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2001 News

With nearly a thousand ISP customers,

the Web-based, automated Rodopi software provides not only a billing solution, but also integrated access to a number of additional services.

September 17, 2001, by Jeff Goldman ISP-Planet

Rodopi Software is the billing software division of Abacus America, Inc., a company founded in San Diego, California in 1992 by current CEO Ivan Vachovsky, who had arrived in the US from Bulgaria only a year earlier. The company, named after a scenic mountain range in Eastern Europe, began in computer sales before it joined the Internet industry in 1995 with the full service ISP Aplus.Net.

The billing solution developed in-house for Aplus.Net was strong enough that Vachovsky started offering it to other ISPs; he added Rodopi Software to the company in 1998. Additional services of Abacus America include Names4Ever for domain registration, Server4Me for dedicated servers, and PayButton for credit card processing, among others.

Rodopi 858-227-4867 sales@rodopi.com

Diane Brandis is not only Rodopi's Senior Vice President of Business Development; she used to be a satisfied customer. Before working for Rodopi, Brandis was the Chief Operating Officer at Internet Express, an ISP also based in San Diego. At Internet Express, she made the decision to go with Rodopi for billing-and she says the choice was obvious.

"It's very scary when you're buying a billing system." she said. "The nice thing about Rodopi is that you don't feel like you have to become a technical genius. You don't need an enormous amount of training; it's very intuitive. I've had salespeople who start at ten o'clock in the morning successfully signing up their first sales at noon. It's really that simple."

What's more, Brandis says, you can be confident that Abacus America will be around for a while to come. "It's successfully made the turn into a mid-size corporation," she said. "It's one of the very few companies that is in the black; it's very diversified, which I think has helped it immensely. And it's also extremely cautious and prudent; it's not one of these companies that decided to jump in and start spending millions of dollars and try to get VC funding two years ago."

Bill from anywhere
A key aspect of Rodopi is the fact that it's web-based, which, Brandis notes, is particularly important for any company that's trying to support a number of field offices. "You can have your sales team, your technical support team, your billing team, your advertising agency, and you as a senior officer, actually in the four corners of the globe-and they can all work off of a seamless, integrated database, all looking at the exact same thing at the same time, in real time," she said.

And you don't have to have a European division to take advantage of that capability. When she was traveling for Internet Express, Brandis recalls, she could go to any online terminal, punch in her password, and keep on top of key issues—everything from total sales to which product was doing best that week. "Any way you slice it, you have constant access," Brandis said. "And so you can make management decisions and keep your finger on the pulse of your business anywhere you happen to be, which is an incredible freedom."

Even more important, says Brandis, is Rodopi's capacity for total automation of the process. "You can have a customer sign up online for dialup or web hosting or DSL or whatever, and it can be automatically provisioned by the time they put their credit card through," she said. "It interfaces with RADIUS; it can set up their web hosting account; it can do all of these things. It just works."

Rodopi uses SQL Server as a database, and runs on Microsoft NT. Brandis contends that sticking with NT is a good idea, particularly in the current industry climate-at the very least, it keeps things simple. "The NT engineers out there are affordable, and they're intelligent," she said. "It's different when you jump into a Sun Solaris system, and then you have Oracle, and you need all these different integrators every time you turn around."

Rodopi's open API allows for straightforward customization of the system, including full branding for all customer interfaces-check out Abacus America's own ISP, Aplus.Net, as an example. And because Rodopi is part of Abacus America, you can easily add pre-integrated modules for automated domain registration, online credit card processing, bandwidth management, marketing analysis, and more. "It becomes a one-stop shop," Brandis said. "It is the largest, widest-spread offering on a single platform; it's an end-to-end solution."

A demo is viewable online, and a 100-license copy of Rodopi can be downloaded for free for evaluation purposes. Pricing is simple: $1.45 per subscriber license, sold in batches of 1,000, with a minimum initial purchase of 5,000 licenses. An annual support contract (Monday through Friday, 6 AM-5 PM) costs $1,595. If you purchase the support contract, there's no additional setup fee; if you don't, there's a setup fee of $695.

Number of licenses: Price:
Up to 1000 licenses $795
1,001 to 5,000 licenses $2,395
5,001 to 10,000 licenses $3,595
10,001 to 20,000 licenses $6,495
20,001 to 50,000 licenses $9,995
50,001 to 100,000 licenses $16,995
100,001 licenses and above $29,995

If Rodopi releases an upgrade within six months of your initial purchase, the upgrade is free; after that, there's a fee for each upgrade. Brandis says they're currently releasing upgrades about every nine months or so. As an example, here's their current pricing for the upgrade to Rodopi (left). In January of this year, Rodopi made a significant shift towards focusing on customer service, and towards attracting larger customers. "We changed the mantra of the company to be much more customer-focused; before, it was more technology-focused," Brandis said. "Throughout this calendar year there has been a real emphasis on customer service and on developing more programs that would help ISPs be successful."

Simple needs
Jeff Crews is the Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Eastern Oregon Net, Inc., or EONI, a rural Oregon ISP with over 10,000 subscribers in five counties. In addition to dialup and hosting, the company offers a wide range of services including virus filtering, spam filtering, web design, online training, paging, retail computer sales and repair, and network installation and maintenance.

EONI was founded back in 1996. At the time, Crews recalls, there were no commercial ISPs in the area. "Unless you had some affiliation with education or government, you couldn't get access," he said. "We thought this Internet thing was cool, but we couldn't figure out how to get people on it. So we installed a single 133 MHz Pentium server, and we ran all services on it. I was running news, mail, web, all on that machine."

In April of 1998, they realized it was about time to move beyond QuickBooks. "It was the duck-and-yell add user system," Crews said. "I'd get paged: 'Add a new user account!' I'd check my email, see who I needed to add, I'd manually go and add them to a Unix password file, and they'd be on. We did that up until we had about a thousand users."

Key to the decision to move to Rodopi was the fact that it was web-based: with offices spread out across five counties, the ability to communicate between locations was crucial. "Running it over the web is perfect for us," he said. "We've got people in a remote office-they've got Internet access, and they can sign up subscribers there. Plus, I can access Rodopi from anywhere in the world." Automation was the other key selling point. "Most of the daily processing was 100 percent scheduled and automated," he said. "So you come in in the morning and you don't have to tell it to run credit cards; you don't have to tell it do this, that, and the other thing. If you have a customer that's on a credit card, and you sign him up on Rodopi, you never have to mess with him again."

There were some adjustments Crews had to deal with when switching to Rodopi, but to some degree, he suggests, that's true for any prepackaged solution. "If we'd started with Rodopi from ground zero, it would have been a lot easier," he said. "When you take an automated thing and lay it on top of something that was manual, you just have to try and make it fit in where you can. When you buy somebody's billing system, you take on some of their business philosophy; you have to think like they did."

At the same time, he notes, that can also be an advantage. "Rodopi's consistent: when you tell it to do something, it's going to do it every time the same way," he said. "It's not fickle in the way it does things; it'll always do it just the way it's supposed to. The consistency and automation were the things that were important to me."

Ultimately, Crews says, it's all about having a solid service you can count on to do what you need it to do. "If you want to manage a subscriber, automatically install them, turn them on, turn them off, send them emails if they're late, manage the relationship of the service, and bill them, I think it does a really good job," he said. "If you're a credit-card-only ISP, you can sign up customers and sleep."

2001 News