Archive for August, 2009

I started writing a comment to Ashwin’s blog but as it was getting too long, I thought I should just start a blog.

From my perspective, there is little doubt that detailed analytics are essential to be undertaken by RA teams and should be the primary activity. Dashboards serve some value in identifying trends but I suggest that any movements upwards or downwards in trend lines (such as the 0.3511% in Ashwin’s email) become almost impossible to justify as leakage. Let me explain my views:

First – what is the right baseline value to begin a dashboard with? Assume every day for the last 3 years, 100 calls come into a mediation device and 70 come out. So you set a baseline at 70 and if this drops to 65 then you decide to follow up with the mediation people. Great theory, but who says 70 is correct in the first place? It may well be that there is a leakage in the 70 and in fact it should have been 80 all this time. The only way to know where to set a possible baseline then is by doing a detailed analytic. So let’s now assume we did that and we know it should have been 80, we’ve fixed the mediation device and we start seeing 80 go through every day. Great stuff: we found 10 lost calls, fixed that issue (hopefully got a pat on the back), and are now monitoring every day just in case, this drops back to 75 in which case we will be on the phone and get that problem fixed as well. Two weeks later, and the volumes hit 70 and they stay there for the next few days. You’re on the phone saying something is wrong, no-one believes you and ask you for the call detail to prove it. You do the analytic again and find that 70 is the right volume as new products have been introduced and the mediation device treats them differently, or there was more of a particular call type in that time period due to a marketing promotion, or…etc etc. My point is that the reasons could be endless and setting a good baseline dashboard value would only be possible in a stagnant, never changing, environment – not really well suited to telco then. And if, every time you called out “leakage !!!” when there was some other change you would be 1) busy tryng to prove this and 2) lose your reputation for integrity and the time of the people who you keep raising alarms to.

Second – many revenue leakages reside in the less than 1% bracket. Sure, there are some massive ones and these are the ones that we talk about at conferences or hear of in training but the normal reality is that most are so small, relative to the revenue pool that a dashboard would find impossible to discern from other activity (similar to my point above). But if you have a $100M product, then finding $1M is a good result but to find it is likely going to need detailed analytics.

Third – only with some detailed data can you go back to the business area and tell them what specifically to consider addressing. Analysis may even also know what to fix specifically. Analysis can also tell you the extent of the issue, making a quantification of the total impact, more easily achieved and this can help drive prioritisation of resources to address this, relative to all the many other competing demands across the company for money and people’s time.

Lastly (for now anyway) – the cost and effort to maintain a RA dashboard that adapts for all the business rules and changes that go on in a business would be very high. In fact, I would contend that it would be almost as high as putting in the operational system changes that it is meant to monitor. Why? to keep it current of all network and IT changes going on would not be insignificant, add in all pricing changes, campaigns, what the competition is doing and how to account for the behaviour of people is practically impossible to model. To make a point, how many times have I heard stories of RA managers raising alarms at a 50% drop in traffic over a 2 hour period, only to later realise that this was due to the nation being absored by a football match (and the RA manager probably was watching on TV as well).

Do I think there is value in RA dashboards then? Well, yes but they have to have some key attributes:
1) data presented has to be summarised correctly from accurate underlying data (avoid garbage in – garbage out)
2) “alerts” have to drive an action (e.g. do analytic, phone billing)
3) more true positive alerts are generated than false alerts (the challenge of our fraud system friends as well)
4) data needs to be delivered in a timely manner (no point finding a leajage after everyone else has)

Putting that into play though requires time, thought and effort. And that effort could be spent on doing a detailed analytic. Getting the balance right is the challenge !!!

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It has been revealed that slack controls over customer data allowed eight people to obtain US$22m worth of equipment from AT&T and T-Mobile US, without paying a cent. The fraudsters stole the identity of customers, ordered equipment in their names, had the delivery of the equipment redirected to themselves, then sold the equipment for a profit. The eight people have now been charged by US federal prosecutors. You can read the story at the Wall Street Journal and The Register.

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It’s been a while since my last post, and the reason is that I’ve been quite busy recently with some interesting developments in Revenue Assurance. I have started to notice a significant shift in the operator’s attitude to leakage detection and correction.

