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Jones System Aborts In-House Billing Test

Jones Intercable Inc. has turned off its in-housecustomer-care and billing system at its sole test site in Buffalo, Minn., and it willreturn to mainstream billing vendor CableData Inc.

The decision to scuttle the Intelligent Customer SupportSystem dovetails with similar moves made by other large MSOs, many of which also scrappedhome-grown models in favor of outsourced billing.

Jones Cyber Solutions Ltd. has been developing its ICSSsystem for nearly two years. Although ICSS has been licensed to four companiesinternationally, it has yet to crack the domestic market. The Buffalo system was its firstdomestic test site.

Despite the decision to remove ICSS from the Buffalosystem, Steve Gampp, president of JCS, a subsidiary of Jones Intercable parent JonesInternational Inc., insisted that JCS will forge ahead with its plan to sell the softwarepackage to other cable operators. However, he admitted that he may be bucking a trendamong cable operators to outsource the majority of their customer-care and billingservices.

"Each company has different parameters -- we hope thatJones hasn't given up on the in-house system," he said. "We want to rollout ICSS to other Jones systems, when they're prepared to do it."

The bulk of Jones' systems currently use CableData forcustomer-care and billing services.

Gampp said he's spoken with several domestic MSOsabout ICSS, with lukewarm response. "We're finding much greater acceptance onthe international market," he said.

In the early days of broadband services -- when operatorswere considering how to manage multiple revenue streams associated with high-speed data,telephony and multiplexed digital video -- many thought that the speediest and mostcost-effective approach would be to craft their own customer-care and billing systems.

But today's trend seems to be to again let traditionalbilling vendors, like CableData and CSG Systems Inc., handle the customer-care and billingprocess.

Last year, Tele-Communications Inc. scrapped amultimillion-dollar project known as "SummiTrak," in favor of an exclusive,15-year deal with CSG. Time Warner Cable has also experimented with an in-house system,only to later find it too costly and difficult to manage.

Six of the top 10 MSOs currently use CSG for customer careand billing. CableData is also a leading provider in that sector.

The exception: Cox Communications Inc., one of the fewremaining MSOs that has successfully deployed a homegrown customer-care and billingsystem.

Scott Hatfield, vice president and chief informationofficer for Cox, said internally developed systems are not for everyone becausethey're more demanding to develop and maintain.

"An in-house system clearly requires knowledgeabletechnical people," Hatfield said. "We have the size to support an in-housesystem. Smaller operators may not be able to support one."

Jones' decision to shut down ICSS in Buffalo was basedon the pending sale of the 14,000-subscriber system, executives said.

"In constructing our in-house system, we tested [ICSS]there, but when Jones was preparing the [Buffalo] system for sale, the company felt thatCableData would be more compatible with the buyer's system," Gampp said.

Gampp added that JCS had been developing ICSS as a productboth for internal use and to sell to other MSOs. "Our first customer was JonesIntercable, which has decided to sell the one system that was using the product," hesaid.

Gampp pointed to CableData's large-scalemainframe-computer network, as well as to its computability with the potential newowner's current system, as keys to Jones' decision to shut down ICSS at itsBuffalo site.

"[CableData] uses a large-scale,mainframe-computer network, while Cyber Solutions uses PCs [personal computers] hookedinto client servers with different scalability," Gampp said. "Jones felt thatthe purchaser [of the Buffalo system] would find it easier to use CableData thanICSS."