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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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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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