Archive for the Opinion Category

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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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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For the last couple of years, I have worked for a financial institution.

The finance industry has a lot of common with the telecom industry, one of them is Revenue Assurance. Just like telcos, they are exposed to revenue leakage, yet there is only limited interest in RA tools or initiatives. Having limited bandwidth, the management is far more interested in generating new revenue streams and supporting existing portfolios than dealing with assurance. In short, assurance at best comes at 3rd place if not lower than that. Third place usually attracts low attention and limited budgets.

Viewing the world from my position, I can only lament the lack of introduction of new high margin products in telcos. Today there is much discussion about mobile money, plenty of conferences on the subject, but then what? We all watch the discussion on the subject and various initiatives, but most of them are OTT providers like Paypal mobile, Starbucks mobile app, Simple, Moven et al.

One aspect of mobile money is money remittance which is conducted mainly by financial institutions. The margins in money remittance business are rather attractive, 90% and over, with low set up costs comprised mainly from the effort required to create the financial collaboration, financial rails connections and platform service setup, which usually come as low as $150K. However, only a few telcos would do something in this domain. If they do, money remittances are treated as a local initiative, or else the telco behaves like a back seat driver.

For the sake of any discussion we all mention successful local mobile remittance deployment mainly in developing countries like M-PESA in Kenya, where there are Airtel Money, Tigo Cash, MTN Mobile Money etc. Most of the remittance models are three-corner models. None of them have bank licenses, only (at times) “e-money licenses” depending upon the country they are operating in. So, P2P transfers are done as an accounting change, there is no issuing / acquiring split like there are in four-corner models (VISA, MC, etc). One of the most intriguing four corner mobile money implementations demonstrated by Garanti Bank(Turkey) collaborating with MasterCard and Turkcell, while Turkcell is only a backseat driver.

We live in a global village. Even in a small country like Israel, we have many foreign workers that pay dearly to Western Union, MoneyGram, EuroGiro and other financial rails to wire funds back home. It is a commodity service that comes with high price and attractively high margin.

Somehow it reminds me the discussion I had a while ago with the CTO of T-Mobile Germany, which had a fancy DWH&BI project and knew even the average speed of each and every one of his customers, but failed to come with a meaningful solution like Waze. Same here, many conferences for benefit of telcos staffers and very little done on the subject.

I can’t stop thinking about the resignation letter of a failed telco CEO I had seen some years ago, who said in his stepping down letter that “they are the victims of their own success”.

For full disclaimer, I do not promote ANY vendor.

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In this guest blog, Dan Baker of the Technology Research Institute and the Black Swan Telecom Journal addresses a question raised two weeks ago: should talkRA continue in its current format, change with the times, or step aside to make room for others? Dan’s analysis is as thought-provoking as always…

Eric’s recent post “The End of talkRA” provoked a good discussion. And those who commented are eager to keep talkRA — or its successor — alive and well. I think this is mostly a tribute to Eric’s industry expertise and skills as a writer and moderator.

And yet, as Eric admits, “things have changed”. The business assurance software vendors serving the market are expanding in many directions. But that doesn’t mean RA and related issues are solved. New issues are entering the scene all the time.

The telecom market is evolving at a rapid pace today. Huge issues are there to be discussed, i.e. how to operate and position the business in the new IP-centric, 4G/LTE, big data, and enterprise-serving business where the boundary line between service providers, OTTs, and vendors is rapidly blurring.

So I’d like to see talkRA’s focus shift to cover these broader strategic issues. It will give Eric and everyone else plenty to talk about.

And this migration should be fine because I believe the core talkRA readership is not wedded to RA alone. Here’s my take:

  1. Readers are focused on operations and have a wide-ranging view of the telecom business. And they work in the carrier, consultant, and software camps.
  2. They are analysts or managers of analysts who seek to help the business in whatever areas deliver the biggest payoff for their companies and their own careers.
  3. The watchwords are “business rules” and “alignment of operations with the business”. To me, the simplest explanation of this philosophy was given by Ed Shanahan, the former manager of RA at TMNG.
  4. They are eager to work with software tools, but they know there’s no such thing as putting the business on auto-pilot. Telecom evolves too quickly and every major software advance requires analysts, consultants, and experts to step up and intelligently direct the analysis and interpret the results.

OK, so here are my suggestions for talkRA’s future:

  1. Participation, and more participation. If 50 expert readers of talkRA contributed a short guest column every year, you’d increase the value of visiting talkRA quite a bit and it would provoke some very nice discussions. How can we promote more participation?
  2. Surveys. Daniel Peter mentioned this and it’s a great idea. And my inclination is to support quick in-line surveys. I also think an annual “State of the Practice” survey is worth having and sharing. Here’s a good example from the publication, A List Apart.
  3. On Black Swan Journal, we do not have comments or commentary, so I’m looking for ways of doing that, and perhaps integrating with talkRA in some way would achieve that.

So these are my thoughts. Eager to hear reader and Eric’s comments.

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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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