Interview with Gadi Solotorevsky

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For podcast 3, I talked with old friend Dr. Gadi Solotorevsky. Gadi is the Chief Scientist for software vendor cVidya, and has led the Revenue Assurance team in the TM Forum since it formed in 2004.

As always with our conversations, we soon found ourselves talking about a wide range of topics, including Gadi’s views on the need for professional certification for revenue assurance, the relationship between the Global Revenue Assurance Professional’s Association (GRAPA) and the TMF, and the outlook for the future. You can read snippets below, but the for the full 40-minute interview, listen to the podcast, which is available at both talkRA.com and at iTunes.

We started by talking about the current focus for his RA team: the RA maturity benchmark. Quite a number of Communication Providers have given permission to publicly confirm their participation in the study, including Swisscom, Turkcell, 1&1 Germany, MTS Russia, Vodafone Germany and Telstra. There is still time to join the RA maturity benchmark; if you would like to participate, you can contact Gadi, me or the TMF’s benchmark coordinator, Toni Graham (tgraham@tmforum.org).

Eric: Can you tell us what this revenue assurance maturity benchmark is about?

Gadi: About six months ago, we did a benchmark on KPI’s – standard KPI’s defined by the TMF. KPI’s give a picture, but it’s very difficult to understand that picture if you don’t have a reference of maturity. Just looking at the KPI’s gives only a partial picture. The maturity model gives you not just a benchmark, but the capacity to see what should be your next steps. Together with the KPI’s benchmark, I think it will be a lot of value to the industry.

Eric: Who is allowed to participate in these TM Forum surveys?

Gadi: All the operators that are members of the TMF are allowed to participate for free. Apart from that, since these surveys are relatively new, the TMF is allowing, under special permissions, the participation of operators that are not members of the TMF. For the revenue assurance KPI’s, all the operators that requested to participate, even if they were not members of the TMF, were allowed to do it.

Eric: In terms of the numbers of participants, can you tell us how many participated in the operational KPI’s survey? And how many want to participate in this new maturity survey?

Gadi: For the operational KPI’s we had 14 participants, and for the maturity benchmark the situation is even better. We expect to have 30 to 40 participants. More than two thirds of the participants are TMF members.

Eric: How long does this survey run for?

Gadi: The survey is running now. We opened the web interface at the beginning of December and we are planning to close it around the end of January. Even companies that are hearing about this survey just now, they still have enough time.

Eric: From what you’re saying, even if you decided quite late to join the survey late, it would only take a day or two to get your answers together and submit them. The maturity benchmark is one thing that is going on – what else does the TMF team have planned for 2009?

Gadi: Wow! A lot of things! First, we are in the process of finishing the TMF member’s review for the RFI/RFP addendum [to the RA guidebook]. I think it will be released in about one month. We are finishing the release of version 2 of GB941…

Eric: … the TM Forum’s revenue assurance guidebook…

Gadi: … we expect to release it in about two months. Another thing we are planning to do, is to check the relation between revenue assurance and margin assurance. We are planning to do a catalyst [an official, practical case study]. One new topic, I don’t know if the team will approve it, but I want to try to do a third benchmark. One of the addendums we are releasing to GB941 is a list of control points – typical leakage points where it is a good place to put controls. We finalized a list of 120 control points. It would be really interesting to complement the first two benchmarks, the maturity and the operational KPI’s, with a control coverage benchmark. At the moment, it’s just an idea that I have. I still have to convince the team to accept it. I still have to convince the TMF to accept it, but I believe if we have these three benchmarks, it will not be 1+1+1=3, but it will be much more than 3!

Eric: That sounds like a very full program of work!

Gadi: Actually it’s a lot of work, and we have a lot of great people helping. I don’t want to start mentioning names, because I’m afraid that I will forget a lot of the people helping. It’s very collaborative work with a lot of people – vendors, system integrators, operators – contributing, producing or viewing material, or participating in activities. My job is to set the conference calls and to try to help people.

Eric: I think you’re being very modest. You do an awful lot more than that!

Gadi: Well thanks!

Eric: (Laughs) I don’t think the team would be where it is today if it hadn’t been for all your hard work.

Gadi: Now I’m completely red, so I’m very happy I don’t have a webcam!

Eric: Talking about people in the public eye, with regard to revenue assurance, I don’t know if you saw an article written by the President of the Golbal Revenue Assurance Professional’s Association about the relationship between his organization and the TMF’s work. It briefly said the TMF’s RA team is focused on software, equipment and hardware, because it’s mostly run by vendors, whereas his organization, GRAPA, is interested in what people do, and helping revenue assurance people to learn the skills that they need to do their jobs. Would you say that was a fair representation of the difference between what your team does and what GRAPA seeks to do?

Gadi: First a disclaimer: now I’m presenting my own opinions, not TMF opinions. After this disclaimer, I must say that I completely disagree. A lot of the work done by the [TMF] revenue assurance team is done by operators. I read the article written by Rob in GRAPA. He seems to have picked the list of contributors to one of the many activities that the TMF was doing. In that activity I believe there were only two operators involved, and he said “of all the activities in the TMF, there are only two operators involved” which is not the situation. On the other hand, I must say that I don’t really understand what GRAPA is doing. GRAPA is claiming to be a community, but I haven’t really seen any work there approved and produced by the community…

Eric: Sorry to interrupt, are you a member of GRAPA?

