Archive for April, 2013

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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This month’s wining answers came from Sriram Dharmarajan at Protiviti, and Srinivas Chikkala from India.

To solve LTT-04, the data from the 4 systems had to be joined together using the IMSI and MSISDN, and filtered with the required parameters i.e., ["A", "01", ("precept 250" or "precept 500" or "precept 750")]. There were also inconsistencies between the “names” in the provisioning and billing systems, that needed some manual reconciliation.

The correct answer was L Berselli, which is illustrated in the attached file.

The next LTT will be published on Monday 20th May.

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If you want to be good at revenue assurance, you need intelligence. And by intelligence, I mean more than just having a big brain (though that helps). The winners of the assurance game are proactive at gathering and analysing data. And by data, I mean more than just internal data. And by proactive, I mean more than buying a computer program called ‘proactive’. The good revenue assurance manager needs to know what his peers are doing in other telcos. The more he knows, the more he can borrow ideas from them and check for the same leakages in his firm. He also gets an idea about the levels of accuracy attained elsewhere, how to set realistic aspirations and how to persuade his boss to stick to attainable goals. After all, the theory behind setting targets is that they should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive. But setting a SMART target is one heck of a challenge, when the target involves finding out how much you did not know about the leaks you were not aware of. One sensible option is to find out about targets and performance in other telcos, and to understand how your telco compares.

And lo, the revenue assurance industry created its own micro-industry, the scientifically-conducted-and-not-at-all-biased-survey-of-opinion industry, where the name of the game is to complete the following well-known expression:

Industry reports estimate that a typical operator suffers revenue losses between 1% and…………

It is funny how 1% becomes a lower bound, without anybody challenging it. So what should your target be for recovering leakage. Should it be 1% of revenues, as the minimum that could possibly be deemed acceptable? Heck no! You will not be in a job for long with that attitude, laddie. Thankfully, you came to talkRA to discover the truth, instead of being clobbered by unrealistic expectations. You must be as smart as Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, Chief Engineer of the Starship Enterprise, who knew how to respond to the unreasonable demands of his boss…

I cannae change the laws of physics!

… but always managed to do the ‘impossible’, by overestimating the length of every task by a factor of five. Unfortunately, your job does not involve changing the innermix chamber on the warp core, so we cannae learn more from Scotty about how to set your revenue assurance targets. So where should we turn for intelligence?

A very good place to start would be making friends amongst your peer group. A few off-the-record phone conversations can prove very helpful, especially if your attitude to intelligence is to share-and-share-alike, and you make friends with people who feel the same. Or you could join an industry group. That is like making friends, except you typically make fewer friends, spend more time travelling, and find out less. And that is because 80% of the room will be adamantly against share-and-share-alike, unless that means you do all the sharing, and they do none. What else might you do? You could set up a successful website, and use it to develop an intelligence network with people all over the world, only publicly sharing a small amount of the gossip that comes your way. But too late! I already did that, and you cannae change the laws of the internet, which say that competing head-to-head with talkRA is doomed to fail. (Trust me, many have tried, and we kept the HTML skeletons to prove it.) So what other option does that leave you with? Job vacancies. Excuse me? Yes, job vacancies. Even if you do not intend to change job, checking out job vacancies can be a useful source of intelligence. Adverts for jobs, and a quick call to recruiters, can give away useful information about where RA sits in an organization, the priority given to it, the size of the team, what systems they use, and the scope of responsibilities. The qualifications asked for is not only a useful indicator of the kind of work done by that team, but also tells you the qualifications of existing team members. Generally, bosses do not ask for candidates who are more qualified than themselves, unless they work in a completely different kind of role, and will treat you like a specialist (i.e. they will ensure you get stuck in a dead-end position with no hope of promotion). And if you review job adverts long enough, you even see if some company writes their job profiles by shamelessly copying another company’s job profiles (tut tut, you know who you are), or if the same company keeps recruiting and replacing people on a regular basis (probably because of unrealistic expectations).

I once had a boss who actually let me go to job interviews at other telcos, just so we could find out what they were doing. Seriously. I loved that boss, so I was not going to go anywhere, and he knew it. If you know how to do RA, then a face-to-face interview is a great opportunity to find out what other telcos are doing, (and what they are not doing). Never mind what people say in public – half an hour hearing that a telco has nobody to do anything and/or the RA chief will be expected to produce a report which may be read by the caretaker’s dog on an annual basis and/or being subjected to technical questions which are really really clever but not actually about revenue loss will do wonders for your confidence. However bad you think your current RA job is, an interview like that makes you realize it could be much much worse. But now that I shared that with you, it means I will never go for an interview again. Oh well. I can imagine worse things than getting a job in RA. Though not many.

