The word “revolution” has become commonplace among big data proponents for characterizing changes brought about by new analytics tools and the associated technologies. Some have argued that big data analytics herald the “end of theory” or of uncertainty about the future or of traditional sample-based testing methods. While almost invariably overblown, such proclamations are nevertheless right that big data is revolutionary. But what kind of revolution is it?

So begins a brilliant post by M. Anthony Mills for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Mills reflects on the history of the data sciences, and how our conception of knowledge has changed over time. We may not be able to predict all the ramifications of Big Data, but we know that it will greatly improve our ability to predict events. Agile minds are needed, to think differently, and realize the full potential of the data available to us. Those of you with agile minds should enjoy reading Mills’ blog.

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Today’s guest blog is by Sha’ad Hossenbaccus, Head of Revenue Assurance at Millicom in Tanzania. Sha’ad is a long-time follower of talkRA who recently decided he must add his voice to our choir of opinions. A few weeks ago we published an anonymous blog from an experienced practitioner, describing how their telco is too driven by short-term revenue assurance targets. Sha’ad responds with a more optimistic vision for how RA managers can compromise with their bosses, without compromising their revenue assurance strategy.

A Jack of all trades but a master of none, this is how Revenue Assurance (RA) is sometimes being described (still!!!). Many of us professionals of RA do not agree to this statement because we are masters of RA. This is our specialty and we strive very hard to achieve this. But above all this is our bread and butter and as anybody we would not want anyone to take it for granted.

When I started in RA coming in with an IT background (like many), I felt ok with this statement because after all I was querying, analyzing, automating, writing scripts amongst others. Basically this was not much different from the IT job that I was doing. One difference: this is telecommunications. There is this feel-good factor because you learn a lot and it is really fun.

I grew in experience and learned the different concepts of RA, and the fine line that separates it from fraud. I learned about the importance of internal controls and why it is important to work hand-in-hand with the security team. This made me see the bigger picture and how RA fits in the overall equation. You start knowing your boundaries. There is a big difference between what you can do, what you should do, and what you are doing in RA.

Believe me, a good RA professional can do anything within this telco world. He can investigate any claim be it in channels or in the technical department. He can put in place any control and, more importantly, automate them. He will require the right resources and support from everywhere in the organization, but when tasked by the CFO/CEO, the support comes in automatically. Whatever CEOs and CFOs ask for, RA will find a way.

As the RA function grows in maturity you start critically asking a lot of questions to yourself. What am I doing? Is it what I should do? Why should I do this? All sorts of crazy questions. If you don’t contain yourself you can get frustrated, and easily become the rebel out there. Don’t be a rebel, please. Remember this is a corporate world and only sharks survive :) If you are in such a situation, you are actually on the right track but you have to deal with it in the right way – and with the right politics.

You have a strategy in place, with different milestones you want to achieve in order to improve on your maturity levels. Based on this you make your plans and as a team you get cracking. As a good leader you also make time for the “time eaters”. Those small requests that will come in from time to time, mainly from senior management. Often these are things that you should not be doing, or when you go to the right source you understand that this is a request they are already working on. You got the task just because someone wants to ensure correctness of what will be reported. Other times you can be asked things you have no idea about, or the responsibility is dumped on RA because no one else wants it.

It is sometimes very difficult to say no to your senior managers, even when they make requests that fall outside the scope of RA. But you cannot keep accepting tasks like this, because it will impact your strategy and have a negative impact on your RA team. It is important from time to time to take a step back and say NO. This takes a lot of courage but it will get your RA team the respect it deserves. Also if you are able to explain in simple terms your reasons and propose a fair solution, this will show your understanding and grasp of the environment. Yes, you have just scored a point here. You will have to score many to be able to win this battle.

To say no is not easy and this is very much cultural and sometimes personal. I had my challenges when saying no in the past, but I had no other choice if I wanted to be efficient. Being strong is helped by preparation and practice. You should be ready to think fast, and to question the rationale behind the requests that come your way. It is about being critical. It is about knowing the environment, assessing the situation and seeing the bigger picture.

