Footing the Bill With Ease

Integration of EBPP software, B2B apps on rise.

Consumers have long had an option to pay bills online. Developers have also produced software for presenting and paying business-to-business bills online, but uptake has been slow.

Now software developers such as Princeton eCom Corp., Metavante Corp. and Direct Insite Corp. are stressing integration and analysis capabilities of their EBPP (electronic bill presentment and payment) technologies in an effort to win more B2B converts.

Princeton eCom earlier this month announced that it had acquired Quicken Bill Manager EBPP software from Intuit Inc. Princeton eCom will continue to offer consumer bill paying through the Quicken product, but another moneymaker for the company appears to be the B2B potential.

For one, businesses that already use the Web site will have the additional integration of the Quicken Bill Manager front end with Princeton eComs back-end payment processing capabilities, said officials in Princeton, N.J.

Princeton eCom provides back-end payment processing to more than 950 banks, credit unions and financial institutions.

Also wending its way into the B2B space through acquisition is Metavante, a Milwaukee-based provider of EBPP software that expects to close its purchase of Derivion Corp. this week. Atlanta-based Derivion will bring new B2B capabilities to Metavantes namesake EBPP platform.

Separately, Direct Insite earlier this year teamed its dbExpress data visualization software with EBPP software from Avolent Inc. The Direct Insite technology normalizes the massive amounts of data produced in enterprise-scale B2B billing. It also provides an applet that allows a customer who has received an electronic bill to analyze it in context with other information from an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. Using the applet, an accounts payable employee may, for instance, verify that the goods on a bill were received and priced according to a predetermined quote.

While initial integration of dbExpress and Avolents BizCast EBPP software has been completed, Direct Insite officials in Bohemia, N.Y., said new analysis features will be rolled out in the coming months.

Some observers say that adding analysis is important for capturing B2B customers for EBPP since most businesses would be incapable of checking on the accuracy of electronic invoices, which might include millions of transactions, if they didnt also have tools to shift through those invoices electronically.

In addition to sheer volume, B2B billing can often include more complex rules than consumer billing. For instance, one purchase order may apply to multiple shipping events that need to be reconciled back to the order.

Vanion Inc., a provider of voice and data communications services for small and midsize businesses, said it has been thrilled with the analytical capabilities in Avolents BizCast EBPP software, which it has had up and running for about a month and a half.

The analysis capabilities are "a real differentiator for our sales team," said Kathy Hawkins, marketing manager for Vanion, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Customers "can drill down into their data to slice and dice it—find out what employee is using the most phone services and how long calls last."

Vanion customers can view their bills in Dynamic HTML or PDF formats, as well as download the data for uploading into a back-end system for analysis.

Currently, only Vanions top customers are using the paperless billing system. Eventually, all its customers will be sent bills electronically, although they will have an opt-out option.

Setting up the EBPP system came at a price. Vanion scrapped its old IT systems and installed the Avolent system and an ERP system from scratch. Because both implementations were new, integrating the two was not difficult, Hawkins said. The Avolent system went up in 30 to 45 days.

By reducing missed billings, errors and the number of credits that Vanion has to give, BizCast has already paid for itself, Hawkins said.

"It is aiding in closing sales," Hawkins said. "It has proven itself over our previous billing system."

B2B online marketplaces have not rushed to jump on the EBPP bandwagon, although some have announced they will add the capability. That is not surprising, given that deploying the payment systems across a broad B2B trading platform has proved to be technically more difficult than originally assumed, according to Thom Tillis, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who has worked with such large e-marketplaces as Pantellos and Transora.

"To do it properly, it needs to be integrated at the beginning, middle and end," said Tillis, in Charlotte, N.C.

As a result, most e-marketplaces have opted to first deploy asset-optimization and demand-planning services that are more likely to build liquidity, he said.

However, Tillis said he expects EBPP to make its way into e-marketplaces over time with the help of the platform technology providers.

"Last year, [e-marketplaces wanted to] do everything as fast as they can. Now they are doing things as they always should have—based on return on investment," Tillis said.

"In the e-markets space this year, we will see a lot of things that will surprise people," he added.