Archive for July, 2013

Ethio Telecom, the monopoly telecom provider in Ethiopia, has purchased Subex’s ROC revenue assurance solution following a competitive tender. Subex will implement their software in partnership with Softpro International Limited of Mauritius. See Subex’s press release for more details.

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Is everyone competent to do a reconciliation? Is everyone competent to implement controls that detect internal fraud, accounting mismatches and the like? Lots of people say they can perform tasks like these. But the lack of genuine professional standards for revenue assurance mean lots of people can say whatever they like, whilst they might not be competent to do that kind of work. Sadly, most incompetence is never revealed, and even less is punished. Good professionals know this is true, from first-hand experience. However, it is rare for incompetence to be made public, so we can discuss it openly, like the case of the Bell Canada revenue assurance program that overbilled customers. However, indirect evidence is all around us. We see it in the endless news stories about huge consumer bills that could not possibly be correct and which should have been captured by simple checks for high usage. We also see it in the mismatches between the gross amounts of leakage claimed by some surveys and marketing big-mouths, the degree of variance found in actual practice when settling interconnect bills, and the astonishing levels of precision claimed when complying with retail bill accuracy regulations. I know my views are unpopular in some circles, but I believe it is vital to share stories about situations where things have gone wrong, as well as the times when they have gone well. This brings us to a story about Revenue Assurance Holdings, a small firm in Largo, Florida, USA.

Let me begin by saying I know very little about Revenue Assurance Holdings LLC. I have no personal experience of their business, staff or services. I found out about them through a little story in the Tampa Bay Times:

Largo bookkeeper accused of stealing to pay off previous theft

After Kristina Melvin was fired, the company wanted to figure out how much money she had stolen from them.

They stopped counting at $600,000.

Melvin, an accountant for Largo-based Revenue Assurance Holdings, had altered payroll records and printed up checks bearing the forged signature of owner Nile Nickel.

[Melvin's] troubles began with 21 suspicious checks.

They were written for thousands of dollars over a period of two months in 2008. All drew from the business account of Revenue Assurance Holdings, which handles financial audits for cellphone companies. All the checks were made out to Melvin.

…the company noticed more suspicious checks, stretching back to 2005, when Melvin was hired.

They pored over their financial records and discovered thousands of transactions she had made through company accounts. None were documented in her personal expense reports, Nickel said.

The company’s final tally was striking. A total of $99,244.13 was charged in undocumented travel expenses. About $50,000 was spent on meals and entertainment. A total of $14,000 went to pay for clothing. All told, Melvin stole $600,000 in three years’ time, Nickel said.

Obviously no business wants to have an employee steal over half a million dollars from them. That immediately raises a simple question: what do companies do, to prevent this kind of behaviour? Put simply, they implement reconciliations and controls which are designed to highlight discrepancies.

What services are provided by Revenue Assurance Holdings LLC? They seem to have no website, which does not help. But these are the words of Revenue Assurance Holding’s Nile Nickel, from a business presentation he gave:

Revenue Assurance Holdings deals in two areas. One is in document management. If you’re dealing with confidential documents that fall under some privacy protection laws, we’re happy to help you with that. The other thing is, if you’re a cellular retailer, and if you have commission statements that need to be reconciled, to see that you’re getting paid what you should be getting paid, we’re happy to help you.

Nile Nickle’s tumblr page and LinkedIn profile contain similar text, both referring to “niche accounting (reconciliation) and revenue recovery services”.

I am not going to jump to a conclusion here. From the story in the Tampa Bay Times, it sounds like Kristina Melvin was an accomplished liar who altered bank statements to hide the evidence of her crime. At the same time, it is easy to see what conclusion others might jump to, when a firm which specializes in accounting reconciliations was unable to spot the significant amount of money stolen by a crooked employee.

Which brings me back to professional standards. I believe it would be to the advantage of Nile Nickle, and his colleagues, if there was a rigorous professional qualification for revenue assurance practitioners. If such a qualification existed, Nile Nickle and his colleagues could show objective evidence of their competence. Of course, such a qualification would only deliver benefits if candidates were thoroughly tested. The qualification would have to be difficult to attain, and some would fail. But the benefit would be measured in more than increased sales and marketing. It would also serve as vital protection for a professional reputation when events like this occur. In short, if the words ‘revenue assurance’ are to be trusted, we need to move towards a genuine, and tough, professional qualification for those who can prove their competence.

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Congratulations to all those who got the answer correct for LTT-07. They are Wessel Scheepers, Sriram Dharmarajan, Arun Rishi Kapoor, Kamal Khattar, Michael Lazarou, Jeeson Thekkekara, and Guy Howie. 

