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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This week talkRA experimented with its first opinion poll. Not knowing how popular it would be, I had no idea how long to leave the poll running. The response was astounding. The poll has been closed already, because it reached the limit of the votes allowed by my freebie polling account. In fact, we reached the limit yesterday, within less than 72 hours of the poll going live!

The question was whether revenue assurance and fraud management should be combined in a single department; delivered by two separate functions; or if this was a stupid question, because the right approach depends on the specific circumstances of the telco. ‘Stupid question’ was the clear winner. 45% felt that the appropriateness of combining the RA and Fraud Departments would vary between telcos. The other votes were evenly split, with equal numbers favouring combined and separate departments. To make it look more official, here is the chart…

poll

What have I learned? Arguments about the benefits and disadvantages of combining revenue assurance and fraud management continue to split opinion in the industry. On the other hand, many have a pragmatic attitude, willing to believe that the best approach in telco A may not be suitable for telco B.

Also, I learned that when we do polls, we should aim to run them for a short and well-defined period. And I learned not to ask stupid questions in future!

Given the response to this poll, talkRA will be doing more in future. And as you seem really keen to respond to surveys, feel free to suggest questions that you would like to ask the community.

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Observant readers may already have noticed a new addition to talkRA’s right hand sidebar. Since Monday, it has boasted an online opinion poll, with results that are updated in real time, whenever somebody clicks one of the options. So those of you who asked talkRA to start running polls, it is time to get clicking! Answers are collected anonymously, via polleverywhere.com

For this first experiment with polling, I chose a question that usually divides audiences down the middle. Should the responsibility for doing revenue assurance and fraud management be combined in a single department, or is it better to keep the two functions completely separate? Or is this a stupid question, because the answer depends on the specific circumstances of the telco?

In my experience, there are some really straightforward predictors of how people will respond to this question. Managers who run combined departments, or who fancy they might have the chance to run a combined department, are in favour of the combination. Managers who fear their department will be taken over by someone else are against the combination. Workers in RA teams are vaguely in favour of collaborating with their peers in Fraud Management. The analysts who work in Fraud Management are wary of sharing their secrets, so want to stay away from Revenue Assurance. Am I right? Maybe you will prove me wrong…

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