After the Hungarian people took to the streets to protest, Hungary’s government today shelved proposals for a new tax on internet use, according to Reuters.

The government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, originally planned to charge for every gigabyte of data used by the Hungarian people. Widespread criticism led to a watering-down of the proposals, with the introduction of a monthly cap on the amount that could be taxed. However, this was not enough to placate Hungarian citizens, who continued to participate in demonstrations around the country. As a consequence, Prime Minister Orban stated today:

If the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done…

The tax code should be modified. This must be withdrawn, and we do not have to deal with this now.

The Hungarian government had promised that telcos would pay the tax whilst being prohibited from passing the cost on to consumers. This is a perfect example of politics ignoring reality in order to twist the truth of how governments raise money; the extra cash would have to come from somewhere, and telcos are not charities. Taxing the consumption of communication is a terrible deal for the individual, for businesses, and for the economy as a whole. The rapid fall in the cost of communication has fuelled economic growth worldwide, and enabled unprecedented social and economic mobility for countless people. Justifying extra taxes by observing that a lot of trade occurs via modern telecommunications is like applying the air brakes to a passenger jet because the plane will arrive at its destination much sooner than a ship would. The point is that we are always better off if we arrive sooner, and we are always better off if we communicate with each other.

Orban is not the first politician to try to levy a stealth tax whilst hiding behind communications providers. However, some other politicians now understand that the people benefit most from a free flow of information, unfettered by tolls and levies. European Commission spokesman Ryan Heath described the tax as “bad in principle” because it was a national tax applied to a global system. He went on to say it was:

…part of a pattern… of actions that have limited freedoms or sought to take rents without achieving wider economic or social interest.

Ordinary Hungarians have won this battle, but the fight is not over. Orban announced that his government would engage in public consultations about internet taxes and regulations. These consultations are promised for January 2015. Orban’s goal remains unchanged, as evident from how he described the purpose of the consultations:

There are two questions, the question of internet regulation, what can and cannot be done, and the financial questions of the internet.

We really should see somehow where the huge profits generated online go, and whether there is a way to keep some of it in Hungary and channel it into the budget.

Congratulations to Hungary’s people, who have defeated a harmful stealth tax. It is sufficient to tax telcos on the profits they make, like any other corporation. Individuals and businesses should not be taxed every time they communicate with each other, because communication is good for the economy, and good for society. Let us applaud this victory, and hope the Hungarians keep setting an example for all of us, in the ongoing political fight for cheap and unrestricted communication.

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Sharing a taxi on the final night of last year’s event, Mansi Chouhan, Subex’s personable Marketing Director, asked my opinion about possible venues for the 2014 Subex User Conference. Appealing to her patriotism, I proposed she invite her customers to India, Subex’s home territory. However, it was clear that neither Mansi, nor her decisive boss, CEO Surjeet Singh, were moved by my arguments. Although they had just overseen a very successful conference in Dublin, they were already thinking ahead, to how they could do even better next time. And I cannot fault their impeccable taste in choosing Istanbul for the 2014 event, which begins on November 5th. Istanbul is a fascinating city that boasts a rich and diverse heritage. Connecting Europe to Asia, it has long been a junction for international trade, even between warring peoples. These days, ideas and business travel across the world at the speed of light, but we can still learn a lot from the history of this great city. In many respects, the story of Istanbul is an example of the force we now call globalization.

Though we debated the location, I did not argue with Subex’s choice of a chairman for their 2014 event… because they gave that honour to me! Looking at the agenda, I will be introducing an impressive roster of speakers. It will be a treat to ask them questions whilst on stage, and I also hope to pick their brains whilst backstage.

Respected futurist Gerd Leonhard will be the first keynote speaker. There is no contradiction when observing that Leonhard has impressive pedigree when it comes to predicting the future. During the dotcom boom, he was an entrepreneur who concentrated on digital music and media. By 2006, the Wall Street Journal was calling Leonhard “one of the leading media futurists in the world”. Given the convergence between the communications and media sectors, I am looking forward to Leonhard’s analysis of how telcos will need to adapt, if they want to thrive. To my mind, access to exclusive content, and the ability to anticipate the individual’s taste in content, will be two key factors in differentiating communications firms. I want to hear if Leonhard shares that view.

