Archive for July, 2012

In a 2009 post, I commented on a key difference between WeDo’s strategy and those pursued by their main competitors:

WeDo has expanded horizontally, by repositioning its technology to provide solutions to other industries, moving outside of the telecoms vertical.

There is a big difference between a business strategy, and marketing spin that purports to be strategy. Any firm might land the occasional oddball customer that does not fit their usual profile, but that is not the same as investing in a purposeful strategy to extend their share in new markets. With the announcement of not one but two new retail customers – in the US and Russia – WeDo is winning prizes for playing their long game. WeDo adapted their RAID business assurance suite for companies in the retail sector, and branded it RAID Retail in 2011, but their strategy of pursuing non-telco customers was established long before then. And that, after all, is the point of a business strategy: you pursue it over a course of years. In terms of strategy, WeDo has followed a clearer path than some of their muddled rivals. And we should not underestimate the importance of first mover advantage and building critical mass; rival business assurance vendors wanting to expand outside of the telecoms vertical need to take note of this latest announcement. The potential scale of the market being chased by WeDo was underlined by Maria José Gonçalves, their director responsible for the retail sector:

“Being selected by leading electronics retailers in two of the world’s biggest markets is a sign of the innovation and thought leadership that we strive to bring to the retail sector. This is another important step in growing the retail side of our business and we look forward to developing our customer base further in this area as well as with grocery and fashion retailers that have similar needs.”

WeDo’s new US and Russian customers are both retailers of electronic goods. João Moita, WeDo’s Regional VP for Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, emphasized that:

“Electronics retailers have particular areas of interest that can benefit from specific controls available in the RAID package.”

There may be another area of linkage between retail and telecoms that WeDo, and others, need to anticipate. Traditional retail has been hit hard by the growth in online sales. Meanwhile, Amazon is heavily rumoured to be moving on from the Kindle and are developing their own smartphone

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Probably one of the key aspects of CEM is finding out the experience of the customer in his/her day to day interactions with the closest set of people. As it turns out, as per the Dunbar number, the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships is around 150; the remaining are mostly acquaintances- for whom the emotional attachment can safely be counted as marginal. When it is the customer freaks out the most? The answer is, when the service requested is not obtained, especially when the service provides a communication link to the closest set of people for the customer. Also, the grudge that the customer may have, would first be off-loaded to the nearest and dearest ones– who are within the Dunbar number.

A significant aspect of CEM is to find out which are the good customers who need to be served, via-a-vis the not-so-important customers! Howsoever hard/harsh this may sound, but in real life, not all customers are treated equally, and hence the need for profiling and segmentation of the millions of customers. It may also be noted, that the number of most-significant customers are usually around the top 20%, although they may not be the most revenue generating mass. Correct me if I am wrong. Targeted campaigns are usually (for more efficiency) driven to these chosen set of customers!

Thus, to understand the experience of the customer for a service offering, it may be worthwhile in trying to ensure that the associated 150  key acquaintances are also served right; which means, CEM need not be focused for individual customers or customer segments, but need to be associated with the closely tied 150 nearest subscribers. Essentially it is not about the individual customer which affects the experience or affects the churn rate, but may be what counts is the experience gathered around the small set of 150 individuals.

What I feel is, the rules of segmentation and profiling need to find out these set of customers, who otherwise may have different profiles and or belong to different segments under conventional methods of segmentation. So, if there is a need to improve the experience of the customer, it would be about improving the experience of the group that interacts as a whole, and not individual customers in stand alone mode.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say for Dunbar’s number.

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Like Popeye the Sailorman, I sometimes find myself saying “that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more”. Regular readers of talkRA will know what I am complaining about if I do the following…

1%… 2%… 5%… 10%… 20%…

Yeah, you know where I am going with this. We are talking about those infamous, ignoble and routinely abused ‘estimates’ of leakage. Step up Arindam Gosh, Head of Forensics at KPMG Bahrain and Qatar. (Head of Forensics? How forensic are these forensics?) Gosh told Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News that

“There is a greater need among utility companies such as power, water and telecommunications to ensure that leakages in terms of losses due to improper billing of transactions do not occur.”

“Losses are huge. Some of them cost up to 15pc to 20pc of the revenue.”

“In African countries it is 40pc to 45pc.”

Yeah. Right. Leakage in Africa is between 40% and 45%, according to a Senior Director of KPMG. At this point, all I can say is that I cannot exclude the possibility that Gosh was misquoted, but it is hard to imagine a defence of this prima facie nonsense. Throughout the article, when it comes to scary story exaggeration, Gosh is not just crossing the line. He sprints across the line with such vigour that Usain Bolt would be left eating his dust.