The challenge does not end there. There also needs to be a re-alignment (every time) between you and your boss’ understanding of the scope of RA. But, this can sometimes wait to a later date.

Saying no sometimes is the right thing to do. You cannot and should not accept that your RA becomes a dumping ground. At the same time, you need to remember that you represent a support function, and step in when it really matters to the business. That’s politics. And that is what you have to do to keep your RA function moving in the right direction.

The important thing that matters to your team is that you really believe in what you do, so you are able to inspire them. Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian novelist and lyricist, once observed: “when you say yes to others, make sure you do not say no to yourself.”

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After the Hungarian people took to the streets to protest, Hungary’s government today shelved proposals for a new tax on internet use, according to Reuters.

The government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, originally planned to charge for every gigabyte of data used by the Hungarian people. Widespread criticism led to a watering-down of the proposals, with the introduction of a monthly cap on the amount that could be taxed. However, this was not enough to placate Hungarian citizens, who continued to participate in demonstrations around the country. As a consequence, Prime Minister Orban stated today:

If the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done…

The tax code should be modified. This must be withdrawn, and we do not have to deal with this now.

The Hungarian government had promised that telcos would pay the tax whilst being prohibited from passing the cost on to consumers. This is a perfect example of politics ignoring reality in order to twist the truth of how governments raise money; the extra cash would have to come from somewhere, and telcos are not charities. Taxing the consumption of communication is a terrible deal for the individual, for businesses, and for the economy as a whole. The rapid fall in the cost of communication has fuelled economic growth worldwide, and enabled unprecedented social and economic mobility for countless people. Justifying extra taxes by observing that a lot of trade occurs via modern telecommunications is like applying the air brakes to a passenger jet because the plane will arrive at its destination much sooner than a ship would. The point is that we are always better off if we arrive sooner, and we are always better off if we communicate with each other.

Orban is not the first politician to try to levy a stealth tax whilst hiding behind communications providers. However, some other politicians now understand that the people benefit most from a free flow of information, unfettered by tolls and levies. European Commission spokesman Ryan Heath described the tax as “bad in principle” because it was a national tax applied to a global system. He went on to say it was:

…part of a pattern… of actions that have limited freedoms or sought to take rents without achieving wider economic or social interest.

Ordinary Hungarians have won this battle, but the fight is not over. Orban announced that his government would engage in public consultations about internet taxes and regulations. These consultations are promised for January 2015. Orban’s goal remains unchanged, as evident from how he described the purpose of the consultations:

There are two questions, the question of internet regulation, what can and cannot be done, and the financial questions of the internet.

We really should see somehow where the huge profits generated online go, and whether there is a way to keep some of it in Hungary and channel it into the budget.

Congratulations to Hungary’s people, who have defeated a harmful stealth tax. It is sufficient to tax telcos on the profits they make, like any other corporation. Individuals and businesses should not be taxed every time they communicate with each other, because communication is good for the economy, and good for society. Let us applaud this victory, and hope the Hungarians keep setting an example for all of us, in the ongoing political fight for cheap and unrestricted communication.

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Sharing a taxi on the final night of last year’s event, Mansi Chouhan, Subex’s personable Marketing Director, asked my opinion about possible venues for the 2014 Subex User Conference. Appealing to her patriotism, I proposed she invite her customers to India, Subex’s home territory. However, it was clear that neither Mansi, nor her decisive boss, CEO Surjeet Singh, were moved by my arguments. Although they had just overseen a very successful conference in Dublin, they were already thinking ahead, to how they could do even better next time. And I cannot fault their impeccable taste in choosing Istanbul for the 2014 event, which begins on November 5th. Istanbul is a fascinating city that boasts a rich and diverse heritage. Connecting Europe to Asia, it has long been a junction for international trade, even between warring peoples. These days, ideas and business travel across the world at the speed of light, but we can still learn a lot from the history of this great city. In many respects, the story of Istanbul is an example of the force we now call globalization.

