So many issues, so few solutions

I have been pondering on what defines the success of an RA team. No doubt, a revenue assurance team that executes a well-informed risk-based program of controls will uncover areas of leakages or confirm the absence of the same, hence give comfort as to the wellbeing of revenue streams. The question is: when they do uncover issues, does the work stop there? Of course not, the value of knowing an issue is in deciding whether to pursue resolution (by considering such things as the cost-effectiveness of fixing it) and …eventually closing it. If it remains open, one could argue the knowledge of the issue is in itself not so important. So what happens when RA identifies more and more issues and collectively, the company keeps on closing less and less issues.

The fact is, the rest of the business is quite busy (ahem, even if they are just busy strengthening the walls of the silos that they work within) and that is precisely why RA folks are more than identifiers of issues. They need to go beyond saying what is going wrong, to engaging in fruitful discussions that lead to change. And, they must innovatively find ways to make that change sustainable so that one day, we shall not need RA folks. What is the value of a revenue assurance issue list that spans 10 pages and is just a litany of continuing leakages? To be fair, the status cannot be blamed on RA team alone but any CEO who presides over a company in which known issues of leakage remain open either has no regard for shareholders or no regard for work done by his RA team (perhaps because they lost credibility along the way?). Well, I am not aware of any company that has gone down because of leakages not being addressed but one has to wonder why we would run a company that knows money is being lost but does nothing about it.

It is possible that resolution of some issues is just not possible (at least for some time) and the business has to live with it. If so, this needs to be a conscious call and whether RA will continue to track the leakages from such continuing “known” issues is a call to be taken.

But how do we drive the rest of the business to close issues? I submit that a less-than-optimal closure rate may just be a symptom of underlying problems. Sometimes there is too much in-fighting and folks in technical departments, for example, always getting into problems for every RA report that is issued. It is difficult to justify why a CSP is losing money because some engineer somewhere incorrectly configured a system. So the RA manager who points out such errors in configurations always seems to be the snitch that gets everybody else in problems and every time he does a better job, more people get into problems.  Over time, resistance sets in.  I think it should be possible for RA team to do a better job (uncover even more issue) and at the same time have less and less people getting into problems.

Apart from identifying issues, RA teams might do well to be partners-in-solutioning and skew the final communication towards celebrating closure. This by no means amounts to glossing over issues (whatever is open must still be highlighted, adequately quantified and given enough attention). The point is to ensure that people are motivated by closure of issues as they work on remaining ones as opposed to getting whipped. This is better done by ensuring that upon identification of whatever issue, proper consultation on the causes, impacts and possible solutions is done and this needs to be done in conjunction with the people who stand to lose the most, when the news of leakage go out.  Leakages are embarrassing and nobody wants to be responsible for any and that is why discussion should be forward-looking but also back-ward looking to ensure that we don’t suffer lose the lessons of history. When this happens, then more time is spent on identifying the best solution in an atmosphere of positive engagement.

I realize that ultimately, partnering in solutions is dependent on organizational culture though. There are companies/teams where problems (not just leakages) are an avenue for teamwork and an attitude of “let’s summarily kill off this, issue, as we always do”. In other settings, problems are a welcome excuse to hang some people. But even in the latter scenario, RA has a role, in my view, to foster collaboration in resolution of issues and that is why RA practitioners need to be, first and foremost, people who have good interpersonal skills.

Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu is a consultant who specializes in revenue assurance. He was previously an internal audit manager with responsibility that covered Airtel Africa's 17 countries, where he led reviews of the Revenue Assurance, Customer Service and Sales & Marketing functions. Prior to his stint at Airtel, he was an RA manager at Safaricom in Kenya. He holds an MSc Degree in Information Systems.

In addition to looking for better ways to do revenue assurance, Joseph spends his spare time finding new ways of eating the hole in the doughnut.