Data Gathering by Roaming Around

A few days ago I arrived at my desk on a fine Monday morning. It is going to be a nice day, I thought to myself. The weather was nicely cool (at a mere 27 degrees Celsius) which is heavenly compared to the 34-38 degrees that we had experienced the previous week.

Of course when things are going right, there is always something that you can count on to come and stuff things up. More often than not, “that thing” will have something to do with technology. This morning was no different. I just could not coax my laptop out of its weekend rest. The IT folks mumbled one incoherent thing after another, scratched their heads, stuffed the laptop into a bag and disappeared. Their promise to deliver a replacement PC in 15 minutes remained just that – a promise. What is it with IT Support blokes? If you work in IT support, you would actually have a good shot at being a politician since you have practiced the art of lying and promising, in a corporate setting. I shouldn’t speak; I was one of them barely 10 years ago and I must have pissed off a lot of people too. Anyway, it was clear that no solution was going to come soon.

I was staring at a wasted Monday morning, which is fine if you have a hangover… but I did not have a hangover. Murphy’s Law, one can never escape it. On the Monday you have a hangover, work won’t let up, the boss will be on your back and the phone will be ringing off the hook. On the day you don’t have a hangover, you will not have the tools you need to work. Sitting there, reading my emails on my phone, I realized one thing – I don’t even need a computer for my job. I just need to read my emails on the smartphone, get off my chair and go round the building talking to people.

The first email that I read appeared to have nothing to do with RA. It was announcing that a team in charge of business solutions had won a company award for, among other things, ensuring that business solutions are delivered within 5 days (down from the previous 15 days). That should be good news, no? I did not think so. Pardon my skepticism but if you have been in this game you know how things go – either the process was horribly inefficient previously… or suddenly some important things are not being done in this fast-tracked process. Most RA folks will bet on the latter. I called up the head of the team to congratulate him on this award and we agreed to meet so that I can “appreciate” the magnitude of this award. I ended the call with a cheery “good stuff!” (code for I-wonder-what-kind-of-stuff-I-will-find-when-I-show-up).

I then decided to do something I have always wanted to do i.e. visit all departments (starting from 13th floor down to 1st floor) just to say “hi”. This was an eye-opener of sorts. You see, technology has lied to us all. It has given us an impression that because so much information is being beamed from this to that floor of the organization, clogging up the LAN, we “know” what is happening. We don’t. You see that Legal & Regulatory department that is hidden behind a mountain of work? They are not just looking at contracts; they are driving all manner of initiatives to make the regulator see some light. None of that will ever come to you in an email.

The guys in Marketing are in the concept stage of a new product, which I would only know about it when it is written down in a product specification, many man-hours later. If the RA guy pops up in their corner, they are happy to “bounce-off” ideas. Because I am given to flights of fancy, I find myself quite at home with the product developers. I am actually considering this as my next career-line :) I have outdone myself because towards the end, the product developers were looking at me with glazed eyes as I work myself into a crescendo of very brilliant ideas, ahem, incessant rambling. Sadly I doubt any of my ideas will see the light of the day but at least I have a fairly good idea of what will come to my desk next in the form of new products.

There is an espresso machine outside the MD’s office and I am happy to spike my blood and as I do so, I notice a fellow caffeine pilferer carrying a hefty binder labelled Risk Management Committee – I make a note to myself to get the deliberations of this committee or to be an attendee in future, especially when my laptop does that tired-mule thing.

The sales folks are happy to share their achievements and tell me exactly what the dealers think of our commissions and other incentives. While at it, I realize that the commissions structure was changed last week and I missed the memo, no surprises there.

My next stop is the floor of the guys and girls who always need helmets in any telco – Customer Service. Customer service supervisors are a goldmine for any RA person. They have real cases of bill shock, provisioning failures, mucky recharge voucher processes and inaccurate contract upgrades. I am entertained (and shocked in equal measure) by the story of a customer who ran up a huge data roaming bill, downloading pictures of goats. Okay, we actually do not know what he was doing on his smartphone – he is the one who said he will not pay all that money “simply because I looked at several pictures of goats”. Look, I am not one to judge but surfing pictures of goats during a business trip?

The girls in the cash office want to know if the snazzy data analysis tool that they once saw me using can help them in their reconciliations. Folks think I am a genius…

In my walk, a few guys were also quite keen to rat on other teams and I (unashamedly) lent a listening ear. Just as Christians say that Jesus is the friend of all sinners, I am the friend of all snitches. I suppose this is because I have done a fair share of snitching myself. The information is appreciated and the sources will remain anonymous.

Well, not all the things I encountered were new. Sure, some things had already come via emails, meetings, product documents, system change requests, newsletters etc. My point though is: there is a lot that just doesn’t make it into those forms of communication, stuff that is always bubbling beneath. That stuff, when it goes bad, will hit the fan later.

We must be careful. Stripping all the fancy history behind it, RA came into being because people in the organization were not talking to each other; everybody was too busy doing “important stuff” and nobody bothered to inform the other teams, who were also equally busy. And so small cracks started and into these cracks, a few coins started falling in. As more coins fell, the cracks widened. Data driven RA (with automated systems, alerts and reports) is all fine but to rely on it fully is hardly wise.

I have high regard for the fine folks who design and implement all this software to help us in our jobs but we cannot sit hunched over our dashboards and inadvertently fall into the same trap that we are trying to help the organization escape.

In the coming year, I challenge folks in RA to dedicate some time each week for a most noble cause: switch off the computer, forget the trends and the RA tool alerts/notifications, get off your seat, walk and talk to business. Make friends while you are at it.

Even if you do not unearth much, experts recommend this for your health anyway!

Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu is a consultant who specializes in revenue assurance. He is currently contracted as Head of Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management at Vodacom's operation in Tanzania, having previously served in the same role at Vodacom Mozambique.   Before his work with Vodacom, Joseph was an internal audit manager for Airtel, with responsibility that covered their 17 countries in Africa. Whilst at Airtel, Joseph led reviews of the Revenue Assurance, Customer Service and Sales & Marketing functions.   Prior to his stint at Airtel, Joseph was an RA manager at Safaricom in Kenya. He holds an MSc Degree in Information Systems.