Though we debated the location, I did not argue with Subex’s choice of a chairman for their 2014 event… because they gave that honour to me! Looking at the agenda, I will be introducing an impressive roster of speakers. It will be a treat to ask them questions whilst on stage, and I also hope to pick their brains whilst backstage.

Respected futurist Gerd Leonhard will be the first keynote speaker. There is no contradiction when observing that Leonhard has impressive pedigree when it comes to predicting the future. During the dotcom boom, he was an entrepreneur who concentrated on digital music and media. By 2006, the Wall Street Journal was calling Leonhard “one of the leading media futurists in the world”. Given the convergence between the communications and media sectors, I am looking forward to Leonhard’s analysis of how telcos will need to adapt, if they want to thrive. To my mind, access to exclusive content, and the ability to anticipate the individual’s taste in content, will be two key factors in differentiating communications firms. I want to hear if Leonhard shares that view.

Many people fear an auditor, but I am keen to meet the second keynote speaker, Michael Rimkus, who is the VP of Internal Audit and Risk Management at T-Mobile US. The very fact that he is presenting at a Subex user event tells us something about the direction assurance is headed. I passionately believe that practitioners of revenue assurance and fraud management need to immerse themselves in the context of enterprise risk management. The relationship between business assurance and internal audit has varied from telco to telco, and is sometimes antagonistic, though this is more often due to politics and personalities than any practical obstacles to complementary ways of working. Future success relies upon delivering synergies inside the expanding umbrella of objectives that fall within the remit of audit and assurance. I am keen to hear Rimkus’ views on how the use of software to analyse large volumes of data is best integrated with the traditional goals and methods of internal audit.

There are many other speakers listed, some of whom I know, others I am unfamiliar with, so it may be unfair to highlight other presentations I am looking forward to. However, I will be a little unfair by mentioning a few names worthy of attention. Dave Huras is the President of the Communications Fraud Control Association, and he will be sharing insights from their fraud loss survey. Amit Agrawal is the Etisalat Group Director for Revenue Assuranace and Fraud Management, and I will be asking him questions about a topic which has come up several times in my career: the difficulties of establishing shared services for business assurance within an international telecoms group. And I eagerly anticipate the panel that will debate future readiness for revenue assurance and fraud management. That panel features: John Brooks of Subex, who always has plenty to say and is always worth listening to; Pedro Bravo of Portuguese multiplay operator Nos, because he is a clever guy working for a convergent comms and media provider in a small but agile market; and old friend Andreas Manolis, who has as much managerial experience as anyone working in telecoms assurance, and who now strategizes for BT. In addition, there are talks scheduled from such varied operators as Telstra, Telefonica Chile, and Teliasonera… plus plenty of telcos whose names begin with other letters than ‘t’.

I have chaired conferences before, but this time I hope to be introducing some technological innovations to the role of chairman, as well as talking about innovation in the telecoms sector. Recent meetings of the UK Revenue Assurance Group have seen us experimenting with new ways to facilitate interaction with the audience. So long as participants remember to bring their smartphones, Subex’s user conference will see us gathering real-time feedback and opinion from a business assurance audience, on the largest scale yet.

It is my privilege to attend events like the Subex User Conference, and I am very grateful that Subex invited me to chair this year’s event. After an initial burst of energy, ideas and enthusiasm, there was a steady decline in the quality of business assurance conferences run by third party events organizers, until it reached the point where I no longer saw any reason to attend them. Vendors have stepped up and taken over the running of the best meetings for practitioners from around the world. The most successful vendors have grown their customer base to a level where they attract a more extensive range and depth of hands-on business assurance experience, to a single place in the world, than any generic conference provider can hope to achieve. I am very fortunate to attend several of these events each year, learning about working practices adopted, the risks encountered, and the challenges faced, from people who really know most about this area of expertise, and who come together from all over the world.

