cleverbridge and ChartMogul: Subscription billing and analytics better together

An interesting partnership that begs some questions about what is core and what . . . isn't.

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News today from two vendors that they're getting together and announcing a partnership. That in itself is no huge deal, but it does raise some questions, given the current climate of every tech vendor seemingly partnering with every other tech vendor, about what should be regarded as core to a product offering.

Fire to introduce the players here. cleverbridge (a company which, annoyingly for this pedant, doesn't capitalize its name) is a subscription billing vendor. At the risk of taking my readers down a bit of a secondary route, the subscription billing space is an incredibly important one as, increasingly, companies of every type are looking at delivering new options in terms of how customers consume their product or service.

And enabling those new models, or at least the monetization of them, are the subscription billing vendors. Want to start a rental car company that charges based on a complex algorithm including the weight of the passengers, the number of McDonald's restaurants passed on the trip and the average price of canola oil in the previous 48 hours? You're going to need a subscription billing platform to help you deliver that option.

The space is a busy one with lots of players servicing the small end of town (companies like CheddarGetter, Recurly and Chargify) as well as some vendors looking to help large companies transform their billing (Zuora, Aria, Vindicia), and finally the ERP vendors (NetSuite and FinancialForce, for example) are getting into the game.

So to cut a long story short, subscription billing services might sound totally dull, but they are important.

For its part, ChartMogul (a company that wisely sticks to generally accepted startup name capitalization approaches) is a vendor that promises to help all those businesses build better subscription business, through the smart use of data. That's a long-winded and somewhat obtuse way of saying that ChartMogul is a company that gives subscription-based businesses analytics dashboards that are tailored both for subscription businesses generally, and their type of subscription business in particular.

Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR), Churn Rate, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and the like are the key financial metrics that subscription-based businesses need to track -- ChartMogul makes it easy for them to do so.

Under this partnership, the two are coming together so that cleverbridge customers can easily calculate their key metrics and quickly tie those insights to actions within their subscription models. Users import subscription data from within cleverbridge into ChartMogul, whereupon the platform churns through the data to create visual reports of the key metrics. Thereafter, any new activity within cleverbridge is synced in real time to ChartMogul so the reports are always up to date.

Of course, the value of having these insights for a subscription business are obvious, as the companies themselves point out.

"For subscription companies, their business model focus has shifted from one-time transactions to nurturing ongoing relationships with customers through subscriptions. This shift has caused marketing, finance, sales and customer success to ask for different metrics and KPIs than they have in the past," says Christian Blume, CEO, cleverbridge. "By integrating ChartMogul's advanced subscription reporting and analytics with the cleverbridge platform, our clients can get a complete, real-time picture of their subscription business to improve subscriber relationships, drive growth and increase customer lifetime value."

MyPOV

It doesn't take a genius to realize that having visibility over performance metrics is a good thing. From that perspective, this integration is a no-brainer.

But there are other issues here. We've already heard that cleverbridge is a vendor that claims to be an enabler for organizations to move to subscription-based models. If that is the case, and the assertion is correct that having insights into how subscription models are working on an ongoing basis, then I suggest this partnership actually highlights a bit of an issue here.

ChartMogul is great, and a lovely product and all but, quite frankly, do I really want to have to plug in, pay for and learn to use a third-party tool in order to simply obtain the metrics which are fundamental to my business model? Or, put another way, doesn't cleverbridge's assertion about the value and importance of these metrics highlight a fairly glaring issue, namely, that cleverbridge doesn't provide them natively within the application?

And, extended on a little further, in this day and age where every vendor under the sun is shoving machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data down its customers' throats, do we really think that a third-party integration that creates some pretty dashboards without being deeply tied to the control plane in order to actually automate actions based on the insights generated will really suffice? If this A.I. thing is as enabling as vendors suggest, the end state should really be cleverbridge automating the change of different subscription models based on data that it captures and analyzes.

Don't get me wrong, this is a nice integration and useful to cleverbridge customers, but I wonder if it isn't a temporary stop-gap.

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