Many people fear an auditor, but I am keen to meet the second keynote speaker, Michael Rimkus, who is the VP of Internal Audit and Risk Management at T-Mobile US. The very fact that he is presenting at a Subex user event tells us something about the direction assurance is headed. I passionately believe that practitioners of revenue assurance and fraud management need to immerse themselves in the context of enterprise risk management. The relationship between business assurance and internal audit has varied from telco to telco, and is sometimes antagonistic, though this is more often due to politics and personalities than any practical obstacles to complementary ways of working. Future success relies upon delivering synergies inside the expanding umbrella of objectives that fall within the remit of audit and assurance. I am keen to hear Rimkus’ views on how the use of software to analyse large volumes of data is best integrated with the traditional goals and methods of internal audit.

There are many other speakers listed, some of whom I know, others I am unfamiliar with, so it may be unfair to highlight other presentations I am looking forward to. However, I will be a little unfair by mentioning a few names worthy of attention. Dave Huras is the President of the Communications Fraud Control Association, and he will be sharing insights from their fraud loss survey. Amit Agrawal is the Etisalat Group Director for Revenue Assuranace and Fraud Management, and I will be asking him questions about a topic which has come up several times in my career: the difficulties of establishing shared services for business assurance within an international telecoms group. And I eagerly anticipate the panel that will debate future readiness for revenue assurance and fraud management. That panel features: John Brooks of Subex, who always has plenty to say and is always worth listening to; Pedro Bravo of Portuguese multiplay operator Nos, because he is a clever guy working for a convergent comms and media provider in a small but agile market; and old friend Andreas Manolis, who has as much managerial experience as anyone working in telecoms assurance, and who now strategizes for BT. In addition, there are talks scheduled from such varied operators as Telstra, Telefonica Chile, and Teliasonera… plus plenty of telcos whose names begin with other letters than ‘t’.

I have chaired conferences before, but this time I hope to be introducing some technological innovations to the role of chairman, as well as talking about innovation in the telecoms sector. Recent meetings of the UK Revenue Assurance Group have seen us experimenting with new ways to facilitate interaction with the audience. So long as participants remember to bring their smartphones, Subex’s user conference will see us gathering real-time feedback and opinion from a business assurance audience, on the largest scale yet.

It is my privilege to attend events like the Subex User Conference, and I am very grateful that Subex invited me to chair this year’s event. After an initial burst of energy, ideas and enthusiasm, there was a steady decline in the quality of business assurance conferences run by third party events organizers, until it reached the point where I no longer saw any reason to attend them. Vendors have stepped up and taken over the running of the best meetings for practitioners from around the world. The most successful vendors have grown their customer base to a level where they attract a more extensive range and depth of hands-on business assurance experience, to a single place in the world, than any generic conference provider can hope to achieve. I am very fortunate to attend several of these events each year, learning about working practices adopted, the risks encountered, and the challenges faced, from people who really know most about this area of expertise, and who come together from all over the world.

The opportunity to attend these events should be considered an important additional benefit, when telcos select a larger vendor like Subex. At last year’s event, I was greatly impressed by a case study given by Rajeev Davé of Verizon. However, I learned most from the informal chit chat that occurs away from the stage, during the breaks, over the meals and amidst the evening entertainment. I recommend that Subex customers make every effort to attend this year’s user conference, even if it means nagging their boss to get approval, and leaving their telco a little less protected for a few days. For those who already know they are going, I advise you to make the most of your time in Istanbul, by daring to introduce yourself to strangers from other telcos, and by finding new people to sit with during dinner. And for everyone who is a customer of a rival vendor, you must badger your supplier to run user events that are as welcoming, as well-managed, and as well-attended as the Subex User Conference. Otherwise, you miss out on the best source of intelligence: the insight of your peers.

