Proposing a Hall of Fame (and Shame)

Like Popeye the Sailorman, I sometimes find myself saying “that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more”. Regular readers of talkRA will know what I am complaining about if I do the following…

1%… 2%… 5%… 10%… 20%…

Yeah, you know where I am going with this. We are talking about those infamous, ignoble and routinely abused ‘estimates’ of leakage. Step up Arindam Gosh, Head of Forensics at KPMG Bahrain and Qatar. (Head of Forensics? How forensic are these forensics?) Gosh told Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News that

“There is a greater need among utility companies such as power, water and telecommunications to ensure that leakages in terms of losses due to improper billing of transactions do not occur.”

“Losses are huge. Some of them cost up to 15pc to 20pc of the revenue.”

“In African countries it is 40pc to 45pc.”

Yeah. Right. Leakage in Africa is between 40% and 45%, according to a Senior Director of KPMG. At this point, all I can say is that I cannot exclude the possibility that Gosh was misquoted, but it is hard to imagine a defence of this prima facie nonsense. Throughout the article, when it comes to scary story exaggeration, Gosh is not just crossing the line. He sprints across the line with such vigour that Usain Bolt would be left eating his dust.

I know some readers prefer talkRA to stay clean and high-brow, but somebody needs to call out people like Gosh. I ask you seriously, are the reputations of real doctors enhanced, when a quack kills a patient? Are the reputations of real lawyers enhanced, when a shyster steals from his client? So whose reputation is hurt when people like Ghosh say things like this? It is not just his reputation that is hurt (assuming he has one). All our reputations are hurt by nonsense like this.

The term “revenue assurance professional” is used widely, but its use is premature. A real profession can punish the professionals that damage the profession’s reputation. They can fine them, or exclude them from the profession. But what can we do about guys like Ghosh? Maybe we should file a complaint with Papa Rob’s Global Revenue Assurance Professionals Association! And therein lies the heart of our problem, and why activities like revenue assurance are bound to suffer ever-sliding standards of behaviour unless we can start defining the outer limits of tolerable behaviour, and punishing those people who stray beyond them. How ironic that Papa Rob, the Grand Poobah of RA, is the first person who would need to be barred from the profession, because of his endlessly unethical behaviour.

I have a proposal. Awards are a joke. We have no genuine professional standards – at least not the kinds of standards that could be properly enforced. Nobody can be disbarred from claiming expertise in revenue assurance. But what if talkRA was to create a Hall of Fame, honouring the giants, and a Hall of Shame, naming the creeps? That way we could at least start acknowledging the differences between the good, the bad, and the really really ugly. But it could not work as a small effort by a few people. It would need genuine support. Not endless support – lines need to be drawn. It would need the support of the good, and must exclude the bad (and ugly). But the support must be broad enough to bestow legitimacy on the Hall of Fame (the kind of legitimacy that Papa Rob never troubled to get). It would require a corps of honest, honourable people to make it work. So here is my proposal for a Hall of Fame (and Shame). Five or six people form a committee, and take nominations for the Hall of Fame (and Shame). They agree a shortlist at the end of the year. The shortlist is sent to 100 reliable practitioners, all with proven CVs and established track records. The 100 practitioners vote whether to accept or reject each name on the shortlist. And then we have a little virtual ceremony (or maybe even a real-life ceremony?!) for the induction.

Plenty can go wrong with such a proposal. There might not be enough nominations of adequate calibre. People might argue about who or what deserves nomination. Providing reliable evidence to support a nomination will be tricky, and questions will be raised about how much the evidence is checked. Politics will likely creep in, with people pushing for recognition of their friends, their customers, their suppliers, their financial backers and themselves. Some will like the idea of a Hall of Fame, whilst disagreeing with having a Hall of Shame. For me, the hardest part is getting the 100 ‘electors’. If you just let people put themselves forward for that job, you will end up with half of them being the kind of self-promoting imbecile that belongs in the Hall of Shame. And it might all end up being a complicated chore with nobody motivated to keep the admin ticking over. Nevertheless, for all the obstacles, it might be worth the attempt. It would be one small step in the right direction, looking towards a future where we, as a real profession, can distinguish the limited number who are genuine professionals, and separate them from the gross gaggle of self-promoting loons.

