Open Source RA with Lionel Griache

Open source revenue assurance? It has long been a popular discussion topic in RA circles, but there was only one problem: nobody had actually written any open source code. It was a perennial good idea where everyone was waiting for someone else to do it. Now Lionel Griache, a senior consultant in the billing and revenue assurance industry with more than 15 years of experience, has made the giant leap into offering open source RA code. After 4 years of existence, his ProactiveRA tool has been officially open source since December 2011. I spoke with Lionel to find out about ProactiveRA and why he has chosen the open source model.

Eric: Lionel, writing code takes time, and you’ve released a finished tool as open source. What was the starting point for this project?

Lionel: This project started as a custom development for a client in the Caribbean. It quickly grew and matured, to the point that it received positive reviews from international financial auditors. Its local success is not based on a powerful or secret algorithm, neither on the amount of code written. The tool is simple yet effective; its success can mostly be linked to understanding that, to be embraced, you must have an effective user interface where people can really see what the tool is about and interact with it on a daily basis.

Eric: You mention that the tool was ‘embraced’ by your client. From your perspective, why was that?

Lionel: Incorporating a professional dashboard was the first key to its success. The second key was minimizing the time it takes to deploy new control points and empowering the client to do so. And it worked beyond all expectations.

Eric: That’s great, but there’s going to be a lot of sceptical people who wonder why you’ve offered the code as open source, if it works that well. Why not just retain control and profit by selling licenses?

Lionel: We had many back-and-forth discussions about that with the initial client. What started as an internal project could easily become a golden egg for both of us, sold to other clients and partners, and generate a nice profit. But is that really our business? The answer came to us when we went back to how our relationship started. All this time, our contract wasn’t about building a tool. The core mission was about analysing data, building reports, looking for revenue opportunities and most importantly bringing a new attitude about how to monitor the business. Building the tool was a side activity to support the communication strategy and presentation of the results to management. What had most value for our customer was that someone brought this new attitude and expertise.

Eric: Are you hinting that, whilst open source code sounds exciting, software tools are not the most important part of RA?

Lionel: The source code of the tool is what it is. It helped tremendously in facilitating the daily monitoring but it will never have the value that the willingness to build a strong revenue assurance program can have. We believe this is true in most RA deployments out there, at least for Tiers 2 and Tiers 3 operators were technical challenges induced by data volumes remain easily manageable. The value of the code is minimal compared to the value of understanding and advising on how to perform RA activities. Making the code open source proves that point.

Eric: I think you’ve just become my hero. You’ve donated open source code and you’ve put the value of software into context – compare that to what we get from some so-called industry leaders! But getting back to the code, can you talk a little about how the code was written?

Lionel: The ProactiveRA solution is based on a powerful open source dashboard called Liferay. As we greatly benefited from this third party, it seemed logical to give back to the community under a similar model. Without any doubt the open source economy is extremely empowering. It gives each one of us the opportunity to join forces and build something bigger than we ever could envision on our own. Open source is an undeniable trend in the software industry. We’re betting the RA world is ready to embrace it as well and we’re proud to be pioneers in that regard.

Eric: You mention the client’s support for making the ProactiveRA code open source. What’s in it for them?

Lionel: For our main client, making the tool an open-source solution is also a logical move. By building a community around the tool, you develop contacts and confront your way of addressing revenue assurance requirements with new perspectives and opinions. This is an opportunity to take an internal development to the next level. If a strong community builds around it, it brings the potential for receiving new updates and new features without having to drive all of that internally. This is a benefit that vastly compensates for the risk of losing control over what could remain an internal development. You can focus your internal investments on what really is specific to your architecture. In general, the open source model gives a whole new audience a chance to strongly influence the future of a tool in a way that wouldn’t be achievable with existing RA solutions. There’s incredible value in joining forces and driving a common solution to new levels.

Eric: I’m confident many people will want to download the code as soon as they’ve heard of it. Where can they get it from? And will you be supporting it?

Lionel: It’s available from our website. The site also has instructions on how to install ProactiveRA. Once up and running, we trust people will find the interface is intuitive, and that it’s a useful system that will inspire them to be more ambitious in how they tackle RA. The website also has a form for people who want to contribute or have suggestions, and gives all our contact details. We’ll be glad to answer any questions.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.