Tales from the Library of Pain: How Not to Manage Usage Data

March 22, 2023

Here’s the tale of one business that struggled to leverage usage data — and tips for avoiding their painful mistakes.
Jonas Wallenius
Product led growth
How can businesses leverage service usage data? There’s a right way, and lots of wrong ways.

Over the years, DigitalRoute has helped many companies overcome painful, inefficient ways of managing usage data. We’ve collected some of those stories in what we call the “Library of Pain”.

In this edition, we look at a port operator that was being held back by manual data management processes. Unfortunately, this story is not an uncommon one.

Like the example we present in this story, many companies fail to understand how manual data management directly inhibits their ability to grow. Read this cautionary tale to avoid finding yourself in the Library of Pain yourself.

Chapter one: Prisoners of Excel

Our story begins in a fictional city which we’ll call Hammerburg. Though relatively small compared to other ports, Hammerburg has a busy harbor where more than a million shipping containers pass through each year.

When we met them, the Port of Hammerburg was getting busier and busier. That growth was supported by increased manufacturing in the area, which meant more inbound and outbound international shipments.

While some bigger ports have invested heavily in advanced systems for digitalization and automation, Hammerburg was still largely reliant on manual processes. In fact, their whole operation was built on paper and time stamps.

The port charges companies for the amount of time each shipping container spends in storage. This meant when a container came in, a paper was stamped. When the container went out, there was another stamp.

This manual process was causing serious pains on an operational level, because someone had to take all the papers, look at each stamp, and input all that data into a big Excel file. We refer to this poor soul as the Excel Guy.

The Port of Hammerburg was far from alone in this situation. We’ve found teams of Excel Guys toiling away at massive, publicly traded companies.

The growth in international trade meant that the port was generating more paper and more stamps every month. To keep up, they added more people to their “Prison of Excel”.

Chapter two: Trapped in a maze of manual processes

As the Excel files kept growing, so did the frequency of errors. That meant some transactions weren’t billed for, which we often refer to as revenue leakage.

At the same time, customers were also double billed. Billing errors caused customer complaints, which increased cost related to customer service and resolution.

That was also true when it came to partner settlement. Resolving disputes with third-party vendors required hours of grueling manual reconciliation.

With unhappy customers and partners, pricing negotiations become harder. So, the port’s position to negotiate was weaker, which had a negative impact on growth.

Manual processes also meant that their billing cycles were slow. Waiting to get paid meant a compromised cash flow. Ultimately, this meant that the port operator had less cash available to invest in growth.

With a paper-driven process, it’s hard to change. Even rolling out a new form meant they had to run all over the place with papers.

So, what they ended up doing was the opposite of being agile. They didn’t make changes even though they wanted to because it was just too expensive and too hard. They were stuck going round in a maze and needed a way out.

Chapter three: A wrong turn in the search for a solution

In their effort to find a way out of their predicament, the port’s IT team saw replacing the billing system as a possible solution. This was because the billing system is where they saw the most obvious problems surface, while ignoring the inefficient manual processes that led to their dirty data in the first place.

Again, this is a common pain for any type of organization that’s weighted down by manual processes.

Businesses often start exploring a billing transformation without realizing that they actually have a service usage data management problem.

The port’s IT team was simply not aware of the purpose-built data management solutions that can fix these problems. But after consulting with one of DigitalRoute’s billing platform partners, the IT team discovered that they needed to address the quality of data being fed into the billing platform.

Working happily ever after with the help of DigitalRoute

With DigitalRoute’s Usage Engine automatically structure and bind data, it was easier to bind to customer accounts, which meant billing cycles sped up. Less mistakes led to a massive decrease in complaints and time spent on reconciliation.

Partner settlement was also streamlined. If any questions did occur, a strong audit trail meant any disputes could be resolved quickly.

All this meant that the Excel Guy was free to work on projects that created more value for the port. Gradually, they were able to introduce more digital processes and systems, which further increased their efficiency and supported their continual growth.

The morale of this story? By taking control of usage data management, businesses have an easier path to growth. Without that, your business may just find itself in the Library of Pain.

Andreas Zartmann
Jonas Wallenius
Strategic Product Manager @ DigitalRoute
Jonas is a realistic futurist, excelling at pattern and trend recognition. As Strategic Product Manager at DigitalRoute, his focus is on understanding customer needs and building great user experiences. He also serves as custodian of the Library of Pain.

With a background in distributed transactions and real-time charging system architecture, Jonas is an advocate of serverless and public cloud technology across industries. He also has passion for blockchain and Dungeons and Dragons, though he has not yet discovered a way to combine the two.

Jonas’ greatest passion is learning. Whatever he works with, he wants to understand it deeply. He thinks in terms of hypothesis, experiment, observation, conclusion. That structured approach allows Jonas to translate insights across domains, tech, business, and product design.

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