The opportunity to attend these events should be considered an important additional benefit, when telcos select a larger vendor like Subex. At last year’s event, I was greatly impressed by a case study given by Rajeev Davé of Verizon. However, I learned most from the informal chit chat that occurs away from the stage, during the breaks, over the meals and amidst the evening entertainment. I recommend that Subex customers make every effort to attend this year’s user conference, even if it means nagging their boss to get approval, and leaving their telco a little less protected for a few days. For those who already know they are going, I advise you to make the most of your time in Istanbul, by daring to introduce yourself to strangers from other telcos, and by finding new people to sit with during dinner. And for everyone who is a customer of a rival vendor, you must badger your supplier to run user events that are as welcoming, as well-managed, and as well-attended as the Subex User Conference. Otherwise, you miss out on the best source of intelligence: the insight of your peers.

To Subex customers, I look forward to seeing you in Istanbul. To everyone else, I hope we all keep finding ways to meet in person.

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Last week, an anonymous individual explained why they were frustrated with their telco’s approach to revenue assurance. Ultimately, the complaint was that management pursued the wrong objectives, focusing too much on short-term money-grabbing targets, and not enough on the treatment of the root causes of leakage. This prompted a question in my mind. How representative is this individual’s experience? Maybe most of you feel unhappy with the progress made in your telco. Or perhaps you feel that executive support for revenue assurance has improved greatly, and keeps getting better.

My own experience is mixed, but as my experience has been accumulated over time, it is not fair to compare executives I met 10 years ago with those I have dealt with more recently. Revenue assurance has changed a lot. People know more about revenue assurance than they used to, but that also means we should expect people to know more. And whilst I have worked in various countries, I would not claim they are a representative sample. In short, I have met good and bad, but I am reluctant to jump to conclusions about the current state of play worldwide. Will you help me to assess current satisfaction with how CEOs approach revenue assurance?

Look to the right-hand sidebar, and you will find a new poll, asking your opinion about CEOs and whether they understand revenue assurance. Please click on the answer that is the closest match to your personal experience.

The results are updated in real-time. That means the graph below will keep changing, as new responses come in!

My aim is to cut through the hype, and to identify if the world of revenue assurance should be doing a better job of communicating with the top dog in every telco. After all, CEOs have the ultimate say on how the telco’s employees are incentivized. They determine how much reward is given for delivering this quarter’s recovery targets, compared to the appreciation shown for implementing preventative and proactive assurance strategies. Alternatively, maybe you feel that CEOs are doing a good job, and if attitudes do need to be changed, the focus belongs elsewhere. Please treat this as a starting point, as we collectively explore how to improve the understanding of revenue assurance. It would be great if we could change perceptions in positive ways, meaning fewer of you endure the kinds of troubles recounted by last week’s anonymous blogger.

Where will this lead? I do not know. But then, when I started working in revenue assurance, or when I started blogging, I had no idea it would lead to this! All I know is that we can keep striving to do better, and to make telcos better. That starts by identifying where we are doing well, and where we need to improve. Vendors do a lot of work promoting RA to execs, but it would be naive to rely upon them to push hard for changes that will yield them no reward. For example, root cause analysis is important, but it is harder to monetize than the reconciliation of large volumes of data. So whilst we can thank them for the work they do in promoting in revenue assurance, the community should not solely rely upon their efforts. Let us look to increase our efforts, first by asking where they should be focused. Is it on the CEO? Or should the revenue assurance community seek to increase its influence elsewhere? I can imagine it will take a while to reach any valuable conclusions, but that should not discourage us from beginning this endeavour. After all, the history of revenue assurance is a story of daunting challenges that were overcome, even though there was no guarantee of success or of what the rewards would be. We have already travelled from there to here. If we work together, we can go further.

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