After two years of work and 700,000 lines of code, plan.com has come up with a new airtime model
The American whistleblower Edward Snowden would be mortified at plan.com’s new customer and partner control and admin platform.
Snowden, who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency and now makes YouTube videos warning of the danger of surveillance via smartphones, would be aghast at the level of remote control and monitoring power the new my.plan portal offers to enterprise clients and comms providers.
Log in and you’ll see an icon of every device in your fleet depicted on a global scale map. Click deeper and receive a realtime analysis of data and voice breakdown, and even detect what content is being downloaded and viewed.
The term ‘game-changer’ is sometimes overused. In the cased of the new my.plan portal, it is apposite.
The game-changing element is how the my.plan software prioritises control of the device SIM to my.plan instead of the network. This is because my.plan has its own access point name (APN) which sits above that of the network. It is the APN that is the gateway between the mobile network, the internet and the device. The my.plan APN takes priority.
Plan.com co-founder Keith Curran explains: “Historically, the mobile channel has been a pyramid with networks at the top. Several million business customers are at the bottom.
“Nowadays, it’s no longer just about mobile connectivity, it is also about cloud and fixed, and divisions of mobile. With our new portal, we now have direct access into cell-site infrastructure. That’s what drives the platform. We knew if we had direct access, we could build a technology that could overlay and generate things that
would be extremely valuable for customers and partners.
“Instead of having the network operator’s APN, we wanted the plan.com APN within the device. A lot of the triggers to doing things that haven’t been done before relate to having our APN in the device.”
Via the APN, users can accurately pinpoint the device location at any time, anywhere in the world. Businesses can always know and understand the position of their staff, whether they want to see the country they are in or drill down to town level – even which road they are on.
“The platform tells you everything you want to know about your user/SIM estate,” Curran continues. “You can track live your entire device estate with pinpoint accuracy, even down to where the device is being used, such as on a particular road. Our APN does global IMEI number checks, so it shows exactly what device your user has in their hand, be it a phone, tablet or Mifi unit.
“So it’s fantastic for asset tracking, which is a challenge for large businesses. Big customers are not even sure how many devices they have. One of our partners was hoping to secure a large enterprise customer that didn’t know how many devices they had within 200!”
The my.plan platform has been two years in the making, requiring 50,000 man hours, 700,000 lines of code and months of beta testing.
The word “platform” is significant for my.plan, Curran says, elevating plan.com from being an airtime provider to a platform provider that can be offered by any network and telco reseller in the world. It is currently available on long-time partner network O2.
“We have massive respect for what the O2 cell-site infrastructure does, and we work in liaison with that,” says Curran.
“Anything driven by a SIM card or an eSIM is automatically linked through into the platform: all roads lead back to the SIM. At some point, you will see several networks ride onto this, not necessarily just in the UK. We’ve had some discussions outside the UK about partnering with multiple operators.”
He says the inspiration for my.plan was the awareness that the proliferation of unlimited data deals means the tariff was no longer a price differentiator. Devices were becoming more powerful and data was being offered in unlimited amounts, so how could the offering from a partner reseller stand out?
“If a customer is signed up to a two-year agreement on an unlimited tariff, you can’t offer a cheaper tariff,” he says. “But this platform gives massive opportunities for customers to increase productivity levels in their organisation, which is worth a huge amount of money.”
With more than 100 features available, the platform provides customers with everything they need to self-manage, and a partner no longer has to spend thousands servicing an account. They also don’t get as many queries because the customer can see all the information and do a lot of admin for themselves.
This enables the partner to sell more levels and features, and earn more margin with a reduced account service cost. Curran says the my.plan platform liberates the customer from the network because of the ability to monitor their SIM estate in real-time.
“A partner can now have direct interaction with the customer,” he says. “A network can’t afford to employ 50,000 people in every postcode just so the customer can have his hand held. These days, you need to have around 10,000 connections to even warrant a network giving you a personal account manager.”
Curran believes the platform brings a new dimension to the customer relationship. “Customers tend to interact once a month with their provider, whether that be a wholesaler, service provider or network. This interaction is called a ‘bill’, which drops into your inbox the month after the bill has been incurred,” he says. “If you’re a business, your bill could be anything up to a 1,000-page-PDF – good luck trying to analyse that! Most people will look at the summary page: that’s about as far as it goes.