I know some readers prefer talkRA to stay clean and high-brow, but somebody needs to call out people like Gosh. I ask you seriously, are the reputations of real doctors enhanced, when a quack kills a patient? Are the reputations of real lawyers enhanced, when a shyster steals from his client? So whose reputation is hurt when people like Ghosh say things like this? It is not just his reputation that is hurt (assuming he has one). All our reputations are hurt by nonsense like this.

The term “revenue assurance professional” is used widely, but its use is premature. A real profession can punish the professionals that damage the profession’s reputation. They can fine them, or exclude them from the profession. But what can we do about guys like Ghosh? Maybe we should file a complaint with Papa Rob’s Global Revenue Assurance Professionals Association! And therein lies the heart of our problem, and why activities like revenue assurance are bound to suffer ever-sliding standards of behaviour unless we can start defining the outer limits of tolerable behaviour, and punishing those people who stray beyond them. How ironic that Papa Rob, the Grand Poobah of RA, is the first person who would need to be barred from the profession, because of his endlessly unethical behaviour.

I have a proposal. Awards are a joke. We have no genuine professional standards – at least not the kinds of standards that could be properly enforced. Nobody can be disbarred from claiming expertise in revenue assurance. But what if talkRA was to create a Hall of Fame, honouring the giants, and a Hall of Shame, naming the creeps? That way we could at least start acknowledging the differences between the good, the bad, and the really really ugly. But it could not work as a small effort by a few people. It would need genuine support. Not endless support – lines need to be drawn. It would need the support of the good, and must exclude the bad (and ugly). But the support must be broad enough to bestow legitimacy on the Hall of Fame (the kind of legitimacy that Papa Rob never troubled to get). It would require a corps of honest, honourable people to make it work. So here is my proposal for a Hall of Fame (and Shame). Five or six people form a committee, and take nominations for the Hall of Fame (and Shame). They agree a shortlist at the end of the year. The shortlist is sent to 100 reliable practitioners, all with proven CVs and established track records. The 100 practitioners vote whether to accept or reject each name on the shortlist. And then we have a little virtual ceremony (or maybe even a real-life ceremony?!) for the induction.

Plenty can go wrong with such a proposal. There might not be enough nominations of adequate calibre. People might argue about who or what deserves nomination. Providing reliable evidence to support a nomination will be tricky, and questions will be raised about how much the evidence is checked. Politics will likely creep in, with people pushing for recognition of their friends, their customers, their suppliers, their financial backers and themselves. Some will like the idea of a Hall of Fame, whilst disagreeing with having a Hall of Shame. For me, the hardest part is getting the 100 ‘electors’. If you just let people put themselves forward for that job, you will end up with half of them being the kind of self-promoting imbecile that belongs in the Hall of Shame. And it might all end up being a complicated chore with nobody motivated to keep the admin ticking over. Nevertheless, for all the obstacles, it might be worth the attempt. It would be one small step in the right direction, looking towards a future where we, as a real profession, can distinguish the limited number who are genuine professionals, and separate them from the gross gaggle of self-promoting loons.

Normally I do not finish a blog post by asking for comments. People are too darned lazy to leave comments. I know that. But for this proposal to work, we would need the corps of 100 electors who would need to vote on the Hall of Fame shortlist. So asking for comments is a quick way to engage enthusiasm, or the lack of it. And let me make the following observation. I would rather see electors who are decent hard-working folk, willing to engage in debate and leave a critique of this proposal at an early stage, than let the electors be dominated by big-titled buffoons with no real knowledge of the subject matter, no real interest in making this happen, and who will only rush to join the party at the last minute, because it might puff up their already inflated egos. So, I am asking you, stout-hearted yeomen and yoewomen who regularly read talkRA, to please comment now!

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It is not a new phenomenon to hear ‘Content is King'; but what is valuable content and what is not, especially when it comes to mobile advertisements has been a problem that till now does not seem to have been solved.

However, we now seem to have Facebook to the rescue. In a recent article here, Facebook, which already is scanning almost everything a user does,  is taking location based services to a seemingly new level. The efficient use of the capabilities would serve the purpose of Facebook generating more revenues for itself from advertisements which would potentially help customers pick that what is most ‘wanted’ instead of irrelevant and random adds. But….. I have another question: what is it for the telecom operators who would be providing the quintessential backbone for the delivery of the content??

The focus of the operators remain in increasing ARPUs for the delivery of data services with newer business models, charging models and other revenue streams; but the quintessential question that still remains is: are the data revenues growing fast enough to compensate for, or provide break-even for the costs incurred at the network level? The explosion of data traffic is bound to create traffic issues and therefore needs more investment in the OSS part of the business; but can this model scale in the long run for a sustainable business?

Your thoughts??