The secret to all data gathering is, of course, to keep looking. In some case, statistics is a short cut that saves us needing to look under every rock… Hmmmm, I’ve looked under these thousand identical rocks and found nothing, should I look under the thousand-and-one-th rock? Or should I start looking under different kinds of rock? Hmmmm… In other cases, there are no statistics for what info might be given away. So today I give thanks to BT Global, who decided to share their internal targets with the rest of the world. Thanks BT Global! According to their latest job advert, the lucky winner will be…

Responsible for reducing complexities around recovery activities within LOBs by initiating, owning and driving resourcing and process plans to deliver benefit against the £20M target across all functions.

So they have a GBP20mn (USD30mn) target – how difficult can that be? Darn, now I need to work it out as a percentage. If only I had a convenient data source for the total revenues…

Lead and define the Revenue Assurance Plans and targets for a combined P&L of £3.4B

… thanks again BT! Your informative advert saved me some work. 20/3400 = 0.59%. And suddenly, you have a useful bit of data for comparison to your telco’s RA target. Though that does seem a bit high, compared to what you might find elsewhere. Either the ‘lucky’ candidate is going to have a hard time meeting the target, or else BT Global must suffer from plenty of leaks. And how did I deduce that? You cannae change the laws of physics…

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MACH, the specialists in mobile clearing, gave us some of the biggest belly laughs of the year so far, by announcing they were ‘first’ to provide a cloud-based revenue assurance solution, a mere three years after some of their competitors. A new blog post from MACH discusses why the time is right for cloud-based fraud and revenue assurance. The answer is obvious. The time is right because MACH now offers a service. Previously, the time was wrong because only rival firms offered that service. At this time, I have no reason to make fun of MACH’s latest blog, except that it is very very funny. So I will…

Knowledge about fraud protection and revenue assurance disciplines, procedures, best practices and systems is maturing.

Yeah. Odd that. You would think people should know less and less about their job, every day they go to work.

Despite this apparent maturity, the means by which network operators approach the management of these processes continues to evolve.

Despite the fact we are maturing, we are evolving. That is deep, man – I can feel those Zen vibes.

This creates a fresh dilemma…

Sorry, what is the dilemma? And why is it fresh?

of how to implement fraud and revenue assurance best practices to ensure maximum ROI and also guarantee the integrity of the revenue protection process.

Oh… I think I can tell why this is ‘fresh’. But this smells fishy to me. Maybe like a fresh fish. But definitely fishy.

Minimizing revenue leakage is a significant issue for network operators.

This fish is not fresh.

Various industry reports indicate that anything from 1% to 15% or more of gross revenue is typically lost due to revenue assurance or fraud issues.

This fish needs to read some fresh reports.

It is also significant that the sources of revenue leakage continues to be fragmented – including network element configuration issues, system integration disparities, tariff configuration problems and a range of elements relating to billing, partner management, credit management…

Yes, we can all agree there are many causes of loss. We can even agree there are some causes of loss that MACH’s tools would not be able to find. Sometimes you need a human to sniff out losses. Like the Zen man probably said: ‘is there a fish, if you have no nose?’

… and fraud.

And fraud? Is that all you have to say about the causes of fraud?

A software system based approach to fraud and revenue assurance would typically be expected to cover a range of fraud or revenue assurance processes, however the growing sophistication of cloud-based solutions provides a new approach.

I clearly have no idea what the cloud is. Is MACH offering a cloud-based solution where there is no software anywhere?

The consideration of a cloud-based model avoids the need to acquire and implement software altogether, while ensuring that all of the required fraud and revenue assurance process elements can still be performed, including data warehousing, online reporting and the provision of dashboards and alerts for proactive decision support.

Oh, now I see what they mean. The customer does not acquire a copy of the software, they just rent it from MACH via the cloud. One is a software-based solution, whilst the other is fundamentally software-free. Presumably that means MACH do not use software to look for anomalies in big data sets. Instead, they output all the data on to huge fanfold printouts, and employ a team of highly-trained chimpanzees to look for anomalies, which they mark using yellow highlighter pens. Hmmm… I wonder why nobody did that before.

Using a cloud-based approach removes the CAPEX cost issues associated with system acquisition, but continues to support the checks, reconciliation and associated processes expected from a standard licensed software model.

