For the last couple of years, I have worked for a financial institution.

The finance industry has a lot of common with the telecom industry, one of them is Revenue Assurance. Just like telcos, they are exposed to revenue leakage, yet there is only limited interest in RA tools or initiatives. Having limited bandwidth, the management is far more interested in generating new revenue streams and supporting existing portfolios than dealing with assurance. In short, assurance at best comes at 3rd place if not lower than that. Third place usually attracts low attention and limited budgets.

Viewing the world from my position, I can only lament the lack of introduction of new high margin products in telcos. Today there is much discussion about mobile money, plenty of conferences on the subject, but then what? We all watch the discussion on the subject and various initiatives, but most of them are OTT providers like Paypal mobile, Starbucks mobile app, Simple, Moven et al.

One aspect of mobile money is money remittance which is conducted mainly by financial institutions. The margins in money remittance business are rather attractive, 90% and over, with low set up costs comprised mainly from the effort required to create the financial collaboration, financial rails connections and platform service setup, which usually come as low as $150K. However, only a few telcos would do something in this domain. If they do, money remittances are treated as a local initiative, or else the telco behaves like a back seat driver.

For the sake of any discussion we all mention successful local mobile remittance deployment mainly in developing countries like M-PESA in Kenya, where there are Airtel Money, Tigo Cash, MTN Mobile Money etc. Most of the remittance models are three-corner models. None of them have bank licenses, only (at times) “e-money licenses” depending upon the country they are operating in. So, P2P transfers are done as an accounting change, there is no issuing / acquiring split like there are in four-corner models (VISA, MC, etc). One of the most intriguing four corner mobile money implementations demonstrated by Garanti Bank(Turkey) collaborating with MasterCard and Turkcell, while Turkcell is only a backseat driver.

We live in a global village. Even in a small country like Israel, we have many foreign workers that pay dearly to Western Union, MoneyGram, EuroGiro and other financial rails to wire funds back home. It is a commodity service that comes with high price and attractively high margin.

Somehow it reminds me the discussion I had a while ago with the CTO of T-Mobile Germany, which had a fancy DWH&BI project and knew even the average speed of each and every one of his customers, but failed to come with a meaningful solution like Waze. Same here, many conferences for benefit of telcos staffers and very little done on the subject.

I can’t stop thinking about the resignation letter of a failed telco CEO I had seen some years ago, who said in his stepping down letter that “they are the victims of their own success”.

For full disclaimer, I do not promote ANY vendor.

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In this guest blog, Dan Baker of the Technology Research Institute and the Black Swan Telecom Journal addresses a question raised two weeks ago: should talkRA continue in its current format, change with the times, or step aside to make room for others? Dan’s analysis is as thought-provoking as always…

Eric’s recent post “The End of talkRA” provoked a good discussion. And those who commented are eager to keep talkRA — or its successor — alive and well. I think this is mostly a tribute to Eric’s industry expertise and skills as a writer and moderator.

And yet, as Eric admits, “things have changed”. The business assurance software vendors serving the market are expanding in many directions. But that doesn’t mean RA and related issues are solved. New issues are entering the scene all the time.

The telecom market is evolving at a rapid pace today. Huge issues are there to be discussed, i.e. how to operate and position the business in the new IP-centric, 4G/LTE, big data, and enterprise-serving business where the boundary line between service providers, OTTs, and vendors is rapidly blurring.

So I’d like to see talkRA’s focus shift to cover these broader strategic issues. It will give Eric and everyone else plenty to talk about.

And this migration should be fine because I believe the core talkRA readership is not wedded to RA alone. Here’s my take:

  1. Readers are focused on operations and have a wide-ranging view of the telecom business. And they work in the carrier, consultant, and software camps.
  2. They are analysts or managers of analysts who seek to help the business in whatever areas deliver the biggest payoff for their companies and their own careers.
  3. The watchwords are “business rules” and “alignment of operations with the business”. To me, the simplest explanation of this philosophy was given by Ed Shanahan, the former manager of RA at TMNG.
  4. They are eager to work with software tools, but they know there’s no such thing as putting the business on auto-pilot. Telecom evolves too quickly and every major software advance requires analysts, consultants, and experts to step up and intelligently direct the analysis and interpret the results.