Gadi: No. No, at the beginning I tried to enter, but they were only accepting operators, and since then, to tell you the truth, I didn’t try. Do you know if they are accepting everybody?

Eric: As far as I can tell. I think I’m the only person who’s not allowed to join (laughs). There certainly are quite a number of commercial members now. It’s also worth pointing out that the TM Forum is listed as an associate member of GRAPA…

Gadi: (Laughs) Okay…

Eric: I’m assuming that you’re not involved with that either. Were you aware of that even?

Gadi: No, I’m not sure that the TMF is aware of that…

Eric: I do know that there was an individual in the TMF who did sign up.

Gadi: So they list as members all the companies where they have one individual who joined with the email of that company?

Eric: Yes, so a TMF employee did get in touch with Rob, which is why the TM Forum is listed, but I don’t believe that there’s been much interaction between the two, and I think that might confuse people. What you’ve said there is that Rob perhaps isn’t aware of what’s going on, but if you look at the website it would seem that the TM Forum was almost a member of GRAPA… Do you have any strong opinions on what should be the relationship?

Gadi: I think that GRAPA, and other organizations, if they want to accept all the work done by the TMF as the high-level standards – this work touches everything, it touches people, it touches tools, it touches methodology etc – if they want to accept it, and to work from there, I would be very happy to cooperate with GRAPA or any other organization. If an organization is trying to say to the TMF “you should not touch this aspect” (for example, people) are we saying we want to set a second standard? If there are too many standards, it’s a problem.

Eric: Certification for revenue assurance professionals. Can I just ask you to share your opinion?

Gadi: Once again, my personal view…

Eric: …asking you as Dr. Gadi Solotorevsky…

Gadi: …as Gadi! I believe that having certification for revenue assurance is crucial. Distinguishing between people that know a task and people who don’t have any information, is very problematic. At some point, the majority of people doing a task, should be able to be certified. The people need it, the organizations need it, so I believe that certification is crucial. I believe certification must be done based on the standards. I care less – and here I know that I am in a different position to the TMF – I personally wouldn’t mind five training courses for revenue assurance, but one certificate issued by the TMF. I know that the TMF looks at this in a different way, but what I care, as a revenue assurance professional, is that the people that will get the certificate have the same knowledge. I couldn’t care less how they got that knowledge. I think it should be mandatory to have certification, and I think that operators will be the first to gain from it. Workers will understand that they really work in a profession, they will understand what is required to work in that profession, and they will see a path to advance, especially if we do two or three grades of certification. I see certification as an extremely important thing. I know that the TMF is working in that direction.

Eric: Can I ask you, again as Dr. Gadi Solotorevsky…

Gadi: … As Gadi, as Gadi!

Eric: … As Gadi, not as the TMF’s representative, Rob has his plans to issue a certificate based on a syllabus he’s created independently of the TMF, do you see this as being a problem for the profession – that there’s individuals like yourself who would like a syllabus based on the TMF standards, and there’s a potential rival syllabus out there?

Gadi: I believe it’s a problem, a big problem. Not the certification itself, but what is the discipline the people that get the certification are learning? I know TR131 (the TMF’s RA Technical Overview), I know GB941 (The TMF’s RA Guidebook). They were accepted by a large community, they were accepted by everybody. One of the things that I’m most proud about, is that we discussed things until we achieved an agreement. All these documents were agreed by the whole team, they were reviewed by all the members of the TMF that wanted to review it. It’s very clear the process – how these documents are approved, are accepted etc. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a member of GRAPA, but it’s unclear to me how certification in GRAPA is approved by the industry.

Eric: The CEO of ECtel was on my last podcast, and he said that he expected 2009 to be a good year. Do you think 2009 is going to be a good year for cVidya and for other vendors?

Gadi: The short answer is yes, but not to all the vendors. If you are starting this year in a situation where you need external money, it may be a very difficult year for you. If you start in a sound situation, then it will be a good year.

Eric: Final question. Going beyond 2009, what do you anticipate will happen in the future for revenue assurance – 5 years, 10 years down the line?

Gadi: Okay, this will be my opinion as Gadi, not as Gadi from cVidya, not as Gadi from the TMF, because I know that a lot of people don’t agree with my view. First, I believe that revenue assurance is here to stay as revenue assurance. We will build a lot of things around it, because revenue assurance has a view of data that is really really rich, but the core will be revenue assurance. I don’t think there will be a situation where BI will take over revenue assurance or where revenue assurance is transformed into BI. About two years ago, we saw several BI companies saying “we have revenue assurance products”. Revenue assurance is much more than the BI. They understand the data, but they don’t have people that understand the signalling, or the switches. It’s not just seeing the data and being able to analyse it, you need to understand a lot more to do revenue assurance.

Eric: Gadi, I’ve taken up a lot of your time, I really appreciate it and I’ve enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you very much.

Gadi: Thank you Eric.

To recap, that was just a brief summary of the conversation. The full interview with Gadi is exclusively available through the podcast.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.

Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.