business users. These were tackled quickly to promote easy wins.
  7. 7. Seek to understand. Creating a cross-functional team and working with people face-to-face whenever possible brought the team to a common understanding more rapidly. The cross-functional aspect continues to address:
  • What process they want to implement or change
  • How are they currently performing that process
  • What are the disconnects and areas that can be streamlined

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.

  • 8. Process innovation is ongoing. Streamlining processes is a journey, not a destination. There are always areas that can be improved. Process innovation is ongoing, and the process improvement is only limited if you stop focusing on it.
  • The Payoff: Agility, Visibility, Strong Customer Relationships

    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.

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