There used to be a time (long, long ago in a Galaxy far, far away…) when the most important item for most RA teams were a set of crisp and clean dashboards  that tell them “Hey Mr. RA Analyst, I’m working on dimensions and measures which have told me that you have 0.3511% leakage in product SuperSaver199 between the mediation and billing”. This used to suffice the needs of the RA analyst and he goes forth armed with “0.3511%”, “SuperSaver199″ and “Mediation vs Billing”, and reports the same to his network team. Naturally, Mr. Network Guy wants a sample set of records so that his team can go about plugging the leakage. Unfortunately, Mr. RA Analyst works with dimensions, measures and dashboards only…so he sets forth on another activity (a search for the Leakage Grail) where he tries to pull out the raw data from the network records that corrobrate his claim. While he proceeds on his quest for data, the leakage continues unabated. Furthermore, his view is a bit myopic as the leakage might have been analyzed from a data transfer angle, but might not have been investigated from a “Impact to customer” angle.

What I was trying to illustrate in the true fictional anecdote above is the need for RAW DATA and established workflows. I am a great believer in getting down to the raw data and validating the actual data flows between interworking systems and validating against expected business process flow. Recently, I have been interacting with operators who share the same view about working with raw data, as opposed to running a RA department based on pretty dashboards and metrics from datawarehouses.

There is a visible paradigm shift in the way that operators are setting up RA processes in the Asia Pacific side of the world. The business process of leakage reporting has matured significantly, where every issue needs to be reported with the associated “Proof From Network”, which usually constitutes the discrepant/mismatched records. The network and IT teams even tell the RA team what particular fields they expect in the report for their cross-verification. I have published a post earlier where I discuss the importance of leakage reporting AND tracking. We are now seeing cross-functional teams which have been tasked with ensuring that issues raised are being closed in a timely manner. When I say cross-functional I’m talking about workflows that involve first level of investigation by the RA team, impact analysis by a finance function, technical cross-verification by IT, corrective action by a network task force and rectification corrobration by RA and IT. I like the approach primarily because there is a shift in the way RA is now viewed as more than just a “Finger-Pointer”.

The emphasis on being able to “drill down” to the raw data is something critical to the success of a RA function, because here we are questioning the fundamentals of the underlying data, its behaviour in various complex network systems, the impact from a technical/financial/customer/service angle and so on. The natural evolution of an multi-impact view of leakage analysis is growth from a mere System healthcheck validation to something like Customer Centric Revenue Assurance. I read an interesting article recently about the audit process at Verizon. The RA team at Verizon has been been working on some interesting approaches to RA, and in the below link Kathy Romano of Verizon (Head of the RA function) talks about the importance of solid workflows and questioning the underlying data.

http://www.technology-research.com/experts/romano1.php

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My guest for episode 8 of the talkRA podcast was Nitin Patel, revenue assurance consultant. He told me about his experiences from different countries, in particular focusing on what he has learned from working on revenue assurance projects in African telcos. Nitin recounted some interesting anecdotes. His stories conveyed some very telling insights about the best and worst examples of how to do revenue assurance, and it was a pleasure to talk with him. You can exclusively listen to the full 30-minute conversation at talkRA.com, or by subscribing to the podcast at iTunes.

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Do you know the phrase “so bad it’s good”? This advert from Papa Rob is so bad it transcends good and ends up being bad again. Have a listen and enjoy. Really, I encourage you to listen. Not many people have heard it and anyone who buys a training course on the basis of this performance is beyond help anyway. And if you are wondering why you never heard of ‘radio and podcast personality’ Eva Pristera, it is because she works in an architect’s office in Las Vegas. There is no evidence that she has ever done a podcast or been on the radio before. She scored hardly any hits on Google, zero hits on the iTunes store and listening to her performance… that scored zero as well. “A new revenue assurance course taking revenue assurance to the X-treme??? Wow!! But won’t that cause a stir in the c-c-con-ser-vat-ive world of revenue assurance?” Way to read your lines, girl!!

If Papa Rob now needs to get ‘interviews’ from random office clerks, does this mean that nobody in the revenue assurance industry will talk to him any more? Has even Moly “I was in KL when Rob and I decided to launch GRAPA” McMillan abandoned him? How could he abandon the man responsible for putting the ass into revenue assurance?

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