“The bill can be generated 30 days after the event, and it’s extremely basic. If you as a manager notice a line, on the bill of £300 used in Dubai, you would talk to the person with that phone, who might say they didn’t even turn on data in Dubai.”
My.plan users can drill into the detail of what’s happening with your users. In real time, it highlights top callers, top data users, top texters, top roamers, who’s got what restrictions, what cost centres they have set up, and contract lengths. And all this key information is live and in one place.
“Our platform is not only ‘live’ to the device,” says Curran. “It is also interactive and intelligent. You just watch the screen, and the technology will keep farming the data and tell you the things that are valuable for you to know or to know in real time. It is also live. When you see that insight, it prompts you to take actions you might want to do such as barring, blocking, restricting and reconfiguring. These things can happen automatically for a particular SIM.”
Whether employees will be happy for their devices to be constantly analysed and monitored wherever they are in the world is another matter.
Curran, however, thinks the potential cost savings for an organisation that is able to have complete real-time control of its bills and monitor productivity are immense. He believes such savings could easily be greater than an organisation’s entire direct telecoms spend.
Resellers and partners that use and sell the platform will be remunerated by commissions rated on the product level they sell and the features and bolt-ons used by the customer. Curran says my.plan has been designed to support partners to grow their business, driven by the features and controls, and reducing what it costs to service an account.
“A core way a partner makes money is by connecting customers to the platform, for which they get paid a commission,” he says. “There are significant margin enhancements on top of that. Customers are happy to pay for true value enhancements.
“We’ve formulated these enhancements into Essential, Gold and Platinum subscription packages. For each customer subscription, the partner has its share of the monthly ongoing subscription value. And these subscription revenues can be further enhanced depending on the wider and more detailed take-up from the customer.
“We also think it will drive significant customer loyalty. If the customer benefits from the productivity enhancements, they will look at the level of savings and the extra value so that, even if someone else offers them a bill discount, it is very likely that the time, insight and productivity savings will be more than the discount being offered by someone else.
He adds: “For a partner, the ideal scenario is to bring on customers that they don’t need to spend money on servicing.”
Curran adds that the cost to serve with my.plan is reduced significantly. “A customer could be managing every aspect of their account themselves, so the cost to serve for the partner is zero,” he says. “They don’t get as many customer calls because the customer can see all the information for themselves.” This enables the partner to sell more things to customers and earn more margin with a reduced service cost.
“We want the customer or partner to be able to handle anything, at any time, from anywhere in the world. So the whole my.plan functionality is available via an app live in your hand.
“Think about the time a customer would require service in the life of their contract. Imagine the amount of time that a partner and customer would spend over two years on things such as requesting information, ringing up for billing information, trying to add a bolt-on, trying to get a user name change on a bill, SIM swaps, bars, spending limits and cost centres. With my.plan, they can do that themselves in seconds.
“Customers not only like the idea of having everything on one platform, they demand it because that too is going to give them efficiency savings.”
On top of that, Curran emphasises that the platform has been designed with ease of use in mind. The designers of the system
took their cue from Apple, which issues no user manuals for any of its products. Similarly, no my.plan user manual is required, with numerous help boxes and videos embedded in the platform.
As well as the mobile channel, plan.com is engaging with the IT channel, which has previously shunned mobile because of the commission models and equipment giveaway incentives.
“We’re engaging with some very large partners whose core activity has been wholesale. Now, why would they engage with plan.com if they’ve invested in their billing element? The feedback I get is that they lose opportunities because they can’t do what the plan.com platform does.
“Rather than lose that opportunity, they see they can’t build a great business with this functionality. We’ve had IT resellers from the IT sector who historically didn’t want to know about mobile; they don’t understand why anyone would want to give things away for free via a commission model.
“Now, they see us talking their language and are considering us being a consultative supplier. We’re seeing this making a big impact in the value-added-reseller sector. In the last 18 months, we’ve started to connect more enterprise-size customers than ever. Customers with 500 to 1,000 to 5,000 SIMs soon ‘get’ all of what this does.”
As a result, my.plan moves plan.com into a
new area of activity. “We’re not a telecoms company, we’re a technology company with a capital ‘T’,” asserts Curran. “What you’re looking at isn’t a portal; it’s a ‘platform’ on which all services will be available, whether that be mobile, fi xed, cloud, IoT, or MDM.”