Normally I do not finish a blog post by asking for comments. People are too darned lazy to leave comments. I know that. But for this proposal to work, we would need the corps of 100 electors who would need to vote on the Hall of Fame shortlist. So asking for comments is a quick way to engage enthusiasm, or the lack of it. And let me make the following observation. I would rather see electors who are decent hard-working folk, willing to engage in debate and leave a critique of this proposal at an early stage, than let the electors be dominated by big-titled buffoons with no real knowledge of the subject matter, no real interest in making this happen, and who will only rush to join the party at the last minute, because it might puff up their already inflated egos. So, I am asking you, stout-hearted yeomen and yoewomen who regularly read talkRA, to please comment now!

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 founding 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, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. 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.
  • Joseph Nderitu

    Eric, unfortunately I think I will offer few answers in this comment and I will likely add the questions.
    I think what you have put forward is a good idea on many fronts but we need to consider a few realities and how they will be tackled. Specifically I am interested in the Hall of Shame because I am also of the opinion that we have enough buggers undoing all the good that is done by conscientious RA people every day. To be fair this affects not just RA but a whole host of other areas where “consultants” daily feed people rubbish. Recall Vishwa Bandhu Gupta ( where he was talking about recovering conversations, after they happen, from the air – God bless his creative mind!
    Looking at the Hall of Shame, the drawback that comes to mind is that we have amongst ourselves (1) folks who are irredeemably shameless and so even when they make it into a list of infamy, they will still walk around peddling hogwash and bull-crap, if for no other reason, because that is their trade. (2) CSPs and other entities using the services and “expertise” of (1) and who either cannot (or do not take the time to) identify the rotten eggs amongst us and hence the individuals in (1) above remain in business and (3) even when we identify the folks in (1) above, we cannot do much about them. Compare that to cases where a real professional association exists – the consequences of making it into a list of shame are very clear e.g. a lawyer who is disbarred is pretty much not a lawyer any more. It is over for him.
    Therefore, I see the problem as two-fold. Identifying the Hall of Shame folks is the first step. Out there in the industry, there must be a way for these names to be known worldwide. The second challenge I foresee is making sure that the process of landing in the Hall of Shame must be so clear-cut that when somebody is stained to go into this Hall, pretty much everybody agrees that he is worthy of that infamous badge. The checks and balances in getting this art of condemnation right must be clear so that it never ever looks as if malice was at play or errors were made. I think I would ask for suggestions on the controls on how the whole thing will play out e.g. once I receive a nomination into Hall of Shame because of practices that I have engaged in, do I get a right of reply, what is the threshold of the evidence of my wrongdoing, the system hinges on the integrity of electors – what if we have characters in that electorate who rightly belong in the Hall of Shame (!) – how do we need them out, better yet how do we make sure they don’t go in, in the first place.

    I daresay that when I consider all this, I think what Eric has proposed is really a formation of a real RA professional association that is grounded in real expertise, has clear criteria for entry/dismissal and is anchored in proper governance structures.

  • @ Joseph, thanks for the feedback. It sounds like you and I are similar, in that the negative influence of the hall of shamers occupies our thoughts more than the positive influence of the would-be hall of famers.

    It is tedious to see how many ‘experts’ do nothing but repeat what they have read elsewhere. When one man’s lies get injected into the cycle, you find hundreds of people start bleating them as if they were recounting a scientifically proven truth. I think this is why we both feel the need for mechanisms that impede bad influences.

    I agree with your reasoning that draws you to concluding we need a real professional association for RA. However, the experience of GRAPA demonstrates what can go wrong if people overreach too soon. Papa Rob has made it very difficult for anyone to start a real association for professionals, by absorbing so much energy that would otherwise have gone into a professional body, and by setting such so low standards that it is inevitable that the hall of shamers will always flock to him, giving him a ‘lead’ in terms of numbers.

