In Auld Lang Syne, Scots poet Robert Burns poses a question: should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? The answer is no! So, old friends, new acquaintances and fellow travellers, let us remember who did what during the last 12 months of telecoms business assurance and risk management.

January

Keynote, makers of test equipment, purchased Meucci, specialists in detecting bypass fraud, for an disclosed price.

Public concern over surveillance prompted Vodafone’s Group Privacy Officer to openly challenge the legality of various government spying programs.

In a positive move, WeDo appointed Raul Mascarenhas as their new Vice President with responsibility for pushing business assurance to companies outside telecoms. In a less positive move, somebody from cVidya started trolling talkRA.

February

Law enforcement in Bangladesh arrested 44 people and seized USD128mn from telecoms fraudsters.

Mobile World Congress prompted lots of companies to make announcements. We understood the upgrades to the Lavastorm FMS and to the WeDo FMS, but were mystified by cVidya’s press release.

Mike Willett asked why I founded talkRA, so I told him.

March

WeDo’s annual results showed a 12% rise in revenues. Meanwhile, they sold their Praesidium consulting division to sister company Mainroad.

The annual Trendlabs security report highlighted the rapid spread of mobile malware.

A former GRAPA insider exclusively told talkRA that Papa Rob’s training organization had made staff redundant and was on the brink of collapse. GRAPA’s subsequent inactivity validated those suspicions.

April

cVidya turned Hadoop, the open source big data technology, into an enabler for their software.

BBC undercover cameras revealed London’s black market for stolen smartphones.

May

WeDo’s annual user event was successful, though there were hints that the format would need a major overhaul next year, to involve customers and targets from outside the telecoms sector. Despite this being their biggest conference yet, and despite taking on increased responsibility for sister companies within Sonae’s SSI division, WeDo CEO Rui Paiva still appeared incredibly relaxed.

Telstra Global and Subex received an innovation award from Global Telecoms Business, for their project to unify billing operations with a common implementation of Subex’s ROC partner settlement solution.

June

The annual results from Subex showed that the business is fundamentally sound and on an upward path, but still weighed down by debt.

The TM Forum published version 2 of the RA Maturity Model. I slammed it for asking biased questions.

July

Subex CEO Surjeet Singh exclusively talked to talkRA about his plans to turn Subex into a USD100mn turnover business within the next three years.

RAG birthday cakeThe UK Revenue Assurance Group extended its record as the longest-running meeting of telecoms RA professionals, anywhere in the world. Attendees of their Summer get-together celebrated the 10th anniversary of RAG with a slice of birthday cake!

American journalist Ryan Block called Comcast because he wanted to cancel his internet service. Comcast’s Customer Service Advisor had other ideas. Block taped the conversation; it took just two days for 4 million people to listen to their exchange.

August

Basset, the Swedish revenue management firm, was acquired by a Canadian software conglomerate for USD10mn. No mention was made of their business assurance offerings, raising questions about the prospects for other peripheral players in this market.

The ongoing farce of UK billing accuracy rules reached a nadir when the regulator scrapped the toughest accuracy measures in the world, whilst pretending this was necessary to make bills even more accurate than before.

Mara-Ison Connectiva underwent a rebrand that placed more emphasis on their analytics offerings.

September

Tony Poulos left his role with the TM Forum to become a market strategist for WeDo. Meanwhile, WeDo’s parent division, SSI, augmented their umbrella of risk offerings by strengthening their holding in security business S21sec.

Against the background of changing markets and evolving relationships between business assurance and disciplines like analytics and risk management, I asked talkRA readers what they expected from this website in future. The general conclusion was that they wanted more of the same!

October

In one of the most heavily-read posts of the year, an anonymous RA practitioner slammed the management team in his telco for being obsessed with inefficient short term leakage targets instead of making fundamental changes to prevent future losses.

Street protests forced the Hungarian government to suspend a new internet tax.

A poll of talkRA readers demonstrated a pronounced division between those practitioners who believe revenue assurance and fraud management should be in the same department, and those who insist they should be kept apart.

November

Vodafone withdrew a USD23k bill they issued to a victim of organized crime in Barcelona, after a lawyer intervened to argue such bills cannot be legally defended.

American politicians Barack Obama and Ted Cruz both said misleading things about net neutrality, making it sound like it is about technical standards or censorship or the speed of downloads, when mostly it is about who gets billed for the internet.

