Archive for May, 2008

I do not usually blog about what I do – it has something to do with respecting client confidentiality and all that. But at last I can publicize some really good news about the revenue assurance maturity model. It has been approved by the TM Forum, and what is more there is a new training course to support it. To find out more, look at the full entry on my community pages.

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Every week I monitor posts to the so-called Global Revenue Assurance Professionals Association (GRAPA). I find it to be a good way to switch off from real work for 5 minutes, so long as I can find a way to fill the 4 minutes and 30 seconds remaining after I have read all the posts… twice. So you might say that Papa Rob and GRAPA has failed to make lightning-fast progress. But even I found it hard to believe what they were still debating last week.

Topic: Definition Discussion

Posted: 13\May\08 at 09:40

….Revenue Assurance is the function / process of Identifying the Risk to revenue, Quantifying the Risk to Revenue and responding according to Management’s appetite for risk. (the reponse includes reporting and containing the risk)

Geez. They are still debating the definition of revenue assurance. Come could in pretty handy, I suppose, if you just got a new job doing revenue assurance and opened your new Certified Revenue Assurance Professional’s coursebook to lesson number one: what revenue assurance is. Not that handy for anyone already working in the field. There was a time when you could not go to a conference without at least five different speakers offering five different personal definitions. You do not get that any more – it was getting mighty boring for anyone in the audience. It looks like the people on the GRAPA forum are still chugging through them; perhaps they will end up compiling an authoritative list of the several thousand definitions people have proposed over the years. They have so far forgotten the half dozen different definitions that Papa Rob included in his own book, which is a bad start given that GRAPA was planning to use his book as the de facto textbook for its qualification. Thankfully, the TM Forum defined revenue assurance back in 2004, and has not changed its definition since. GRAPA has been going for a year now, and is still debating what revenue assurance is. Methinks one organization is getting bogged down in the trivial stuff and failing to deliver the useful guidance it originally promised.

Definitions are trivial. They only help people who do not know what the words mean, and want a 5-second answer. They may be useful to many, but only to those who have no interest or involvement with the detail. They help with promotion to new markets, and not much else. No definition will be universally popular, as everybody will have different aspects of revenue assurance that they would want to emphasize or exclude. If GRAPA has any serious pretensions to issue guidance and standards, it needs to move on from the definition debate and deliver something of substance.

Do you want an example of an organization that defines things? The Oxford English Dictionary. Those employed to write dictionaries spend their time exhaustively searching for sources that reflect how words are used. They then write an objective definition that reflects how people actually use the words. In that spirit, here a few more definitions:

GRAPA (grä-pə) n. Organization that exists for the primary purpose of making consultant and author Rob Mattison the Global President of something.

CRAP (krap) n. Certification from GRAPA attained by buying books written by, and attending training seminars hosted by consultant and author Rob Mattison. a. Unintentionally funny but accurate description [example: that jobseeker has CRAP qualifications].

Mattison (klaun) n. (1) Someone who works as a consultant and author. (2) Founder, father, inspiration and lifetime global President of GRAPA. (3) A kind of hot air balloon that repeatedly inflates itself.

Well, those are the definitions you get if you read my dictionary… ;)

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Razorsight, the revenue and cost optimization vendor headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, has been ordered by a court to pay US$4.5m in settlement for stealing intellectual property. The property was stolen from TEOCO, another revenue assurance and cost management vendor based in Fairfax. The story is that former TEOCO employees, including Razorshite founder and Chairman Sundeep Sanghavi, had long been using TEOCO’s intellectual property as part of their rival offerings. The court has also judged that Razorshite must immediately stop using TEOCO’s intellectual property, must remove, destroy or return the intellectual property in its possession and its deployed systems by September 1, and should be subject to an audit thereafter. The court’s decision was made somewhat easier by the admission of liability by the defendants. TEOCO discovered the theft in mid-2007, though the subsequent lawsuit’s discovery process revealed the extent of the theft was greater than they had first thought. You can read TEOCO’s press release here. Look here for the official court order of the US District Court for Eastern Virginia.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the contravention or the court order on Razorshite’s website. However, there is a press release dated May 19 that tries to give the impression that Razorshite is moving in the right direction. It states that Razorshite’s VC backers have pumped another US$9m into the company, in order to “expand Razorsight’s innovative product set, accelerate the company’s international expansion… and to support strategic global alliances.” What a load of bull. Half of it will go straight to TEOCO. Presumably the other half will go on development to replace TEOCO’s stolen intellectual property, the costs of ripping out the stolen property and on kissing customer butts. Some of those customers must now be wondering whether they picked the right vendor in the first place, given they were unwittingly using TEOCO’s intellectual property. You can read Razorshite’s humbug press release about new funding here.

Intellectual Property theft is more common in revenue assurance than most people care to admit. That is a damning statement, and so it should be. There is hypocrisy in selling the goal of integrity and compliance with legal and accounting expectations, whilst knowing the offerings were stolen from somebody else. At times revenue assurance is like the Wild West of telecoms. It has the right cast of characters: prospectors, sheriffs, pioneers, gold diggers, madams, company men, bandits, and engineers. We can now add outlaws to the list. I have written before about the tendency for people in revenue assurance to help themselves to other people’s work. Part of the problem is that too many turn a blind eye when it happens, or worse still they are happy to indirectly benefit from the crime. Eventually the Wild West was tamed, and civilized. The honest folk won because they stood up to the troublemakers and lawbreakers. Next time you see, or suspect, the infringement of intellectual property rights, remember it is your duty to speak up. I am sure you feel the way I do: rewards and recognition should go to the people who deserve them, not to the people who will stop at nothing to get them. Honest people can win, if we stand together. We must stand up for honesty, or we all risk being branded as cowboys.