    Without a limited and proven ‘core’ of professionally-minded people who will demand/maintain high standards, then any association will immediately suffer from the problem you identified for the electors – some of the members should have been instantly redirected to the hall of shame. That leads me to think that maybe we would need to initially focus on the more positive hall of fame, and also to identify a role it could play in the future of professionalization. We need to start somewhere, which is why so much depends on the calibre of the people involved in the beginning. But we do need to start somewhere – we can’t elect the electors of the electors of the electors, and so on. So how about this as a thought – the initial focus would be on the first inductees to a hall of fame, as selected by 100 electors who were each vouched for by several other electors? Then as the hall of fame grows, we’ve started to assemble a body of people with the reputation and moral authority to start proposing how a real association would work.

  • Hi Guys,

    I thought this blog was already, in itself, a fantastic Wall of Shame & Fame…You’re bringing exposure to a lot of things going-on in the industry, good & bad.
    Making it personal is tricky though. Unless you work for a major software vendor, a big consulting company or an international group, the majority of RA professionals is certainly working in the confidentiality of their own local environments. You can be a RA superstar and not make a lot of noise, because the local company will rarely advertise about the million-dollar leak you just found for them, or the original controls that you put in place. If the Wall of Fame is about putting the spotlight on public faces, then the pool will be rather limited, I believe, and you’ve probably already done a great job at spoting most of them.
    In any case, having a place where you can put the spotlight on individual achievements is always a really interresting thing. It would become instantly a very valuable asset to have, so commercial pressure will also show-up instantly. Keeping a fair and independant view will be a challenge.
    A lot of people would keep an eye on the production of your group of talents. I’d certainly be interested and eager to follow it.

  • Hi Guys,

    I like the idea of a Hall of Shame, that would be easier to explain than a Hall of Fame, but both have potential weaknesses.

    In the example, the spokesperson is part of a larger organisation and will make statements based upon their research (or surveys) and have evidence to support the claims. The internal communications within that organisation means that cutting off one head does not address the problem. (And with the migration of individuals across the different consultancies and into positions of influence with Operators – means the myths are widely disseminated.) Hence the Hall of Shame needs to careful to remain credible.

    On the Hall of Fame, as Lionel suggested, the problem for the smaller consultancy is that we are subject to non-disclosure agreements so we cannot broadcast our successes. But the problem is even worse, in such a target rich environment, finding some leakage is never going to be a problem – so how do you demonstrate that your approach is more comprehensive and complete (can I use the word holistic).

    The problem as I see it, as a small consultancy, is that we have no means of competing against the marketing / selling clout of the big consultancy. So anything that can be done to raise doubts in the mind of potential clients in the claims makes sense.

    I will support a Hall of Fame and Shame – provided the rules are clear and are fairly applied.

  • @ Mark, thanks for your thoughtful comments. You’re absolutely right – the rules need to be clear and fairly applied. I’m conscious that means there has to be enough credible people supporting it, both to ensure the rules are fairly applied, and – equally important – to give confidence that the rules are fairly applied. I’m starting to think that the limitations of talkRA aren’t helpful to realizing this aspect of the goal. We need a vehicle that better helps to bring together the constituency needed to back this. I’m not sure what that vehicle looks like, but it probably doesn’t look like a blog with a comments feature. That said, I hope people keeping commenting in the meanwhile!

    Your observation about NDAs and proving the worth of actual projects is very well made. However, I might be tempted to be less ambitious. Even small consultancies have to market themselves (or maybe, small consultancies do relatively more marketing, because they cannot exploit a big brand). That often means giving away something to the public – usually the consultant’s intellectual property. And then along comes some big firms, they ruthlessly exploit the IP that has been made public, and they project themselves as leaders without even a nod to the small guys they exploit… so most beneficiaries of the IP have no idea who deserves the credit for it. I’m sure you’ve been familiar with this scenario more often than you’d like. So one mechanism for the Hall of Fame would just be to draw attention and give more reward to those who publicly share valuable material and insight. In that sense you could think of it as a way of amplifying the small guy’s marketing effort, and ensuring he gets credit for his marketing efforts, when those involving gifting valuable content to the whole RA community in a way that the rest of us wish to applaud. So I’d suggest we can focus on the work that has been made public, and avoid the onerous challenge of verifying what has been done commercially, by treating the award as recognition for a public contribution.

    As I write this, I’m mindful that the 5 dimensions of revenue assurance is exactly the kind of public thought leadership that would fit my suggested criteria.