Archive for the Tributes Category

Though revenue assurance has spread far and wide, our community is small. Many of you know David Smith; even more will be familiar with his work. David has popularized the field of revenue assurance, not least through ABIS, the consulting business he established with his wife Jean. Whilst David did the public speaking, Jean proved the old adage that a great woman stands with every great man. If you ever saw them together, you would immediately appreciate that David and Jean were a team, in every sense. Sadly, Jean Smith passed away on April 15th. She will be missed. David has penned the following tribute, to share with you all.

Jean SmithThe ABIS Partnership was started by my wife Jean and I in 1999 and subsequently became ABIS & Associates Ltd. In all we traded for over 11 years before deciding to cease trading in January 2011 to pursue a life of graceful retirement.

Prior to starting our consulting business I worked at the British Approvals Board for Telecommunications (BABT) developing and then implementing a “Metering and Billing Approval Scheme” for telecoms operators.

During my time at BABT I was invited to present the work I was doing at BABT at several conferences. A little known fact is that it was Jean that developed the PowerPoint presentations in those early days. She also accompanied me on several business trips to conferences and “watched me at work” during presentations and at social business gatherings. Her feedback and advice was always relevant.

Jean persuaded me to leave BABT and set up our own consulting business against the good advice of some work colleagues. At that time I felt I might have a “shelf life” of perhaps 6 months before my experience and ability to trade on my BABT background would become less relevant and I may have to seek another source of income. Our expectation was that Jean would do some accounting and “secretarial” work. In reality she provided an integral and central role to all we did.

Some glimpses of our professional time together may give an insight into what she did and accomplished.

Jean’s wages and accounts experience from working in a local council treasury department and then running the wages department in an employment agency meant she was well placed to manage all the accounting, VAT and financial aspects of our business. Her phone manner in chasing up “delayed payments” from our clients never ceased to amaze me. From the initial “stone wall” that’s typical when trying to reach the accounts department in large organisations Jean would pursue a trail that lead to the person responsible for paying our invoices. After working her magic there would be friendly exchanges of dialogue and often laughter at her end of the call. In no time payments were received, relationships were established and payments flowed thereafter.

ABIS was perhaps best known for the many conferences we attended and workshops we ran on subjects ranging from Revenue Assurance, Margin Management, Risk Management and Fraud Management. Whilst the concept and general content of our presentations may have come from me, the artistic elements and creative builds were all Jean’s work. Later in our careers Jean played an increasingly active part in our workshops, engaging with delegates, prompting their participation but really shining during any social interaction.

Her ability to couple faces with names and places was a skill I have never learnt. So I have a confession, if anyone ever saw Jean whispering in my ear at an event it was probably to prompt me to remember who I was about to talk to, where we met them, the company they worked for and the names of their children!

During our association with the European Billing Association, that became the Global Billing Association, Jean and I were engaged to develop and manage the Billing Performance Benchmarking studies that ran for several years. We took over the work that had been started and again, whilst I did the conceptual work it was Jean that honed the detail. She developed the questionnaire and analysis spreadsheets, collated the confidential responses and compiled the data analysis that allowed me to have the simple job of writing the reports and conclusions for distribution to participants.

Jean also became an expert in world geography, time zones and global weather forecasts. We won a contract with Oftel, and later Ofcom, to conduct a project to analyse the charging accuracy of calling cards. Jean and I acted as mystery shoppers to buy the cards and photograph advertising material in shops. But it was Jean who undertook over 90% of all the calls made to test the charging characteristics – a task spreading over several weeks. She found numbers to ring on a truly global scale with recorded announcements of weather forecasts, travel guides, out-of-hours embassy answering machines and the occasional human contact who was happy to engage in an international call for 20 minutes or more at a time. She had a tenacity to see the job through even into the early hours of the mornings that was beyond mine. Once again Jean did the detailed data entry and analysis for me to work from.

We were fortunate to win contracts that took us to over 30 countries. Jean didn’t accompany me on all my trips but we did get to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, France, Hungary, Cyprus, Ghana, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and the Philippines working together. Need I say it was Jean who organised all the logistics? It wasn’t all work; we played too and enjoyed a few days recreation in each location when we could.

Her insight and perceptive skills were always better than mine. Once our hosts in Ghana took us on a safari trip. Our two male hosts and I were intently scouring the countryside for signs of wildlife. Jean calmly and quietly whispered could we see the Giraffe? After pointing it out to us it was barely 5 meters away standing amongst the trees. Those legs provided good camouflage!

On another occasion we were walking along the streets of Bangkok and Jean said, “Mind the elephant”. A second later she pulled me to one side. Looking back to see what I had missed a local was leading a 4 foot high elephant along the street and I hadn’t seen it. Ever since if I heard the phrase, “Mind the elephant” I knew I was probably missing something obvious.