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I remember that a few years back quite a few people started talking about how the retail telecoms sector and the retail banking sector would start merging into one. The theory was that telecoms had the devices in people’s pockets and the systems to handle an awful lot of microtransactions, whilst the retail-oriented financial institutions had the big, and profitable, business of managing people’s money and charging them to move it around. Mobile phones would not only support mobile banking, but would also replace cash and credit cards. Because you can communicate with a mobile phone, and because the phone has a display and can present information to the user, a phone should be the safest and most secure way to handle money. Once mobile operators had gone to the trouble to implement systems to manage prepay account balances in real-time, it seemed like a small step to allow those balances to be used to pay for anything and everything, not just for phone services. 3G would supply the necessary bandwidth, and mobile payments would generate some of the money to justify the investment in 3G. As a result some phone companies started talking about and getting banking licenses. However, progress has not been as rapid as some people expected. Many years on, and use of electronic money is nowhere near as ubiquitous as cellphones are. In fact, the growth of mobile payments has in some ways been most popular in the developing world. Take a look at this interesting blog for a discussion of reasons why.

One challenge to mobile electronic money is that not many people are confident about the know-how possessed by many telecoms firms. Concerns about security and data integrity in telecoms mean that online payment systems that treat electronic communications as a bitpipe have made far more ground than any attempt to integrate banking with the process of managing and settling phone bills and accounts. I suspect part of the reason for doubts over telcos is that, in the final reckoning, operators are just operators – the may just about know how to run things, but they rely on other, bigger, companies to do the R&D, development and even install of the technology they use. Cisco and Nortel are to operators what Boeing and Airbus are to airlines. In the end, the operators are all pretty undifferentiated – at least the airlines decide what selection of meals to serve during a flight. The pace of change is more likely to be set by the push from the big network and technology vendors, and less likely to be set according to the limited pull of most operators. Only the really big players like Vodafone set the pace with vendors. Another, but somewhat related difficulty is that customer interest is modest. Ambitious projects to get more and more products and services on one bill have received only lukewarm interest from customers, and is not helping to generate significant additional revenues. More importantly, customer distrust of the track record of telcos has guaranteed they will be suspicious and fearful of using telecommunications to manage money. Telcos are not going to push furiously and invest heavily in services which customers seem reluctant to use – they have done so plenty of times in the past, and been burned as a result. Customers are not just distrustful of telcos, but their reputations are no better than anyone else’s, and increasing numbers of high-profile stories about lax data security will just encourage people to take a blanket negative attitude to any new technology for managing money that has not already been adopted by their friends and neighbors. However, I think these problems are surmountable, and more progress could have been. In the background, it would not surprise me if exec egos are another real obstacle. Until recently, the banking institutions were the ones with all the profits and the execs with the egos to boot. Recent events have laid the finance sector low, but you can still expect they would think of themselves as the senior partner in any hook-up with telecoms. In turn, I imagine the telco execs are less than keen to get themselves in deals where they risk being treated like backwoods cousins on every level from marketing to technology.

Whatever the reasons for the relatively slow transition to electronic money, it is coming, and I recommend you keep aware of progress by reading this very good blog on electronic money from a firm specializing in that sector. Electronic retail payment poses a new challenge for telecoms revenue assurance, but not for the reasons that might first come to mind. I also remember that when the merger of banks and telecoms was taken more seriously, a few overeager souls were looking forward to a future where banks would be turning to people from telecoms revenue assurance to help them with integrity. Having seen a little of what big financial institutions are like from the inside, I always thought that was fanciful. The banks have processing integrity hard-wired into their mentality. The war stories and case studies of a few rinky-dink telecoms revenue assurance guys are hardly likely to impress businesses that live and breath reputations for handling money without mistakes. No, the challenge for revenue assurance in telecoms is going to be more subtle. In a world where error rates and integrity expectations are set by the big retail banks, telcos are going to have a tough time to persuade them they can meet those expectations. If they do not, the operators will end up being junior partners and maybe just the bitpipe providers. The trick will be to turn around the win most, lose a few attitude to data and revenue integrity found in most telcos into the failure is not an option culture that the banks demand. Either revenue assurance will be at the forefront of that transition, or the transition will brush current revenue assurance practices aside, turning them into a sideshow. I know which I would prefer, but I also know that many in revenue assurance are simply not ready or qualified to lead the fight for error-free transaction management. The slow transition to electronic money has bought telecoms revenue assurance some time to prepare for the onslaught, but it will come, and when it comes, given the current state of revenue assurance progress in most operators, there will be casualties. Now is the time to toughen up, before it is too late.

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The telecoms software industry is consolidating. This is equally true of revenue assurance software vendors, as we have seen from buy-outs and mergers in the last few years. In the last two years, we have seen Cartesian bought by TMNG, Praesidium and Cape taken over by WeDo and just recently Compwise was bought by ECtel. The trend will continue, but it will take a long time before the revenue assurance industry is reduced to the three or four major players that it can profitably sustain in the long run. To understand some of the factors, take a look at this very well-written article about the drivers and obstacles to telco software consolidation.

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