Hugh Roberts

Hugh Roberts is Senior Strategist for Patni Telecoms Consulting (formerly Logan Orviss International) working with network operators, service providers, VAS suppliers and vendors to develop their service and product strategies, market and brand positioning, revenue fulfilment, business modelling and the interpretation of new business requirements into technical and business architectures. Hugh is also a non-executive Director of TeleOnto Technologies, an Indian start-up specialising in revenue assurance and business intelligence analytics. Formerly he was Development Director of the TM Forum, where he was responsible for the introduction of TM Forum’s BSS Teams for Revenue Assurance, Content & Data Charging and Pre/Post Convergence. He remains an active contributor to the TM Forum’s Technical Reports and Guide Books.

Hugh is a frequent media commentator and analyst, speaker & chair of industry conferences around the globe, as well as the author of numerous articles for the trade, national and international press.

In his role as Consultant Director to IIR’s Telecoms Division, Hugh advises on strategy for BSS, OSS & Revenue Management development, and has been associated with the major show ‘Billing & Information Management Systems’ since 1994. He has been integrally involved in pioneering business-to-business web and e-mail marketing, and is also Chairman of the World BSS Awards Judging Panel (since 1997). This year he joined the Judging Panel for the TelecomAsia Awards.

Prior to this, Hugh worked in the entertainment sector where he was responsible for bringing award-winning real-time interactive control and HMI systems to market for museums, theme parks, nightclubs and major performance artists. He is an artist and graphic designer and has worked extensively in the music industry (including pioneering work on the development of 3-dimensional sound and psycho-acoustics.)

To a great extent, Revenue Assurance in telecoms was born of the last recession.

Embattled CEOs were finally forced to come clean about the parlous state of internal systems that had expensively been put in place over the previous 10 years. Typically, even those that were fully functional were no longer fit for purpose, and many intra- and inter-departmental processes were broken. Consequently, RA started its life with a boom – ‘low hanging fruit’ were everywhere, and demonstrating the business case for any RA related activity, given even the smallest sign of executive championship, was relative child’s play.

As we enter a new economic cycle – and the exact impact of the Credit Crunch on the increasingly convergent telecoms marketplace has yet to be revealed – RA has consistently demonstrated its worth, but in many operating environments (although certainly not all) the opportunities for easy revenue wins have been much harder to come by. Consequently, whilst RA has by and large retained its primary focus, the temptations for expansion and scope creep have been great.

In the interim, there have been a number of external factors that have had a significant impact on the RA operating environment.

The first has been the drive towards ensuring shareholder value (sometimes even at the expense of business value) through increasing financial governance, ethical business and compliance requirements. Whilst on the one hand this has thrown into sharp relief the need for the business to focus on processes and risk which has in turn undoubtedly bolstered RA awareness, on the other it has not necessarily done RA any favours as it has in some cases subverted RA activity away from its prime directive and into less strategically significant areas such as process management and compliance enablement.

The second has been the trend – both within the CSP community and the supply chain – for aggregation through M&A. This, too, has had an upside and a downside for RA: group-wide systems environments have again become more complex and the opportunities for RA rationalisation with centralised co-ordination, resources and power have increased, but at the same time the opportunity for Group to leverage economies of scale, impose ‘preferred supplier lists’, and demand headcount reductions across its OpCo dominions is increasingly being aided and abetted by ‘RA justification’. Whilst efficiencies can undoubtedly be achieved and in many cases are both necessary and long overdue, the potential impact on RA as it becomes ensnared in Group/OpCo politics is that by having its interdepartmental communications skills and connectivity exploited RA will be returned to an environment where it is treated by the OpCo business units with suspicion, and RA will have become the harbinger of bad news rather than the provider of mission critical assistance in delivering operational effectiveness.

Ultimately, if this approach continues without adequate safeguarding, not only RA’s ‘client’ relationships with target business units, but also its bi-lateral relationships with closely coupled functions such as fraud management, internal audit and risk, will suffer.

