We will advise approximately 50% of our customers today that we are changing their billing date - from the 1st of each month to the 28th of each month. We will accomplish this by only billing that 50% of our customers for 27/31 of their March monthly costs on March 1st and then billing them again on 28th April for the period 28th April to 27th May. We have only had one billing day since we commenced business over seven years ago but despite upgrading the hardware used to run the billing processes many times and rewriting the code more than a few times the number of customers and the number of services has kept increasing and the billing run has now passed 10 hours to complete and is heading for 12 hours within a few months. So the business has defined itself as no longer a start up by the number of billing transactions that have to be processed each month.
The danger of the growth in billing transactions required to be processed was that if the bill run failed to complete, for whatever reason when it had reached 12 hours it couldn't be re-run on that day and that would eventually cause some major reconciliation head aches. So, probably the last, or almost the last one, of the 'givens' that were part of the 'immutables' in our operation of Exetel will disappear in April. All companies change over time if they continue to grow and this change will truly mark the change from Exetel as a 'start up' company to the next phase of corporate life - whatever that may be. I'm not sure what sort of company Exetel has become since it began but I understand it is very different to what it initially was although I can't actually see where that has happened - beyond the obvious growth in people working both here and now Sri Lanka.
From my perspective Exetel has retained its 'small company ethos' where its founders still work at the jobs they had on January 1st 2004 and still retain the desire and put in the hours to create a 'perfect company' - while being as far away from that goal as we were on day one. If anything the hours per week have increased in responding directly to customer complaints and suggestions via the fora, complaint email address and suggestion address. I know more customers by name now than I did seven years ago and 'talk' to more customers every day now than I have done in the past. So in those respects Exetel has not changed at all....the 'gap' between dealing with the first line employee and the directors of the company is still one email answered almost immediately.
In terms of how Exetel relates to the various marketplaces in which it operates there have been many changes. The major change is that virtually none/none of the very small companies that existed when Exetel began business exist today and a huge number of start up companies that began business over the past seven years have also ceased to exist. Of the not so small companies that existed in 2004 a handful still exist and have grown much bigger either by acquisition or by sound management and, at least if you listen to their own self promotion, are significant influences in today's residential marketplaces - though in truth there is only one major influence. The unchanging fact though is that Testra Retail again dominates the residential marketplaces in ways that it didn't in January 2004 and the likelihood of that pernicious dominance controlling those marketplaces more completely than at any previous time is much greater....if Telstra's attitudes today existed in January 2004 then Exetel would never have started it's residential ADSL business.
So a new week has begun with several important decisions to be made - having already made the decision to split the billing dates. Perhaps it's just the general toughness of the current market places and therefore competitive actions that occur more frequently but I can't remember a time, ever, in my business career where so many difficult decisions have had to be made in such a relatively short space of time. I wonder whether other communications companies of Exetel's size have the same or similar issues? I suppose we can be grateful that we don't have to 'plan' to fire 60 of our middle and senior management from our head office (a difficult thing for us to do as our 'head office' only has 11 people in it including me).