Last week WeDo, the Portuguese business assurance vendor, returned to base for their 8th annual worldwide user group meeting, which they call the ‘WWUG’. But whilst WeDo brought their event home – to Braga, where WeDo’s developers are located, and Guimarães, the birthplace of Portugal – the content looked to the future, sometimes with stunning effect.
The stand-out speaker at WWUG13 was Zeinal Bava, CEO of Portugal Telecom. In many ways, he was a surprising choice to deliver a keynote address. PT is owned by a rival corporate group. They had no history of purchasing WeDo’s products and services until they took a stake in Brazilian operator Oi, which was already a customer of WeDo. In 2007, Bava battled to prevent PT from being taken over by WeDo’s parent, Sonae. On the other hand, Bava’s presence and presentation said a lot about WeDo’s strategy, confidence, and culture. Sometimes CEO talks can descend into a bland rehash of the most upbeat investor news and most catchy marketing ideas. In doing so, they may avoid any talk of downsides or weaknesses. In contrast, Bava emphasized how PT was striving to turn a limitation into a source of advantage. Portugal is a mid-size country with 10mn population, leading to an obvious constraint on PT’s potential. Hence, they have adopted a strategy where they use their domestic market as a testbed for developing advanced services for export to larger markets. Whilst Bava talked about FTTH and putting compelling interactive content on to TV screens, the similarities to WeDo’s strategy were very apparent. WeDo also treats Portugal as their local hothouse, where they will nurture new products and services, ready for export to the global market. In WeDo’s case, this involves keeping pace with the latest in the communications sector, whilst creating analogous business assurance offerings aimed at the energy, financial and retail sectors. At one point, Bava said that WeDo’s management was
one of the most impressive management teams we know
even though they work for a rival group. It was a gracious compliment to give in front of an audience of WeDo’s customers. I also felt it revealed something about Bava’s confidence, as well as his generosity. The relevant English phrase is that ‘great minds think alike’. I wondered if Bava’s praise reflected a perception that both PT and WeDo have a similar approach to placing Portuguese business on a worldwide stage.
If practice makes perfect, then WeDo are certainly very practiced at hosting fabulous events. This year’s WWUG involved 3 days of travel, talks and networking for 200 attendees from 60 companies and 40 countries. Such orchestration demands superior planning and plenty of practice. Even as an outsider with no interest in buying their product, I gain more from WeDo’s event than I do from many conferences run for profit by specialist events companies. All attendees talked about their happiness with every aspect of the hospitality, whether the travel plans and hotel service, the delicious catering, the little gifts of traditional canned Portugese delicacies, or the beautiful and historic venues for evening gatherings. But WeDo should ultimately be judged by the quality of their software. The worth of an FMS or RA system should primarily be based on its back-end performance, not by the front-end display. Sadly, the power of the engine cannot be gauged through user demonstrations, which is why I always recommend that telcos execute realistic field trials of any system before they purchase it. That said, WeDo are clearly pleased with the latest version of business assurance suite, RAID 7. My anecdotal experience suggests most WeDo customers thought of previous versions as being solid but unspectacular. RAID 7, in contrast, has the power to wow the audience. Each individual user can customize their own display to present the dashboard metrics most relevant to them. Through drag-and-drop and tailored aggregation of data, the level of information presented can be as high or as low as the user finds most useful. This means the interface can not only be adapted for changing business needs without needing to engage WeDo’s assistance, but it can also be tailored for any role in the telco’s organization, whether analyst or CEO. So long as the data is available, RAID 7 can present it in a visually arresting way. The user can manipulate an extensive palette of colour and graphs, making it easy for them to construct dashboards where they will instantly recognize any unusual results that they should drill into. And as WeDo were keen to point out, they had incorporated the TM Forum’s standard KPIs into the interface by doing the same kind of configuration that users can perform for themselves.