OK, so here are my suggestions for talkRA’s future:

  1. Participation, and more participation. If 50 expert readers of talkRA contributed a short guest column every year, you’d increase the value of visiting talkRA quite a bit and it would provoke some very nice discussions. How can we promote more participation?
  2. Surveys. Daniel Peter mentioned this and it’s a great idea. And my inclination is to support quick in-line surveys. I also think an annual “State of the Practice” survey is worth having and sharing. Here’s a good example from the publication, A List Apart.
  3. On Black Swan Journal, we do not have comments or commentary, so I’m looking for ways of doing that, and perhaps integrating with talkRA in some way would achieve that.

So these are my thoughts. Eager to hear reader and Eric’s comments.

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WeDo, the Portuguese business assurance vendor, have hired Tony Poulos to be a market strategist and spokesperson for the company; you can find the press release here.

Tony is no stranger to WeDo, having chaired their user group events in recent years. However, this appointment should be interpreted as confirmation of WeDo’s ambition. Tony was previously the BSS Evangelist for the TM Forum, and B/OSS Magazine ranked Tony amongst the 25 most influential people in telecoms software. Tony will bolster WeDo’s team both through his insider knowledge of the development and marketing of BSS, and through his international media connections as a presenter and writer. This high-profile addition shows how WeDo is extending beyond its Portuguese roots. Having Tony on board will help them to evolve from a successful player in the niche of revenue assurance to an engine that drives the expansion of enterprise assurance, not only in telecoms but increasingly in other sectors too.

It says a lot that Tony left his old job at the TM Forum. There was a time when individuals found their credibility enhanced by being associated with the TMF. Now the TMF’s best people leave to participate in other ventures. The TMF lacks a coherent message or raison d’être… apart from massaging the bank balances and egos of those who run it. As the TMF is bereft of any vision for how telcos should develop – other than repeating banalities about disruption – the real thought leaders turn to firms like WeDo, in order to keep pushing the boundaries of business practice.

Running conferences and writing guidebooks is not the way to innovate, even if you confuse innovation with collating surveys about what mediocre telcos have already done. To drive change, you must engage with businesses that can deliver it. By becoming the market strategist for WeDo, Tony will doubtless provide his input to WeDo’s product roadmap. The aim is simple: to anticipate the needs of telcos before telco execs identify those needs for themselves. You might think of this as the Steve Jobs model for disruption; first you think of what the customer will want, then you work out how to make it, then you tell the customer they want what you can make, then the customer buys it. WeDo must feel very familiar with this cycle, as they explain to utilities, retailers and financial services businesses why they need to invest in an unfamiliar practice like revenue assurance.

Some rivals might think the Jobs approach is too risky, but there is no better way to get ahead of the opposition. The downside risk is that the business might make bad guesses about what customers will want. That is why individuals like Tony Poulos are so valuable; they have the insight and the confidence to see further into the future, and the skill to communicate what they see.

Tony’s appointment will bolster WeDo’s marketing, but in parallel WeDo will find themselves sharing their Chief Marketing Officer with one of their sister companies. Sérgio Silvestre will double up, fulfilling the role of CMO at cybersecurity firm S21sec, as well as continuing in his role at WeDo. This is a sign of Sérgio’s success in his role at WeDo, and it is also a pointer to the future of assurance. The concept of assurance will become more embracing and integrated, with the focus on ensuring there are no ‘gaps’ in the overarching risk mitigation strategy. As a consequence, narrower silo providers of assurance solutions will be at a disadvantage to firms who can cover a broader range, or which can introduce expert partners they already work closely with.

WeDo have always taken a strategic view on how to build their business. It should come as no surprise that SSI, WeDo’s immediate parent within the Sonae group and an investor in S21sec, should be similarly strategic in determining how to realize the best value from its growing and connected businesses. Telecoms revenue assurance is currently in decline, but a more expansive form of assurance is on the rise. Expect WeDo and its sister companies to rise with it. And if nothing else, I would never bet against Tony Poulos…

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Last week I mused on how the reduced market for business assurance means vendors need to consolidate, and how that will force many people to make tough but necessary changes. But I should be no hypocrite. It is no good saying others need to change, without accepting change myself. Six years have passed since fellow talkRA founder Matt Clark first welcomed readers to this website. Including the time spent on my Revenue Protect website, this is my eighth year of blogging about assurance. In that time, the technology has changed, the market has changed, the suppliers have changed, the customers have changed, the people have changed, the requirements have changed, the job specs have changed and even a stubborn git like me has changed (a little). talkRA needs to change as well.

