The talkRA Review of 2013

Another year over, and what have you done? John Lennon’s festive song reminds us that we participate in the world, as well as observing it. With that in mind, here is the talkRA recap of what our revenue assurance community did in 2013.

January

The year opened with a shocking headline, emphasizing the evolving fraud and security threats that come with smartphones. In China, a trojan was discovered to have infected over one million Android phones.

Meanwhile, Lee Scargall instigated the lunch time teasers – a recurring quiz that was an instant favourite with talkRA readers.

February

WeDo released version 7 of RAID, their business assurance software suite. With all-new features, a very snazzy interface and slick marketing, it heralded their determination to become market leader.

In contrast, MACH made the marketing boob of the year, pompously claiming to offer the ‘first’ cloud-based revenue assurance solution, despite being several years behind their competitors.

March

Unless Subex delivered a record fourth quarter, WeDo’s strong annual results looked set to place them number one, in terms of market share.

Dr. Giovane Moura of the University of Twente published a map of the internet’s bad neighbourhoods.

The US government agreed it was common sense to allow customers to unlock their phones without fear of being punished.

A month of good news was spoiled when floundering Israeli vendor cVidya once again exploited the TM Forum, using it to make dubious claims about their new ‘risk’ software. Since then, they have refused to answer any questions about how their product calculates risk. At the same time, Dr. Steffen Roehn, former CIO of Deutsche Telekom Group, joined cVidya’s board and said the firm was “poised for considerable growth”. (More on that later…)

April

A slip by BT Global publicly revealed their RA targets.

Jean Smith, beloved wife of David Smith and well-known amongst the RA community, sadly passed away. She will be remembered fondly.

May

Terrible financial results for Subex confirmed they had fallen behind WeDo, who became new leaders in market share. WeDo customers celebrated in style at the suitably impressive WWUG13 user group meeting.

June

Orange UK evidently saw no benefit in implementing a simple high usage report as a control to prevent fraud, bad debt and bill shock. A loyal customer of 15 years was aggressively chased for payment of a bill which was 500 times higher than normal. The reported cause of the fault was a buggy smartphone that continuously downloaded data, prompting even more questions about causes of leakage, customer confidence in billing, and weaknesses in their internal controls.

The world found out what only a privileged few had known before, starting with a leaked court order authorizing the United States’ National Security Agency to collect all CDRs from an American network.

July

The UK’s venerable Revenue Assurance Group, the oldest recurring meeting of RA professionals anywhere in the world, opened their doors to employees of overseas telcos, though they stopped short of paying the airfare to London. Another rule change had greater impact, as they stopped being exclusive to telco employees, allowing attendance by a much wider range of SMEs and other RA experts.

Undercover visits presented on national TV accused some phone companies of defrauding the US governments’ Lifeline program.

In a deal that represented wider trends, Etisalat Egypt purchased WeDo’s RAID RA software. It replaced the OneReview system supplied by Connectiva, the defunct Indian vendor.

Analysis of talkRA’s visitor data exposed Papa Rob Mattison, GRAPA President, as a regular reader. His favourite post is a 2009 classic entitled ‘Putting the Ass into Revenue Assurance‘. talkRA is also unexpectedly popular with employees working in cVidya’s head office, though their executives were deeply confused about where there head office is.

August

Subex’s management team negotiated the recapitalization of their business and launched a charm offensive, with CEO Surjeet Singh and COO Vinod Kumar actively publicizing their new business strategy. In summary, Subex will reorient around their core strengths, withdraw from offerings that are peripheral to their business model, and educate the market about new lines that they expect to drive future growth. Network asset assurance featured prominently amongst the latter.

The NSA spying scandal had a commercial impact, leading to the closure of two different services supplying secure email.

September

In another sign of wider trends, WeDo’s RAID software was used to assure the billing migration of Sky Brazil. cVidya subsequently coined the phrase ‘transformation assurance’.

October

Subex silenced talkRA’s previous criticisms, putting on a formidable conference for their users. Both their management team and their customers were palpably confident about the future.

November

cVidya ranked amongst Israel’s fastest 50 growing companies, measured over a 5-year period. However, piecing the data together, talkRA’s analysis of the cumulative 5-year growth ratios suggested that cVidya’s revenues fell 20% between 2011 and 2012, to approximately USD40mn. This prompted a creepy comment about transparency from someone using a proxy to hide their identity.

Ashwin Menon reported back from the Etisalat Group RAFM Forum in Sri Lanka. He lauded how Etisalat Group developed practices from the bottom up, and had captured their collective wisdom in a series of staff manuals.

talkRA joined forces with BillingViews. My first article for BillingViews covered the surge in billing complaints suffered by UK utility Npower, and what it tells us about the need to assure billing system migrations. It also covered the need to evaluate customer complaints when analysing the costs and benefits of assurance.

December

TEOCO, American vendors of assurance and analytics software, completed the acquisition of AIRCOM, specialists in RAN optimization. The deal highlights the strategic option of expanding the scope of data analytic software, shifting the focus away from the reactive checks in the back office, towards service improvement and revenue generation.

Update (19/12/13): WeDo and Zain Group prompt a late addition to this annual newsreel, announcing a deal where Zain’s revenue assurance teams in Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq will use WeDo’s RAID software.

Any beyond…

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Rather than being depressed about falling revenues and tough markets, we should recognize how they motivate the best people to do the best work. When the competition is fierce, the rewards and recognition go to those who earn them. Adversity is provoking innovation in our field. The result is an exciting variety of new products and services. The differing business strategies of WeDo, Subex and TEOCO are a good thing for business assurance, which is growing well beyond the historic remit of assuring revenues and detecting fraud. This evolution also gives rise to stimulating new job opportunities, for practitioners working within telcos, as well as their suppliers.

Stick-in-the-muds may struggle next year. Connectiva imploded in 2012 and I would not be surprised if another vendor ‘suddenly’ hits the rocks in 2014. Change is endemic to life; I say good riddance to anyone who is unwilling or unable to evolve. Some telco staff will face similar challenges, needing to relearn why they are employed and how they can add value for their employer. Some may regard 2013 as a grim year, because the low hanging fruit had all been stripped in previous seasons. I believe it has spurred business assurance to keep moving forward, exploring new territory. 2013 was one of the most exciting years in business assurance. As diverse strategies play out, the results will be fascinating to follow. We will build on past successes, instead of dwelling on them.

And thanks to our new relationship with BillingViews, the future is looking very bright for talkRA. The expanded remit and cross-fertilized audience should help us to move the talkRA project to the next stage in its evolution. In the 15 years since Alex Leslie founded the Global Billing Association, the way that professionals communicate with each other has changed greatly. When he launched BillingViews in 2009, there was still some residual scepticism that internet publishing would overturn older models. Now nobody can ignore the extinction of the dinosaurs of the business world. Those who developed most agility, who were most willing to experiment, are most likely to thrive. Alex Leslie and Tony Poulos of BillingViews have shown they are more than just survivors – they are pathfinders. We are looking forward to deepening our collaboration with them in 2014.

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 Director 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.