To Subex customers, I look forward to seeing you in Istanbul. To everyone else, I hope we all keep finding ways to meet in person.

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Last week, an anonymous individual explained why they were frustrated with their telco’s approach to revenue assurance. Ultimately, the complaint was that management pursued the wrong objectives, focusing too much on short-term money-grabbing targets, and not enough on the treatment of the root causes of leakage. This prompted a question in my mind. How representative is this individual’s experience? Maybe most of you feel unhappy with the progress made in your telco. Or perhaps you feel that executive support for revenue assurance has improved greatly, and keeps getting better.

My own experience is mixed, but as my experience has been accumulated over time, it is not fair to compare executives I met 10 years ago with those I have dealt with more recently. Revenue assurance has changed a lot. People know more about revenue assurance than they used to, but that also means we should expect people to know more. And whilst I have worked in various countries, I would not claim they are a representative sample. In short, I have met good and bad, but I am reluctant to jump to conclusions about the current state of play worldwide. Will you help me to assess current satisfaction with how CEOs approach revenue assurance?

Look to the right-hand sidebar, and you will find a new poll, asking your opinion about CEOs and whether they understand revenue assurance. Please click on the answer that is the closest match to your personal experience.

The results are updated in real-time. That means the graph below will keep changing, as new responses come in!

My aim is to cut through the hype, and to identify if the world of revenue assurance should be doing a better job of communicating with the top dog in every telco. After all, CEOs have the ultimate say on how the telco’s employees are incentivized. They determine how much reward is given for delivering this quarter’s recovery targets, compared to the appreciation shown for implementing preventative and proactive assurance strategies. Alternatively, maybe you feel that CEOs are doing a good job, and if attitudes do need to be changed, the focus belongs elsewhere. Please treat this as a starting point, as we collectively explore how to improve the understanding of revenue assurance. It would be great if we could change perceptions in positive ways, meaning fewer of you endure the kinds of troubles recounted by last week’s anonymous blogger.

Where will this lead? I do not know. But then, when I started working in revenue assurance, or when I started blogging, I had no idea it would lead to this! All I know is that we can keep striving to do better, and to make telcos better. That starts by identifying where we are doing well, and where we need to improve. Vendors do a lot of work promoting RA to execs, but it would be naive to rely upon them to push hard for changes that will yield them no reward. For example, root cause analysis is important, but it is harder to monetize than the reconciliation of large volumes of data. So whilst we can thank them for the work they do in promoting in revenue assurance, the community should not solely rely upon their efforts. Let us look to increase our efforts, first by asking where they should be focused. Is it on the CEO? Or should the revenue assurance community seek to increase its influence elsewhere? I can imagine it will take a while to reach any valuable conclusions, but that should not discourage us from beginning this endeavour. After all, the history of revenue assurance is a story of daunting challenges that were overcome, even though there was no guarantee of success or of what the rewards would be. We have already travelled from there to here. If we work together, we can go further.

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The 2014 TEXATA Big Data Analytics World Championships will start very soon – on Saturday 18th October at 10am US central time, to be precise. The competition is open to professionals and students who want to test their analytical skills, and maybe win a share of a prize pool worth more than USD100k. Prizes include cash, trips, interviews with global Big Data organizations and product giveaways.

There is a supposed fee to enter (USD30 for professionals, USD20 for students) but it seems that lots of people can participate for free, just by asking. I received a free entry code via email. Hotshot analysts – especially those who prevent fraud, or think a lot about security – may be able to guess what that code is. TEXATA2014 is run from the state of Texas, and it takes part in the year 2014.

If you have not entered, there is still time to register, though you should also make time to read the preparation guide. Round 1 is conducted online, with contestants having 4 hours to answer approximately 100 questions about big open datasets. Various skills will be tested, including the contestants’ proficiency with statistics, databases, Big Data system design, social network analysis and mobile data analysis. Contestants will also be judged according to their industry awareness, stakeholder engagement and ability to communicate results.