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In his post entitled ‘An ISP That Wants Privacy to be a USP‘, Eric Priezkalns reviewed the potential for Nicholas Merrill and the Calyx Institute to launch an ISP which guarantees unassailable privacy for its customers. Rob Chapman responds by questioning where to draw the line when it comes to the privacy of communications.

Ah yes – we all like our privacy, but what of our safety? It’s a difficult balancing act. I’ve been subject, many years ago now, to identity theft and resent the number of CCTV cameras which effectively track my movements day-to-day. However, when I think about the potential for threats which have been, can be and will be eliminated, I can’t complain too heavily.

We’re all, at least, fairly aware about the example of Google with the vans, aero and satellite shots and the public distain it’s been met with. However, does that example speak more about intent, use, disclosure or public understanding? Personally, I think that much of that example can be put down to a balance of ignorance and propaganda. Even if we haven’t known, and haven’t necessarily understood, what Google have and will use the information for, we have known for some time that it’s been gathered.

Though limited in understanding as to the complete solution and infrastructure to be put in place, I’m inclined to say that Mr Merrill’s plans are short-sighted or meant just to make a large point. Aside from the assurance challenges which this would pose – meaning a flat pricing model and the need of massive network capacity for resiliency – there remains the issue of the greater good.

Consider the old axiom which, for the most part, stands firm… if you do nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. This remains an ideology when talking about governments and, for the vast majority of the democratic world, it remains our right to expect our governments to act responsibly and with sensitivity for our civil liberties. I know that’s a pretty rosy view and how things should be, but we have to hope for the best. Also, we should bear in mind that much of the surveillance, be it audio-visual or data related, is not actively used. Just because I’ve been caught on camera from leaving my house to getting to work, does not mean that I’ve been actively watched or tracked.

Then we come to the potential, commercial benefits which can be realised by ISPs who don’t treat data with enough sensitivity. There are significant challenges here, not just in juggling legal and regulatory handling of data, but also in these requirements and a natural urge to exploit the data which can give companies a lead in an ultra-competitive marketplace.

Let’s take the industry standard TR069 protocol which allows certain remote functionality for in-home devices. Many UK ISPs have been utilising this firmware and functionality for years for a variety of things from remote configuration of routers to improved diagnostic capabilities. This protocol allows for router parameter changes and the polling of data directly from routers. For the data, this is not just router specific information but can also pull information around state and parameter changes (i.e. passwords) and connected end-user devices (including MAC addresses). It also affords a means to change any of the user configurable parameters remotely, from the security settings to SSID and WiFi password.

We know the technology is out there in the market today, but the larger question remains around disclosure and commercial sensitivity to information which could be considered intrusive.

In terms of disclosure, as long as ISPs are not returning ‘intrusive’ data without first advising their customers of this, or at least offering an opt out mechanism, there should be a greatly reduced risk for customers feeling any kind of infringement. This does raise the question around what is reasonable to collect in the first place. Password information seems a clear winner to ensure it is excluded at all times, regardless of customer buy-in to any such scheme. However, other information is less of a risk if customers have not objected, such as the SSID and connected device information – but then the treatment and handling of such data should be careful with its use and visibility restricted. Other data poses no intrusion or threat and can easily be justified for use in aiding companies with in-home issues and service/diagnostics improvements.

We have the question about treatment, handling and use of the data. In the U.K., ISPs have an obligation to ensure that they follow DR&R regulations, which make communication related data which an IPS has processed available to the government upon lawful request. We also have Data Protection related regulation which means that the company must ensure proper, commercial handling of data. Then we have the question of companies wanting to utilise the data captured to enhance sales through targeted marketing and reduce churn. There is nothing particularly new or challenging in the scope of TR069 which will differ how ISPS already have to handle similar data (such as Radius logs). The real question for me is how do companies ensure that they don’t exploit information which they shouldn’t? This comes through a variety of areas: disclosure of the intended uses of both remote configuration and data, ensuring privacy policies and terms & conditions are updated accordingly, and that data intended purely for diagnostic support is held and managed away from the general business access and reporting*.

Of course, most of the general public have little idea as to exactly what information is captured as standard, or what could be. With only basic information as to who are the services users, I perceive the possibility of a fully encrypted service to be a serious risk and, whilst I admire and support the actions of Mr Merrill in his dealings with the FBI, I think that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction to be healthy. All that said, most of this is based on assumption, and Eric makes a fine point that criminals already have access to public key cryptography, so where’s the harm offering it on a wider scale? I’ll be following things closely to see how they develop – and, of course, to get the chance to see the data.

*There is, of course, nothing within the Data Protection Act which precludes companies from retaining and using data longer than twelve months as long as there is no longer any association with the individual.

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