Aside from our “professional” life together Jean was my girlfriend then my wife, a mother then a grandmother. And in all those roles she was exceptional and was in particular a natural magnet for children who saw her as playmate, friend, educator and carer when cuddles were needed.

Throughout my life Jean has truly been “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in all I have done during our 47 years together.

Jean passed away suddenly after spending an evening in London celebrating our 41st Wedding Anniversary. I had the privilege of being with her as she finally rested.

David Smith.
26th April 2013

If anyone wishes to make a donation to the British Heart Foundation in memory of Jean please go to: http://www.justgiving.com/remembering-Jean-Smith

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As the 2012 came to an end, I am reminded of those we lost along the way.

I have lost many relatives and even many more friends but I the sadness I felt at the loss of my former boss, Ivor, who was Director of Risk Management at Safaricom, until his untimely death on 13th Oct 2012, was compounded by the fact that over the months I had received news that his battle with cancer was progressing well and he had even resumed office duties after a very tough period.  News of his death were thus most unexpected. It felt as if a candle had, without warning, gone off, just after the last strong gale of a night storm has ended.  But now that he is gone, it would be good to remember a few things from his life and the ones that, in my view, directly touch on Revenue Assurance.

I will remember Ivor on 3 counts and I hope in 2013 and beyond, his lessons will stand.

(1) Listen to RA, Understand RA, represent RA and question RA
As a member of the Executive Committee, Ivor provided much needed sponsorship for RA activities. He took it upon himself to understand the issues and to drive closure. Sometimes the value of a good RA team is undone by lack of proper representation at the highest echelons of a company. I think it is fair to say, the RA team in Safaricom had the privilege of Ivor’s support. During his time, we had a monthly session where each of the RA analysts would present their portion of the Revenue Assurance KPI report – a fairly detailed report that looks at the performance of monitoring controls over the Safaricom revenue sources. Ivor was in his element, asking what he called “my dumb questions” but which provided the team with different perspectives. Too many C-suite people, especially those who have not had training or background in RA, do not take enough time to understand RA and they are not asking questions. Ivor was not one of them and he sought explanations on the work that was being done. He challenged assumptions and kept us on our toes.

The second thing I remember is attending the 2010 edition of WeDo User Group (WUG) with Ivor. He spent a lot of time asking how other RA teams are doing their assurance. Whatever new thing he learnt, he would mention it to me “Joseph, can we start doing that?” Of course over time, I started feeling as if we were engaging in copy-paste without being mindful of the specific circumstances of each operator. I mean, we could all be in the same industry but Safaricom, Claro, America Movil are all very different. But later, during de-brief in Nairobi, we came to an understanding that some things can be adapted, others can be directly copied and others can be ignored altogether. That was the kind of RA improvement that Ivor pursued. He was open to his direct reports disagreeing and so long as their arguments were rational and delivered clearly, a middle ground was available. The typical RA manager is expected to drive a lot of things, to keep so many balls in the air and to be the Ultimate Mr. Fix-It. Life is so much easier when the C-Suite guy who is responsible for RA is balanced in asking for new things and also understanding the limits of what can be done.

(2) High Standards
I recall the very first performance rating that Ivor assigned to me. It was a rating that I felt was not commensurate with the work that I had championed and I let him know as much. His response was simple. “I rated you on what you have achieved against your potential. I could have just looked at your achievements without considering what you are truly capable of and your rating would be quite high but that would not be fair to you because you are capable of much more”. Of course, I sulked for a few hours but as always, whenever Ivor noted there was displeasure in an employee, he never shied from approaching the person. Promptly at lunch time, he showed up at my desk and offered to buy lunch and I thought, “Dude, you have such cheek!” Over lunch we had a candid discussion – it did not have to be a long chat because I already knew he was right.  The lesson had been learnt – to let an employee perform at a level that is not at par with their potential is unfair to the employee. Later appraisals were of course better because I knew I had to demonstrate that all that was within my power had been done. With the benefit of hindsight, I am not surprised that Ivor was applying such high standards. He lived those standards.

(3) Avoid Illusions
Those who know Ivor will remember that how he dealt with conflict. Always with a chuckle, he would approach whoever appears displeased and ask “My good friend, what appears to be the problem?”
That is one other lesson I would like to remember Ivor for. Sometimes we think there is a problem, yet there is no problem. And sometimes we think there is no problem, yet there is a problem. As we navigate this treacherous RA field, each RA practitioner should exercise due caution in determining what is the problem and what appears to be the problem.

Today, in honor of Ivor Machio Wekesa, I ask that we all question what we do with the aim of improving it, re-apply higher standards and ensure that we are tackling real problems. Rest in peace, Ivor. The lessons remain with us.

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