Analysis of the billing suspense file reveals there is one test call in there, so answer A = true.

4487878712326, 4487878712336, 14/07/2013, 10.41:07, 00:00:20, No rate plan

A further analysis of the mediation suspense file reveals there is also one test call in there, so answer B = true.

_____________, 4487878712338, 14/07/2013, 10.43:09, 00:00:40

And analysis of the consolidated MSC1,2,3 switch file, reveals the remaining test calls were not recorded by any of the MSCs, so it is possible there could be a hidden switch, so answer C = true. Therefore, the right answer is D = (A+B+C).

The next LTT will be published on Monday 19th August.

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To be honest, I have long lost interest in what Gartner says about anything. It is my understanding that Gartner’s customers buy research because they want information that will help them make better decisions. If so, they need to make better decisions than wasting their money on Gartner’s ‘research’, which mostly involves repeating whatever hearsay they were told down the pub, over a couple of beers, by somebody who paid for the beers. Actually, that is not fair. You would learn much more valuable information whilst down the pub. At the rate Gartner are going, we will soon find more reliable research in the daily horoscope…

Sagittarius. Today you will meet an old friend with some unexpected news. A chance encounter with a woman will lead you to reconsider your options. Also, the leaders in supplying enterprise Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) software have evolved into providing fully-functional Enterprise Governance Risk and Compliance (EGRC) solutions. If in doubt, buy IBM.

Nevertheless, it is of passing interest that Gartner has finally woken up to what the smarter analysts have been saying for a while now: WeDo has overtaken Subex to become the global market share leader in revenue assurance and fraud management. And when I say smarter analysts, I mean people like me; see here and here. WeDo’s press release provides more details.

This is yet more bad news for Subex’s beleaguered management team. Subex used to be the clear market leaders across the combined space of RA and FMS systems. Less than two months ago, Subex were trying to distract attention from their woeful financial results by issuing a press release saying they were still the market leaders. Now even that fig leaf has been rudely ripped away.

So, back in May, which idiot research company were Subex quoting, reporting they still had the most sales compared to rivals? They were quoting Gartner. So Subex must have been citing a different Gartner report, covering a different year, or a different definition of products? No. Both Subex and WeDo have cited the same report, for the same products, for the same year. Incredibly, just a few months after it came out, Gartner has issued a revised version of their report on Market Share: Telecom Operations Management Systems (BSS, OSS and SDP), Worldwide, 2011-2012. In March it said Subex sold more RA and FMS than anyone else. In July, it was revised, and said WeDo sold more RA and FMS than anyone else. I must admit, I am curious to know what Gartner learned during the months of April, May and June 2013, and how it changed their opinion about sales made in the year 2012. I would have thought that if you cannot gather reliable information about 2012 sales by the end of March 2013, then you probably never will. However, my curiosity to learn about Gartner’s mistakes does not motivate me to buy a copy of their USD10,000 report. I am not even clear if chumps customers who bought the original report will get an updated version for free. And if anyone, during the months of April to June, was stupid enough to make a decision based on Gartner’s research, then it is tough luck for them…

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Every so often I like to check in with the websites of the various RA providers. Of course, when I do I know that I should not expect to find much actual information, since finding a fact on these sites is like finding a marble in a kiddie pool full of oatmeal. Instead, I visit simply to be entertained, and I’m rarely disappointed — especially when it comes to the press releases. Here’s a bit of the inside story on how a press release is put together as well as a dramatization of what may have happened between the lines:

ACT I

RA MANAGER @ CSP: You guys are insane! Why would you want to change something that’s working?

HEAD OF SALES @ RA vendor: Wow. I mean really, wow. You think the RA system is perfect? I’m blushing!

RA MANAGER: Yeah! Well, I mean, it’s kinda weird looking, but we’ve already got all the features configured for it and stuff. Not only that, but we’ve also got all the team members trained and getting used to the screens just right. If you make a new release we’re going to have to figure that stuff out all over again. That could take weeks.

HEAD OF SALES: I see. But don’t you want the RA system to have more advanced features, and to be smarter and faster?

RA MANAGER: Not really, we just run the system as is. Reports are kinda OK I guess. We got used to it.

HEAD OF SALES: Oh. Well, at any rate, don’t worry. You’re gonna love the new release.

RA MANAGER: Whatever.

ACT II

HEAD OF SALES: We need a totally new fresh look and feel!

R&D LEADER: [Dropping mouse in surprise] What? Why? What would make it fresher?

