Bridging the Gap, the Etisalat way…

Etisalat is a behemoth in the world of telecom. With operations across 18 countries and total revenue well over 8 billion USD, it is easy to see why Forbes named Etisalat the most powerful company in the UAE in 2012. But in the midst of grandiosity, we see a humbling simplicity. Etisalat literally means “Communications” in arabic. This to me is not coincidence, but an insight into the razor-sharp focus of the organization. I recently had the privilege to see this focus at work in their Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management divisions as well.

I was invited as a panelist for the Group RAFM Forum for Etisalat. Our hosts brought us into beautiful Sri Lanka from the 29th till the 31st of October – and what an event it was!  In the broad, wide world of Revenue Assurance, I would call myself a “technician”, i.e. I’m interested in the nuts and bolts. Just like a building built on shaky foundations, unless people understand the grass root activities involved in RA, the management level reporting would simply collapse under scrutiny or pressure. I’m also a fan of RAFM departments who assure 30% of the key revenue chain with 100% certainty, as opposed to departments that attempt to cover 100% of the revenue chain with 30% certainty. It was so refreshing to see that the Etisalat RAFM team shared these beliefs, not just in principle but in actual operations.

Onwards to Sri Lanka! The theme of the event was “Bridging the Gap”. The first step to addressing any issue is to acknowledge the existence of the issue. I find that the most successful RAFM departments are the ones who have the courage to acknowledge their “gaps”. When operators speak plainly and openly, vendors and partners feel encouraged to strive to find solutions to specific problems; as opposed to throwing resources, software and the kitchen sink at the telco and hoping that the issue gets addressed. In my opinion, the Etisalat RAFM forum was able to strike the right chords and create a productive environment for all involved.

With that prologue, I found the theme very pragmatic. The Group RAFM team (presided by Francis Fernandes and Amit Agrawal) wanted the various Opcos that constitute the Etisalat RAFM function to collectively “raise the bar”, as it were, in terms of synergistic collaboration. Now, while I have heard a lot of talk regarding effective and efficient group reporting I have to be painfully honest and outline three things which lead to slow or non-adoption of group guidelines:

a)      Lack of relevance – Not all companies in a group follow the same reporting methodology across all lines of business.

b)      Lack of consistency – Companies publish group KPIs based on their “interpretation” of the KPI. This is largely due to the absence of standardized Published Manuals and Standard Operating Procedures being in place.

c)       Lack of transparency – There is a hesitation in posting information to a global over-seer, when the purpose and the consequences of such information is not clear.

I have to say that Francis and Amit have done a good job of laying the foundation to overcoming these 3 issues. To start off with, the group ideology is not forced onto the opcos, but is rather being co-developed with the active participation of leading minds from the various opcos. Amit is a seasoned RAFM veteran who has never shied away from rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty. Therefore, it is no surprise to see a bottom-up approach being developed by his team. The working sheet has been disseminated to the various group companies, along with the underlying formulae and validation mechanisms. There was active participation and debate from various opcos who had studied and analyzed the various tools in trying to reach a group consensus. It was an enriching experience to hear from domain stalwarts like Ashish from Mobily, Taimur from PTCL and Ramadan from Atlantique Telecom both during and after the session. During the discussion itself it was evident that the local entities have a significant say in shaping the overall group RAFM Strategy and evolution. It convinced me that it is the support and knowledge of local entities which would ultimately drive the success of the group initiative.

Secondly, the Etisalat team has developed a series of “manuals” for prepaid, postpaid, interconnect, voucher and so on. These manuals talk in detail of leakages, the points of investigation, source systems etc. The manuals were sent to all the companies as well, for their feedback and criticism. Of all the actions that Etisalat has taken for maturing their RAFM practice, I found this the best. A junior analyst in Etisalat now no longer needs to depend on ad-hoc experts or “industry certifications” (dubious at best). He/She has access to a well-structured document which outlines their work universe and the associated information they need to do their job. While clearly development of manuals was an important first step in the right direction, the very active contribution and discourse by various experts like  Kusum of Etisalat Sri Lanka, Mohammed Gamal of Etisalat UAE and Alfred of Etisalat Afghanistan,would see Etisalat standing to gain even more from the evolution of these base manuals.

Lastly, Amit spoke of the structured link between group assistance and reported figures. This is very re-assuring to me as a local entity. The group is in essence telling me that in the absence of any scope coverage growth (either in breadth or in depth), the group will come in with assistance on how enhance my performance. This highlights the subtle shift from reprimanding non-performance to actually partnering with the local entity to drive positive value. This help would come in the form of on-request consulting with the group partners, performance assessments, training and learning from the Etisalat academy etc. This approach of group-wide enablement is an intelligent approach in fostering positive team-work and overall maturity growth.

All in all, the best advice comes from those who have put in countless hours in the trenches. Bruce Lee said it best when he said:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”

The wealth of operational and technical knowledge which filled the beach-side venue in Colombo was incredible. I don’t remember a single presentation which didn’t present a valuable insight or a new way to look at an old problem. With leaders like Francis and Amit collaborating with RAFM experts, and ably supported by their agile and nimble team of Raghuram Meda, Asem Abughazaleh and Suraj Kadbe , one can’t help but wait with anticipation for the outcome.

Ashwin Menon
Ashwin Menon began his foray into revenue assurance as an implementation on-site engineer with Subex Ltd. During the course of his career, he has been involved with various clients across the Asia-Pacific region, including tier 1 telcos. He is currently employed at Subex as a Senior Consultant.