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BSS (inc. billing, revenue assurance)

Fraudbuster Azure Raises $15M

Revenue assurance (a.k.a. fraud prevention) system specialist Azure Solutions Inc. has raised $15 million in venture funding as it looks to expand further into the Asia/Pacific and North American markets (see Azure Bags $15M Funding).

CEO John Cronin says the money is the company's first major external investment since it was spun out of BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) in February 2003 with initial backing from BTexact Technologies and New Venture Partners LLC. The firm's new investors are Intel Capital and Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures.

The funding round follows a surge of M&A activity by Azure in the past 18 months: It acquired voice route optimization specialist Monnet early in 2004, and then revenue assurance rival Connexn Technologies Inc. and interconnect billing firm Anite Calculus last November (see Azure Aquires Anite, Azure Acquires Connexn Technologies, and Azure Takes New Route).

But Cronin says the new funding won't be used for further acquisitions. "This round leaves us debt-free and with a fully funded three-year business plan. We'll be investing in geographic expansion and product development," he says, adding that the company is already at breakeven despite having a sizeable workforce of about 230.

The CEO pinpoints Southeast Asia and North America as the two main areas of expansion. He also intends to invest in "dedicated teams that work directly with large carrier accounts, in the same way we already do with BT. We want to learn more about what these large carriers need and how they run their businesses," says Cronin.

Large operators are Azure's main focus, as they have the most to lose in terms of fraud and "revenue leakage." One of Azure's chief marketing tactics is to regularly shock carriers by pinpointing how much money is falling through the cracks in their back-office and operational systems (see Azure: Carriers Losing Billions).

Such tactics have helped to raise Azure's profile in the carrier community. The latest Heavy Reading OSS Perception Survey put Azure in sixth place in the Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management category, behind such major names as Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), and on equal footing with one of Azure's channel partners, Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A).

But Cronin says he doesn't see these big names when pitching for business. He says the competition comes from other specialists, such as Intec Systems Inc. in the interconnect sector, and Subex Systems Ltd. in fraud management.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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