Do people working in revenue assurance and fraud management have what it takes to progress to the finals, which take place in Austin, Texas on November 22nd? I would like to think so. There are many talented individuals in our field, who spend every day refining advanced data analytic skills that may not be fully appreciated by their telco employers. You have a flair for interrogating data and getting to the hidden truth. Why not show off your skills, to a bigger audience? It would be good for you, and great for raising the profile of business assurance. If you choose to enter, I wish you good luck!

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talkRA has always accepted anonymous posts and comments, because we appreciate that businesses can be obstructive, or even vindictive, when employees dare to say something negative. Today’s guest post comes from an experienced analyst who wishes to remain anonymous. It tells a story of a telco whose management culture is unwilling to fix fundamentals because they prefer to deal with symptoms instead of causes. The irony of revenue assurance is that it is inherently a ‘bad news’ function, discovering and reporting mistakes and failures, in order to resolve them and improve the business. Such a role can only succeed if management teams are willing to tolerate and respond to bad news. talkRA also understands the need to vent frustration. Hopefully this critique will reassure other readers, facing similar circumstances. Know one thing: you are not alone!

I have been in the Revenue Assurance and Billing world for over a decade, and worked across multiple operators, both fixed and wireless. The first company I worked at is still the most mature example of RA I have seen to date. This really hit home when I looked at how my current employer does RA. They are a large operator, but they are missing many of the key attributes I would associate with a mature RA function. Starting with the basics:

Usage/Traffic Assurance: They have CDR counts and file matching for most switch types, but all are reconciled manually on spreadsheets with no alarms! Their methods are stuck at eyeball 1.0, and they wondered why we didn’t notice a switch losing 40% of its call records one day!

Suspense: Suspense is semi-monitored or maintained by multiple parts of the organization such as RA, Billing, Ops or 3rd party contractors. There is no real logic to where everything is. The split of responsibilities reflects the history of organizational change, like a river erodes the valley, meandering through the path of least resistance, but with no overall plan.

Rating Assurance/Test Call Generators: There is very poor coverage, with only basic call types being tested. You have to question a control that hasn’t found any errors in three years!

Non-Usage Assurance: This was probably their strongest area, for the products they assured. The biggest weakness? The products they didn’t cover! The relative strength of this assurance is no surprise, as it is easy to implement controls that compare how many assets you have in the inventory, with how many you bill for.

Coverage Model/Controls Matrix: Errrrr, nope. If completed this would look like a scene out of a horror movie, with a sea of red across the graphs.

New Product Development: It would be nice to be proactive rather than reactive, and have reporting requirements submitted before the launch of a product/service. Somebody tried to do this, but it doesn’t contribute towards a target, so it became one of those jobs that people did when they had spare time. And guess what? There is never spare time.

This isn’t the first operator I’ve worked for, but I’m thinking what the hell have I got myself into. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the challenge, because I’ve always thrived on the challenges, at every operator I’ve worked for. It’s not that we don’t have the resources, because we employ an army of people. It’s not that we don’t have the talent, because we have some of the best minds in the industry.

The real issue is that – and you probably picked this up already – the RA function is like a scene out of Jerry Maguire

showmethemoney

This RA function is being used as a cash cow to make up for financial shortfalls within the business, and to accelerate people’s careers. The targets are difficult, with strict rules on the benefits that can be claimed. As an example, any control which has been run for more than a year is classified as protective, and doesn’t contribute.

The team always seem to pull it out of the bag and hit the numbers, but this behavior reminds me of the theme to an old TV series, The Littlest Hobo.

Maybe tomorrow we’ll wanna settle down, until tomorrow we’ll just keep movin’ on… to the next leakage! This operator never settles down and builds a foundation for its RA. It just digs for goodies, then moves on. There is no interest in fixing root causes, establishing permanent controls or proactive measures. The operator treats leaks like plants that grow wild: take as much as you can from each field, then come back a few years later and re-harvest the same issues once they have grown back.

There you have it… a long time has passed since the birth of RA, and still a large operator can’t get the basics right. Why? Because senior management love the money!

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