Subex held their annual user conference in Istanbul, and I went along to chair the event. The audience enjoyed it so much that we closed with an impromptu dance on stage!

December

Ghana’s government promised a crackdown on simbox fraud. The Communications Minister said this was to protect Ghanaian businesses from missing important calls because of misleading CLIs. Everyone else thought it was motivated by the government’s desire to collect more stealth tax from callers.

Despite the telecoms industry spending USD354bn on network capex in 2014, a survey conducted by the TMF’s Network Asset Management team found that 57% of telcos do not know which network assets are failing to meet financial targets.

By popular demand, Lee Scargall returned with a new lunch time teaser.

And beyond…

Telcos are changing. Assurance is changing. The market for assurance software is changing. We know that we must constantly live with change, but those changes can be hard to predict. For the first time, I feel totally unable to speculate what will happen in 2015.

To say we are at a tipping point would be too simplistic, as it implies foreknowledge of which way our markets might tip. We are balanced on the point of a needle; the industry will fall into new patterns of doing business, but nobody can be certain of the direction we will fall. The rising complexity of threats will force assurance to become more closely aligned to security, but it is unclear how this will be realized in practice, or if businesses are prepared to make the investment necessary to mitigate increased risk. The relationship between telcos and other businesses will alter, but whilst the paradigm for the telco business model is under strain, it is not clear which paradigms will succeed it. Big Data creates the potential to understand and think about business like never before, but that does not mean that human behaviours and decision-making will change to take advantage of it. Public concern about surveillance is on a collision course with the business imperative to accumulate and protect intellectual property, and nobody knows if governments will side with the interests of the public, with the interests of business, or only with the interests of the government itself. And the virtualization of networks will change the practical realities of assurance, but there is no settled opinion on whether it will affect its principles or priorities.

There is a Chinese saying: “better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man in times of war.” However, our most peaceful years are behind us. In 2015, I expect the battle for the future of communications to heat up considerably, waking the sleeping dogs and calling men to arms. People will dislike many of the changes to the industry, but we must face them.

One thing is certain. We will be giving talkRA a facelift, and revising the scope of its coverage to maintain its relevance. As our world gets more complicated, knowledge becomes even more valuable. We intend to continue providing a valuable service to communications professionals, giving them news and views they will find nowhere else, whilst making sure the service evolves to anticipate and support changing needs. To find out more, you had better stay tuned!

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As 2014 draws to a close, I am forced to think back across the year of the Revenue Assurance Group, and also to the coming year.

For me, being a part of the RAG has always been a great privilege, and being lucky enough to be the Chairman during its 10th year has made it even more special.

Over the past year, in the three meetings we’ve had, we’ve covered a great variety of topics, shared views and challenges, and debated differences in opinion.

In March we looked at the importance of Number Plan Management, how an RA team functioned within an MVNO, and we spent some time looking at the familiar challenges being faced within utilities.

RAG birthday cakeIn July, our focus was on risk management and RA across different industries, as well as RA’s involvement with reviewing business cases, and the importance of assuring assets in the telco estate – not to mention celebrating the 10th birthday with cake & champagne!

However, for me, our November meeting was my favourite: Big Data and analytics! And not just for the theme, but also because of the involvement and speakers from the UK, the US and Australia. The contents included:

  • Big Data and managed analytics opportunities: how analytics can reveal counterintuitive customer behaviour, and how to maximise the relationship with customers to improve their experience and subsequently their life-time value
  • smart metering in utilities: the challenges in knowing what data can be used for what, for improved customer experience and to gain better/trustworthy data into the BSS and OSS
  • smart asset and energy management: looking at the less traditional RA activities of cost saving and margin improvement, rather than revenue recoveries, and how these efficiencies can dramatically strengthen the existing bottom line of an energy and maintenance hungry organisation

It’s been a good year for RAG and 2015 is shaping up the same way, with more topics for discussion, great insights and more members and attendees than ever before. We’ll continue to grow in size and worth, covering the issues that matter to us.

The RAG is only made possible by the efforts of speakers, members and attendees – and of course by the generosity of Cartesian who host, cater and sponsor the event, and who have done for 10 years.

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The answer to LTT-12 was B = Grey routing / Sim boxing. Revenue leakage occurs when inbound calls do not transit through the gateway (interconnect) switch, resulting in lost termination revenues. Instead, the call is routed to a local SIM box gateway (usually over the internet) and the call appears to originate as an on-net call.