The third trend, largely in response to the first two, has been the increasing effort to standardise and quantify all aspects of business and operational processes. Again, the monitoring and risk assessment of business effectiveness has to be a good thing, and for many operators who started with relatively immature business reporting capabilities the ability to ‘actually know what is going on in their business’ has been a revelation. However, these advances also bring with them the potential for business ossification and a tendency for ‘death by KPIs’ in all of its various forms. Not only are operating environments in some CSPs becoming overburdened with quantitative metrics that are inhibiting the potential for very necessary business transformation in the light of changing new generation requirements, but important projects required to deliver new functionality are being inhibited even from consideration in case they conflict with reference architecture models that have become erroneously set in stone.

Moreover, given the huge variability in market penetration and maturity, customer expectations and regulatory responsiveness, together with the status of internal legacy systems and processes experienced by CSPs around the globe, the concept of ‘best practice’ as a determination of implementation suitability and success factors is becoming increasingly harder to justify. Without a doubt ‘best fit’ has become a much better guiding principle, but this is and will always remain a subjective judgement call. One size definitely does not fit all.

A further problem in this respect has been the levels of understanding at senior management level (and elsewhere within the business) about the nature of standards themselves, and the adoption of an attitude that has assumed that technical process standards developed at the network layer and business process standards developed at the IT and business layers are methodologically the same, and that they can be treated, managed and developed in the same way. This is clearly not the case, and as a consequence – the stirling efforts of the TMF RA Working Group notwithstanding – the overall status of standards evolution within the BSS domain in particular remains something of a mess.

The fourth trend has been a response to the perceived success of RA itself, and indeed to RA’s own attempts to expand its scope. Having successfully secured a degree of proactive control over leakage across a wide range of operational areas, many RA professionals – particularly those in more mature markets – have looked beyond RA towards a more strategic role with a broader level of influence on business operations. Areas such as input to and even sign-off on new product development, increasing engagement in marketing and sales activities, and the development of consistent approaches to 3rd party management and revenue share settlement, are all coming within the remit of this expanded RA sphere of relevance. Moreover, given the huge variability in market penetration and maturity, customer expectations and regulatory responsiveness, together with the status of internal legacy systems and processes experienced by CSPs around the globe, the concept of ‘best practice’ as a determination of implementation suitability and success factors is becoming increasingly harder to justify. Whilst on the one hand best practice is a useful benchmark for both ISVs and CSPs to aim at as a reflection of how a specific function can be best optimised, on the other, the fact that Analysts point at a particular solution as ‘the way to go’ does not necessarily mean it will be optimum in every operating (and legacy) environment, and most certainly it does not necessarily offer a guarantee of optimised ROI, either in the short or long term. Without a doubt ‘best fit’ has become a much better guiding principle, but this is and will always remain a subjective judgement call. One size definitely does not fit all.

A further problem in this respect has been the levels of understanding at senior management level (and elsewhere within the business) about the nature of standards themselves, and the adoption of an attitude that has assumed that technical process standards developed at the network layer and business process standards developed at the IT and business layers are methodologically the same, and that they can be treated, managed and developed in the same way. This is clearly not the case, and as a consequence – the stirling efforts of the TMF RA Working Group notwithstanding – the overall status of standards evolution within the BSS domain in particular remains something of a mess.

Billing is a good example. As a technical function there are technical standards for device interfaces that can be adopted; there are also process standards that optimise the implementation of these interfaces. However, billing processes also encompass a wide range of business activities that are dependent on intangible non-technical factors – particularly those that affect customer interaction and marketing. In these areas billing policy is as closely related to corporate positioning and brand management as it is to the underlying platforms on which these processes are enacted. Technical disciplines can be highly effectively managed by technical process standards, but to assume that profitability can be guaranteed by the application of technology-based billing processes to the wider domain of revenue management as a business operation is likely to end in tears.

Unfortunately, at the same time, almost every software vendor across the OSS and BSS domains has laid claim to offering complete or near-complete RA capabilities within their product offerings, often under the banner of Revenue Management. Whilst some of these offerings are genuine (and the need to embed core RA functionality into all operational systems is becoming a necessity for new generation product management and risk amortisation), many are not, and most are primarily designed to reposition the functional set of their product suites on offer across more ‘strategically significant’ dimensions. In addition, of course, all of the usual ‘Guardian of the Gatekeeper?’ questions still arise. From a pure RA perspective, this muddying of the waters is not helping.

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