Eric

Eric Priezkalns is a founder of talkRA. He is a widely recognized expert on risk management and business assurance for communications providers. After a successful full-time career, Eric now splits his time between occasional consulting projects for trusted customers, and his many other passions. Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless Group, T-Mobile UK, BSkyB, Worldcom UK, and Nawras, as well as advising various software developers and system integrators.

Eric is a qualified chartered accountant; he trained whilst employed by the Enterprise Risk Services division in Deloitte's London office. His Masters in Information Systems was earned with distinction, and he holds a first-class degree in Mathematics and Philosophy.

In 2006, Eric was already a popular speaker at conferences, but he decided to reach out to a broader audience with the first blog dedicated to revenue assurance. Many have since copied him, but none have matched his output.

Eric was the first leader of the the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team, a founding member of the TM Forum’s Revenue Assurance team, and he developed the original Revenue Assurance Maturity Model. In the UK, Eric is known for his critique of billing accuracy regulations. In Qatar, Eric was a founding member of the National Committee for Internet Safety. Eric currently serves on the committee of the Revenue Assurance Group, and he is an editorial advisor to Black Swan.

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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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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WeDo, the Portuguese business assurance vendor, have hired Tony Poulos to be a market strategist and spokesperson for the company; you can find the press release here.

Tony is no stranger to WeDo, having chaired their user group events in recent years. However, this appointment should be interpreted as confirmation of WeDo’s ambition. Tony was previously the BSS Evangelist for the TM Forum, and B/OSS Magazine ranked Tony amongst the 25 most influential people in telecoms software. Tony will bolster WeDo’s team both through his insider knowledge of the development and marketing of BSS, and through his international media connections as a presenter and writer. This high-profile addition shows how WeDo is extending beyond its Portuguese roots. Having Tony on board will help them to evolve from a successful player in the niche of revenue assurance to an engine that drives the expansion of enterprise assurance, not only in telecoms but increasingly in other sectors too.

It says a lot that Tony left his old job at the TM Forum. There was a time when individuals found their credibility enhanced by being associated with the TMF. Now the TMF’s best people leave to participate in other ventures. The TMF lacks a coherent message or raison d’être… apart from massaging the bank balances and egos of those who run it. As the TMF is bereft of any vision for how telcos should develop – other than repeating banalities about disruption – the real thought leaders turn to firms like WeDo, in order to keep pushing the boundaries of business practice.

Running conferences and writing guidebooks is not the way to innovate, even if you confuse innovation with collating surveys about what mediocre telcos have already done. To drive change, you must engage with businesses that can deliver it. By becoming the market strategist for WeDo, Tony will doubtless provide his input to WeDo’s product roadmap. The aim is simple: to anticipate the needs of telcos before telco execs identify those needs for themselves. You might think of this as the Steve Jobs model for disruption; first you think of what the customer will want, then you work out how to make it, then you tell the customer they want what you can make, then the customer buys it. WeDo must feel very familiar with this cycle, as they explain to utilities, retailers and financial services businesses why they need to invest in an unfamiliar practice like revenue assurance.

Some rivals might think the Jobs approach is too risky, but there is no better way to get ahead of the opposition. The downside risk is that the business might make bad guesses about what customers will want. That is why individuals like Tony Poulos are so valuable; they have the insight and the confidence to see further into the future, and the skill to communicate what they see.

Tony’s appointment will bolster WeDo’s marketing, but in parallel WeDo will find themselves sharing their Chief Marketing Officer with one of their sister companies. Sérgio Silvestre will double up, fulfilling the role of CMO at cybersecurity firm S21sec, as well as continuing in his role at WeDo. This is a sign of Sérgio’s success in his role at WeDo, and it is also a pointer to the future of assurance. The concept of assurance will become more embracing and integrated, with the focus on ensuring there are no ‘gaps’ in the overarching risk mitigation strategy. As a consequence, narrower silo providers of assurance solutions will be at a disadvantage to firms who can cover a broader range, or which can introduce expert partners they already work closely with.

WeDo have always taken a strategic view on how to build their business. It should come as no surprise that SSI, WeDo’s immediate parent within the Sonae group and an investor in S21sec, should be similarly strategic in determining how to realize the best value from its growing and connected businesses. Telecoms revenue assurance is currently in decline, but a more expansive form of assurance is on the rise. Expect WeDo and its sister companies to rise with it. And if nothing else, I would never bet against Tony Poulos…

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