Whilst they say ‘practice makes perfect’, nobody ever attains perfection in practice. We should be thankful for this. If perfection was attainable, then WeDo would have no customers, and talkRA would be very boring. Whilst WeDo continued to impress, I also felt they made a few missteps during the event. However, for the sake of brevity, I will not mention them here. My intention is to review some of the vaguer elements of WeDo’s strategy in a follow-on post, which will be published next week. What I will observe is that there was a regular mix of presentations from WeDo’s customers. In movie terms, a regular mix of business assurance presentations means equal shares of the good, the bad, and the ugly. One ugly theme that I would have liked to see less often was a tendency to treat progress as synonymous with the installation of a new version of a business assurance system. Whilst I can make some allowances that telcos will want to be complimentary to their supplier hosts, the story of a telco’s internal evolution should not be reduced to when they install software and when they upgrade software. The telco employs people to do business assurance. They do not need to stand still just because the software does not change. And changes in people should drive changes in software, because the changes in the customer’s requirements should drive the software vendor’s roadmap, and not vice versa. If the telco is waiting for the supplier to develop new functionality, instead of demanding it, then they must be behind leading telcos.
In one presentation, I was gobsmacked to see a slide presenting a timeline where nothing happened over a period of 6 years. ***Nothing happened in 6 years*** Before the 6-year period, there was a project to install software, and after the 6 years, there was an upgrade. For me, the absence of a story for 6 years speaks most loudly to my ears. If I see a manager who is not talking about doing lots of other things (perhaps without needing to use software) and who is not saying anything about how he was frustrated and/or fought with his bosses to do more, than I know what I am looking at. I am looking at somebody whose role needs to be outsourced. A guy in an outsourced team can do a static job, turning a handle whilst waiting to see if somebody in the telco is going to get excited enough to raise new requirements. A guy who spends six years doing the same job without improving anything is a guy who should be sitting on the outsourced company’s payroll, and away from the more dynamic people I want to see working inside the telco.
With Tony Poulos at the helm, chairing the event with his unique combination of humour, showmanship and insider savvy, the main proceedings were always in safe hands. And CEO Rui Paiva could take some pleasure that the rise in WeDo’s numbers vindicates their strategy so far. They now enjoy an opportunity to take a clear lead in market share, and to accelerate away with ambitious growth targets, whilst their rivals face continuing difficulties. Rui commented how the price-slashing tactics of his rivals were damaging the value of the market as a whole, and he certainly seems to have a point. The short-term negative-margin tactics of some firms do seem to be making them less and less attractive to investors, and increases the belief they are financially unsound. Meanwhile, WeDo continue to search for an M&A target in South East Asia, and they are the only one of the major players who would rather find an acquisition than a buyer. Rui also mentioned how WeDo were currently reviewing their strategy. Given that WeDo appear to be the most strategy-driven vendor in this area, that might seem unnecessary, but I would disagree. WeDo have a sense of how they arrived at where they are now, and have the ambition to go a lot further. They see themselves as a company that will be around in the long run, being managed by their current team. I look forward to learning about their revised strategy, and the challenges they set themselves for the future.
On a final note, some might reasonably speculated that my review of the WeDo WWUG is biased, because of the simple fact I was invited and because I enjoyed such excellent hospitality. Everyone should be wary of how flattery and gifts can induce complacency and lapses in judgement. It was an absolute pleasure to be invited to moderate a panel session of independent speakers, talking about the future of revenue assurance and fraud management. Let me underline the fact that the speakers were expected to be independent. During the preparation for the event, I challenged Sergio Silvestre, WeDo’s Chief Marketing Officer, over the scope of the panel. I pointed out that WeDo had formulated the term business assurance to cover the scope of their evolving product suite, and I thought it might be easier to talk about the future of that scope, rather than using the cumbersome construction of ‘revenue assurance and fraud management’. However, Sergio was insistent. He did not want us to adopt a scope associated with WeDo’s marketing, even if it was more convenient. The name of the proposed panel session had been chosen to avoid putting words into our mouths. Hopefully I will be able to share the content of the discussion in a future podcast, so you can judge for yourself whether we succeeded. And on the evening of the final night, Sergio was keen to impress on me a point he has mentioned to me before. If I am too hard on some people, then it creates the appearance of bias, and makes people reluctant to deal with me. In other words, Sergio was advising me to go easier on WeDo’s rivals. I had to agree with Sergio’s wise counsel, although I argued that instead of going easy on anyone, I would rather say both good and bad things about a business, so long as the business sometimes gives me a reason to say something good about them. And hopefully by this little example, I illustrate how even very small things are important to creating a positive reputation, and the ways in which WeDo set a good example for all of us.