HEAD OF SALES: Selling more of them, that’s what! What do you think this is, a commune? We’re to behave as a publicly-traded company! You know what our valuation right now? Four cents a share! [Digs in pocket, grabs some pocket change and throws it at the R&D LEADER.] You know what I did just there? I just bought thirty-two percent of the company! Someone could buy us out right now for less than it costs to do a load of delicates at the laundromat! There are literally people standing in front of vending machines right now and asking themselves, “Hmm, I could buy this bag of peanut M&Ms, or I could own half of a world class leading RA vendor.” And you know what they’re doing? They’re buying the freaking candy!

R&D LEADER: All right, all right. But think for a minute. Even small changes are a major pain in the ass, and those changes cost money. What about a skin redesign?

HEAD OF SALES: You don’t think we’re doing that? We just hired an ex-Big 4 ex-telco industry expert. But there’s only so much we can do there. We’ve got one of the better names in the industry and there’s only so many modifications for the new release we can afford. Man, those competitors have it so easy!

R&D LEADER: Okay. What about a system name change, some thing with ‘cloud’ or ‘distributed’ in the title?

HEAD OF SALES: Wow, you’re a genius. You wanna be head of marketing? I think you’d be great at that. Idiot. Scalpel is already the perfect name! We’d be nuts to change it! It’s sharp and precise! Do you know how many names we went through before we picked it? Paring Knife — too culinary. X-Acto Knife — already trademarked. Samurai Sword — too ethnic. The Hedge Clipper — too landscapey.

R&D LEADER: All right, how about this? We move the menu from the left side of the screen to the right and we call it the “Righty.”

HEAD OF SALES: Where the hell are you gonna put the favorites?

R&D LEADER: Uh, we’ll make a new facility?

HEAD OF SALES: Do you know anything about RA systems at all?

VizorrugR&D LEADER: No! I told you that when you hired me from Innovate Novelties Corporation.

HEAD OF SALES: Yeah, well call me crazy, but I thought the guy who invented the vizor rug might know a thing or two about innovation.

R&D LEADER: Well, I’m doing the best I can.

HEAD OF SALES: I know you are. [Putting his arm around R&D LEADER.] Hey, look, I know I’m being tough on you. I’m under a lot of pressure is all. I’ve got this RA vendor breathing down my neck like a teenager on a date. I just wanna make a hit out of this thing, you know?

R&D LEADER: I know.

HEAD OF SALES: Great. I knew I could count on you. Now let’s have a new release!

[They high-five]

ACT III

HEAD OF SALES: So here it is, the new release.

RA MANAGER: Cool. Menu options are a little cheesy. Why is the menu on the right? What are we supposed to do about the favorites? Where are my reports and analytics?

HEAD OF SALES: Just try the new fresh features on the right.

RA MANAGER: Oh. Well thanks.

HEAD OF SALES: No problems!

FIN

For an example, I was very happy to read that Wedo has a new patent on Distributed Risk Management Solution, it really makes my day. Would they like to receive unsolicited advice? Of course they would. Well, my advice to them this morning is to search for SLP Infoware patents which are owned by Gemplus which are owned by Gemalto. Gemplus had over 2,400 patents that were issued about 10 years ago covering device resident CLTV analytics, Retention, Churn, Risk management et al all at the device level.

What would be your association when I ask about your user experience with Windows 95? Or even better with Windows 3.11? Mine would be plain and simple bordom. It done the job, we had a myrad of apps on our desktop and we struggled to find our way to do a simple task. In a way, Windows 7, while far from being perfect, is more advanced, many apps are web based, weather, clocks, email even the office suite. Yet our mobile phones remind me Windows 3.11. Telcos are like the PC motherboard, it is vital but no one cares about it.

Why this long intro anyway? Well, my point is that all the RA vendors had beaten the the term business assurance to death, but what business they assure? IT firms should innovate. See Google. See Waze. See Coke!

Business progresses through innovation, not regression. Take for example company like Coca-Cola which is in a B2B business and concerned with streamlined ops and cost cutting and was top innovator comes with mobile solutions in Brazil. See the cooperation between Coca Cola and Ogilvy.

As a result Coke Lands First Appearance on Fast Company Ranking. In case you had missed the connection – Brazil is Wedo’s center’s of gravity and ops.

IMO small and medium players have to innovate to remain relevant. When was the last time an RA vendor demonstrated innovation? Any RA vendor? Business assurance leaders do little to stand to the true meaning of their title. What business do they intend to assure?

Telcos and consiqently RA vendors should know pretty well what apps I use often, how I use them – and then what? Had the RA vendors thought about providing value with this insight, can this be converted to new revenue streams or customer value? With all the insight can they improve the user experience? I hadn’t seen evidence yet, so can they? At least they can try.

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