The following action plan is recommended to eradicate bypass activity:-

  • Ring fence 1 or 2 resources to permanently monitor and close down bypass for the next few months.
  • Undertake a sustained calling campaign to identify the source of the bypass.
  • Automate the disconnection process to reduce the time from detection to disconnection to under 30 minutes.
  • Utilize daily reports from the FMS or data warehouse to identify signatures / profiles of suspected MSISDNs based on characteristic usage patterns.
  • Define a disconnection process with cross functional agreement with legal, regulatory, marketing etc based on usage patterns e.g. high outbound usage but with no inbound calls, zero SMS, zero WAP contexts, etc, and with all calls originating within a limited number of cell sites.
  • Co-ordinate with local police enforcement officers to arrest fraudsters committing bypass, and confiscate their equipment. Also identify the common point of SIM card sale and monitor dealers suspected of collusion.
  • Cross industry collaboration with local operators to close down International bypass traffic transiting via national interconnect routes.
  • Align interconnection and retail pricing strategy to minimize opportunities for bypass.

The correct answer came from Michael Lazarou, with the following action plan:

The actions I’d take would be to run some test calls – get the CDRs (both retail and interconnect) and check the details – basically if the CLI matches the A_Number. In addition, we can check the latest subscriptions of the 1000 free onnet minutes promo – whether there was anyone that bought a large amount together or used strange customers details or many lines to one subscriber…

The next LTT will be published on 12 January.

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Would you invest in a business that loses money? Probably not. Or, at least, you are more likely to invest in a business that makes money. That is why investors read the numbers reported in the press, and rely on auditors to check financial statements. What if you already own the business, and were considering investment in some new machinery? Again, you might buy the machinery if you thought it would generate profits, but not if the cost outweighs the returns. That is why accountants go to a lot of trouble to map costs to assets, and hence determine which assets are driving profits, and which are not worth keeping. So would you make a major investment decision, knowing you will be ignorant of the returns generated by the investment? That is exactly how most telcos are run, according to a new report from the TM Forum. Net global capex network investment is estimated to have cost USD354bn in 2014. In response, the TMF’s Network Asset Management team conducted a survey into how telcos track and manage their network assets and the returns they generate. The findings make for grim reading, including the fact that 57% of surveyed telcos had no data on whether existing assets were generating a positive return or not.

I found the survey results to be confusing in some respects. For example, 29% of telcos stated they do not bother to measure any returns generated by assets, after they have been deployed. But what are the other 71% measuring, if more than half of telcos have no data to determine if an asset is underperforming? Perhaps they are measuring returns across a class or category of assets, which may be some help but still fails to provide sufficient detail to improve future investment decisions.

The conclusions about data integrity were equally grim. On average, respondents believed their network inventory records and fixed asset registers were only 74% accurate. Their expectations were also low, believing that accuracy levels below 90% would still be ‘acceptable’.

Reading between the lines, I draw my own conclusions from the messages about poor data quality and scrappy methods for measuring returns. Determining the profitability of a network asset would involve a lot of hard work, so mostly we do not bother. This is understandable from the perspective of the poor schmo who is asked by his unreasonable boss to generate numbers without receiving the data, tools, and thanks that such a task demands. But from a collective, corporate perspective, this blind spot in decision-making is nothing less than insanity. How many of you have worked in a telco where the stationery cupboard was locked to prevent people using too many staples, or where your phone calls were scrutinized to determine they were all made for genuine business reasons? These things are controlled because they are easy to control, but the values involved are trivial. In contrast, the amounts spent on network capex are enormous, but hardly anyone can say where the money was best spent, or where the telco failed to generate the results it hoped for. If we do not gather the knowledge, we cannot learn from the past. In the case of network asset expenditure, that means we are doomed to repeat our most expensive mistakes.

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It is funny how governments get really keen to protect their people, when this coincides with threats to the amount of tax they collect. Ghana’s Communications Minister, Dr. Edward Boamah, has promised a crackdown on simbox fraud; you can read the story at GhanaWeb. Boamah said he was keen to screw more tax money out of people making phone calls… ahem, I mean he promised to keep the cost of international calls artificially high because it is a great way to make money… ahem, I mean he was deeply concerned that…

People are losing businesses because when you receive a call it appears [with a] Ghana number… sometimes you think it is somebody calling you to ask for [a] favour so you don’t even pick, so you miss an important call.

Yeah, right. Who would doubt that missed calls caused by inaccurate CLIs is a top priority for Ghana’s government?

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