Friends and colleagues know that I have been contemplating the future of talkRA for a while. There are very straightforward reasons why nothing has been done about it. Maintaining things as they are is enough to keep me busy, whilst it is not obvious what kinds of change would be an improvement. What do you think? I know that asking for comments is a sure way to guarantee that none will be received, but in this situation, even the absence of comments will provide useful feedback.

For the sake of argument, here are some options:

  • Follow the technology – revenue assurance was always about having software to scrutinize large volumes of data, so follow the same group of software vendors, as they adapt the evolving technology to offer a wider range of products that address all sorts of new challenges.
  • Risk is the new assurance – more and more of the content is about risk management away, so go the whole hog and start covering the full scope of risk management for comms providers.
  • Keep on keepin’ on – everything is fine, and nobody else offers such good content about revenue assurance, so continue to maintain talkRA the way it currently is.
  • Always leave them wanting more – now would be a good time to bow out and draw the curtains on talkRA. Everything that needed saying has already been said, so quit blogging and let the next generation take over.

What do you think? If you ran talkRA, what would you do?

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There has been a lot of revealing news recently. But when I say ‘revealing’, I mean that in the sense of a man who sees dark clouds on the horizon, pulls out his binoculars, studies the skies carefully, tries to predict what will happen, and only reaches a conclusion when the rain is pouring on his head. The latest news ‘reveals’ that the market for revenue assurance and fraud management is contracting. Does this need saying? Hardly. It is obvious, and has been for years. And yet talkRA does need to say it, because if you receive your business assurance news from elsewhere, there is zero possibility of you reading about the decline of the market.

Let me summarize recent news. To begin with, an absence of anyone issuing press releases about sales is also a kind of news. They say ‘no news is good news’, but not in this instance. Companies that have to report results have been issuing disappointing numbers. Companies that do not report results have been saying as little as possible. The re-born Connectiva has shifted its focus away from RA and FM. Minor player Basset barely mentions assurance any more. Even Morisso Taieb, serial launcher of LinkedIn groups (such as the ‘RA Pros’ group) is sending out invitations to join a new group for ‘online lending professionals’ – which means there is not enough activity on his old groups, or he wants to get a job with a payday lender.

Everything points in the same direction: revenue assurance and fraud management have reached the point where the buzz is over, sales are rare, and former big-shots want to change job. So if any of you were hoping to be appointed the Chief Revenue Assurance Officer of a major telco, you might want to stop daydreaming, and to think more constructively about your career direction. The party is over, but the hangover will not last forever. We still need to get on with the rest of our lives. After the boom and bust comes a steady state of affairs, where the ongoing demand for assurance is satisfied, without excessive optimism about what might come in future.

Those of you who intend to manage revenue assurance and fraud management teams over next few years, need to be thinking very seriously about your current choice of supplier. Suppliers that were good choices during a phase of growth may be lousy choices during the steady state. Will your vendor still be in business, a few years from now? Will it be under new management? Will it have merged with another vendor, meaning you will have to switch to another supplier’s product whether you like it or not? Will the vendor persist, but milk you for fees, whilst having no intention of upgrading their product further, because they can find no market for it? Consider Connectiva. A start-up that raises a lot of capital may never reach the point where it turns a profit, and unprofitable firms cannot persist indefinitely. Consider Basset. Even if the supplier is viable, or is bought out, you may find the supplier has only a few customers for the product you use, and so has no reason to invest heavily in upgrading that product. Choosing the right suppliers ranks amongst the most important decisions that managers can make. Even if your supplier is currently satisfying requirements, there is still a need to plan for the future, and that future may involve a change of supplier.

My advice is straightforward. There is little future for business assurance if it relies upon too many undercapitalized, underperforming, small and loss-making vendors. Too much will be spent on marketing, too few resources will be directed into significant research and development. That means customers will have a lot of nominal choice, but only of similarly unimpressive, underdeveloped products. It is better that we all drive an identical Model T, and for every car to be black, than bickering about which horse we ride to work. Fewer vendors would be in everyone’s interests – except for those working for the vendors that miss the cut, and the telco staff who are too close to those particular vendors. We need vendors to be profitable, so they can be stable, and reinvest profits into development. That means bigger vendors, and fewer vendors, each taking a larger slice of a smaller cake. That is in the long-term interests of customers too, because investment in tools will only occur if a profit can be made from selling them.

Consolidation is good for the strong, who will survive, and bad for the weak, who will perish. Assurance has been the subject of a lot of hype, but hype tends to distract us from real weakness. I want to see a stronger, healthier assurance sector. To get that, we need to weed out the weaklings.

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