This is true, and not funny. Unfortunately. Although, I could point out that buying and training chimpanzees would be classified as OPEX.

Of equal importance is the associated time to market advantage which a cloud option provides. Implementing conventional licensed software takes a considerably longer time to deploy, quite apart from the costs, as there is a time consideration associated with hardware acquisition, project team mobilisation and related tasks. With cloud the infrastructure is always available, with configuration and adaptor developments quickly accomplished within the existing infrastructure.

I smell fish again. Sure, some of the tasks in deploying a system on-site will consume time, but a lot of time is spent understanding the telco’s data, where it is being taken from, how to interpret anomalies and such. Some work can be done in parallel. And I cannot see why a cloud-based solution would have a significant advantage when it comes to speed of configuration.

A hybrid environment can also be considered, combining cloud-based fraud and revenue assurance processes within a conventional OSS/BSS infrastructure.

Hmmm… like a fish-chimpanzee hybrid. That is an intriguing concept. But MACH were making such a good argument for doing everything in the cloud! Does this mean that ***drum roll*** the cloud has some drawbacks?!? I wonder if MACH will tell us what they are…

Thus cloud-based data warehousing, correlation and reconciliation are available for your fraud and revenue assurance team, while online reporting, dashboards and alerts, supported by data processing and data warehousing and monitoring and processing capability, are entirely external to your in-house IT environment.

***Drummer hits the cymbals*** Nope. MACH did not mention the drawbacks to using the cloud.

Hang on… Let me read that sentence again… Hmmm… Surely this says: ‘thus you’ve got your cloud-based stuff over here, and your external stuff over there’. What happened to our internal stuff? Did somebody ban it? Was it because we used chimpanzees?

If the idea of cloud-based, or hybrid cloud/managed service for fraud and revenue assurance processes management seems unrealistic, then it is appropriate at this stage to indicate that this is no fantasy.

That is so true. Cloud-based assurance is no fantasy. After all, MACH’s competitors have been offering it for years. Is this a backhanded mea culpa for MACH’s epic fail of a press release?

It is the day to day reality for a number of operators who have already decided to adopt just such an approach…

… from MACH’s competitors, for several years now…

…in order to resolve the dual challenge of reducing revenue leakage and managing CAPEX constraints on fraud and revenue assurance system investment. This approach is therefore proven and provides new options as fraud and revenue assurance best practises evolve to deal with new technology and commercial value chain evolution.

So, in conclusion: bin the fish, get more chimps, and now is the time to buy MACH’s cloud-based assurance if you have not already bought a proven alternative from a rival. Because MACH’s new offering is really fresh. You can almost smell its freshness, wafting through the internet. And MACH’s not-really-world-first-but-new-for-them offering is proven to be proven, because it evolves to deal with evolution. Possibly it matures as well, but I cannot be sure, as that might cause dilemmas. Freaky fish-chimpanzee evolutionary hybrid dilemmas, I expect.

To the guys at MACH: I am sorry to pick on you, but you still deserve it after the terrible whopper you put in your press release. And next time you try to promote your cloud-based offering, instead of pretending it was first, you should tell us what makes it special. Maybe it has something to do with leveraging all that data you process anyway? But that is my limit for free marketing advice – if you want to get more, you need to give more than comedy gold!

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Welcome to this month’s lunch time teaser; A practical RA problem, which is solvable within a 30 minute lunch break.

The challenge

An audit using a test call generator showed in some circumstances it is possible to make voice calls without being charged. The CFO asks you to look in to it and tells you to report back with your findings within 30 minutes.

There are four sets of data available to you, as outlined in the diagram below.

The file from the provisioning system contains the “customer’s name” and the “MSISDN”.

The file from the HLR contains the ”IMSI”, the ”network status” (NWS) which has the following definitions:
A = Active
B = Barred on the network
C = Cancelled on the network

And the “service type” (SER_TYP) which is a binary flag with the following definitions:
00 = Incoming voice calls only
01 = Outgoing voice calls only
10 = Data calls only
11 = Voice calls and data

The file from the rater contains the “MSISDN” and the “tariff plan” information.

And the file from the billing system contains the “customer’s name” and the “IMSI”.

The audit found that “active” customers on the precept 250, 500, and 750 tariffs, and with a “service type” = 01, could make unlimited free calls. The challenge is to identify the name of the customer(s) who this relates to, so your company can send them a back-dated bill.

Please email your answers to lee@talkRA.com  - the answer will be revealed in two weeks time, along with the names of the first three correct answers.

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