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1998

Return to: 1998 Feature Stories

CLIENT: IN-TOUCH MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS, INC.

June 24, 1998: Inside Paging

"EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS"

In this issue's Executive Insights, Alan J. Hills, president of In-Touch Management Systems, Inc., addresses a number of important paging industry trends and issues.

Inside Paging:

Because paging can be a low-margin business, how can In-Touch and other billing systems help automate the carrier?

Mr. Hills:

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. Seamless computer interfaces to credit card companies, lock box companies, resellers and interactive voice response as well as paging terminals allow paging companies to have their staffs focused. Some of our customers have as many as 10,000 billable handles per employee. With the advent of carrier-owned retail stores, a point-of-sale (POS) interface eliminates the duplicate entry of hand written contracts and allows for provisioning and billing of services sold at the point of sale.In the retail environment, billing system data can be used to predict stock run rates and local number usage to reduce the carriers need to pre-purchase inventories. This simple one-step provisioning billing and set-up allows the carrier to service his customer with the minimum possible labor. Clear and concise bills also help carriers reduce churn and decrease customer service calls. Some of our customers, for instance, even take the billing one step further and allow the local phone companies to bill for the provided paging services, further reducing churn and collection cost.

Inside Paging:

Does In-Touch work with paging carriers to develop new products?

Mr. Hills:

In a word, yes. We have been doing this for over 15 years. As new enhanced services are prepared for the marketplace by our carriers, In-Touch is often approached to further develop its products to increase the capability of provisioning and billing for these new enhanced services. And as various customers create new billing techniques, our 'business rules-based system' allows the carrier to tailor these increasingly creative rules to their own needs. In-Touch often develops additional functionality to respond to carriers' creation of new market channels. We developed for TSR Wireless, for example, a full graphical POS system to operate in conjunction with our In-Touch II system. TSR Wireless also recently installed our Point-of-Sale Management System in over 100 retail stores nationwide. They receive a complete retail provisioning system -- point-of-sale pager activation, contract preparation, customer account and billing set-up. A few other points -- certain clients maintain full demographics on their customers. They're thus able to target advertising to specific demographic groups by programming over-the-air capable pagers and sending one highly focused page affords them some unique marketing opportunities. We're also presently working on prepaid paging cards for alphanumeric paging which will allow subscribers to buy packets of service rather than traditional subscriptions.

Inside Paging:

Where your business is concerned, what is the next frontier in the paging industry?

Mr. Hills:

Let's first discuss what In-Touch views as the next geographic frontier. Without a doubt it will be Russia and China, which together have a population of over 1.5 billion with a market that has barely been tapped. From a data standpoint, another 'frontier' is the complete separation of 'business rules' from databases, which will allow for the use of any commercially available database product as an underlying engine. This will allow for an easy integration with other types of billing. Also, while the concept of convergence billing is extremely exciting, at this time, In-Touch has decided and is executing a 'migration plan' to take our In-Touch II system to what will eventually be In-Touch III -- a fully three-tiered client/server system. It will enable In-Touch to use other products' databases and vice-versa.

Inside Paging:

Will Year 2000 issues be a big concern to the paging industry?

Mr. Hills:

There are lots of concerns with Y2K and some are not plainly obvious to the general public. This is a very serious issue for businesses. In fact, companies without a Year 2000 project team already in place will face a serious risk management problem. Fortunately for our clients, we anticipated this problem almost 20 years in advance when we built our original system back in 1981. Subsequent generations of products have maintained Y2K compliance. However, paging industry executives must address the Year 2000 computer problem quickly and efficiently as they would with any other decision affecting their companies. For the paging industry, the headaches may actually begin on December 1. In our industry, many companies bill their customers well in advance, sometimes a year or more. Some of the companies that do so will find that the bills that they try to send on December 1, that are supposed to charge through January 1, 2000 will not be generated correctly. Even for companies that do not bill annually in advance, invoice projections reports are likely to go haywire by January 1, 1999. Certain dates may also cause havoc -- Sept. 9, 1999, for instance, contains five nines, which are also used as end of file markers -- will this cause a problem? It's one of the big unknowns we're facing. The price tag to fix the problem won't be cheap either. Recent estimates peg the cost to convert each line of code at about $1.10 -- and the affected code is often found in large complex systems, requiring a lot of skilled, highly manual work to plan, effect and test the changes to be made. Obviously, for some systems, due to their age, there may no longer be support for the programming language originally used. Those paging systems written with older techniques tend to require extensive code changes. In some cases, a paging billing and management software system may have to be rewritten from the ground up. The downside of this, of course, is that it's very time consuming, expensive, and if there is a fixed deadline which is missed, the consequences are severe. In addition, sufficient knowledge and documentation may not exist for older systems making it difficult for staff to correctly identify the necessary changes. Some systems may also have special interfaces requiring attention.

Inside Paging:

To what does In-Touch attribute its success internationally?

Mr. Hills:

We treat our international clients with the same intensity as our domestic clients and this has served us very well over the years. In addition, our international pricing has only the cost of travel as a difference from our domestic pricing. Other companies conversely may price their systems that they sell to international customers anywhere from three to five times more than we do. In addition, the inherently flexible design of our system allows all customers, especially international customers, the ability to run their business in accordance with their local regulations. In-Touch II serves as a tool that can be configured to follow a company's business rules rather than a system that enforces its rules on the business.

Return to: 1998 Feature Stories