The Review of 2014

In Auld Lang Syne, Scots poet Robert Burns poses a question: should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? The answer is no! So, old friends, new acquaintances and fellow travellers, let us remember who did what during the last 12 months of telecoms business assurance and risk management.

January

Keynote, makers of test equipment, purchased Meucci, specialists in detecting bypass fraud, for an disclosed price.

Public concern over surveillance prompted Vodafone’s Group Privacy Officer to openly challenge the legality of various government spying programs.

In a positive move, WeDo appointed Raul Mascarenhas as their new Vice President with responsibility for pushing business assurance to companies outside telecoms. In a less positive move, somebody from cVidya started trolling talkRA.

February

Law enforcement in Bangladesh arrested 44 people and seized USD128mn from telecoms fraudsters.

Mobile World Congress prompted lots of companies to make announcements. We understood the upgrades to the Lavastorm FMS and to the WeDo FMS, but were mystified by cVidya’s press release.

Mike Willett asked why I founded talkRA, so I told him.

March

WeDo’s annual results showed a 12% rise in revenues. Meanwhile, they sold their Praesidium consulting division to sister company Mainroad.

The annual Trendlabs security report highlighted the rapid spread of mobile malware.

A former GRAPA insider exclusively told talkRA that Papa Rob’s training organization had made staff redundant and was on the brink of collapse. GRAPA’s subsequent inactivity validated those suspicions.

April

cVidya turned Hadoop, the open source big data technology, into an enabler for their software.

BBC undercover cameras revealed London’s black market for stolen smartphones.

May

WeDo’s annual user event was successful, though there were hints that the format would need a major overhaul next year, to involve customers and targets from outside the telecoms sector. Despite this being their biggest conference yet, and despite taking on increased responsibility for sister companies within Sonae’s SSI division, WeDo CEO Rui Paiva still appeared incredibly relaxed.

Telstra Global and Subex received an innovation award from Global Telecoms Business, for their project to unify billing operations with a common implementation of Subex’s ROC partner settlement solution.

June

The annual results from Subex showed that the business is fundamentally sound and on an upward path, but still weighed down by debt.

The TM Forum published version 2 of the RA Maturity Model. I slammed it for asking biased questions.

July

Subex CEO Surjeet Singh exclusively talked to talkRA about his plans to turn Subex into a USD100mn turnover business within the next three years.

The UK Revenue Assurance Group extended its record as the longest-running meeting of telecoms RA professionals, anywhere in the world. Attendees of their Summer get-together celebrated the 10th anniversary of RAG with a slice of birthday cake!

American journalist Ryan Block called Comcast because he wanted to cancel his internet service. Comcast’s Customer Service Advisor had other ideas. Block taped the conversation; it took just two days for 4 million people to listen to their exchange.

August

Basset, the Swedish revenue management firm, was acquired by a Canadian software conglomerate for USD10mn. No mention was made of their business assurance offerings, raising questions about the prospects for other peripheral players in this market.

The ongoing farce of UK billing accuracy rules reached a nadir when the regulator scrapped the toughest accuracy measures in the world, whilst pretending this was necessary to make bills even more accurate than before.

Mara-Ison Connectiva underwent a rebrand that placed more emphasis on their analytics offerings.

September

Tony Poulos left his role with the TM Forum to become a market strategist for WeDo. Meanwhile, WeDo’s parent division, SSI, augmented their umbrella of risk offerings by strengthening their holding in security business S21sec.

Against the background of changing markets and evolving relationships between business assurance and disciplines like analytics and risk management, I asked talkRA readers what they expected from this website in future. The general conclusion was that they wanted more of the same!

October

In one of the most heavily-read posts of the year, an anonymous RA practitioner slammed the management team in his telco for being obsessed with inefficient short term leakage targets instead of making fundamental changes to prevent future losses.

Street protests forced the Hungarian government to suspend a new internet tax.

A poll of talkRA readers demonstrated a pronounced division between those practitioners who believe revenue assurance and fraud management should be in the same department, and those who insist they should be kept apart.

November

Vodafone withdrew a USD23k bill they issued to a victim of organized crime in Barcelona, after a lawyer intervened to argue such bills cannot be legally defended.

American politicians Barack Obama and Ted Cruz both said misleading things about net neutrality, making it sound like it is about technical standards or censorship or the speed of downloads, when mostly it is about who gets billed for the internet.

Subex held their annual user conference in Istanbul, and I went along to chair the event. The audience enjoyed it so much that we closed with an impromptu dance on stage!

December

Ghana’s government promised a crackdown on simbox fraud. The Communications Minister said this was to protect Ghanaian businesses from missing important calls because of misleading CLIs. Everyone else thought it was motivated by the government’s desire to collect more stealth tax from callers.

Despite the telecoms industry spending USD354bn on network capex in 2014, a survey conducted by the TMF’s Network Asset Management team found that 57% of telcos do not know which network assets are failing to meet financial targets.

By popular demand, Lee Scargall returned with a new lunch time teaser.

And beyond…

Telcos are changing. Assurance is changing. The market for assurance software is changing. We know that we must constantly live with change, but those changes can be hard to predict. For the first time, I feel totally unable to speculate what will happen in 2015.

To say we are at a tipping point would be too simplistic, as it implies foreknowledge of which way our markets might tip. We are balanced on the point of a needle; the industry will fall into new patterns of doing business, but nobody can be certain of the direction we will fall. The rising complexity of threats will force assurance to become more closely aligned to security, but it is unclear how this will be realized in practice, or if businesses are prepared to make the investment necessary to mitigate increased risk. The relationship between telcos and other businesses will alter, but whilst the paradigm for the telco business model is under strain, it is not clear which paradigms will succeed it. Big Data creates the potential to understand and think about business like never before, but that does not mean that human behaviours and decision-making will change to take advantage of it. Public concern about surveillance is on a collision course with the business imperative to accumulate and protect intellectual property, and nobody knows if governments will side with the interests of the public, with the interests of business, or only with the interests of the government itself. And the virtualization of networks will change the practical realities of assurance, but there is no settled opinion on whether it will affect its principles or priorities.

There is a Chinese saying: “better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man in times of war.” However, our most peaceful years are behind us. In 2015, I expect the battle for the future of communications to heat up considerably, waking the sleeping dogs and calling men to arms. People will dislike many of the changes to the industry, but we must face them.

One thing is certain. We will be giving talkRA a facelift, and revising the scope of its coverage to maintain its relevance. As our world gets more complicated, knowledge becomes even more valuable. We intend to continue providing a valuable service to communications professionals, giving them news and views they will find nowhere else, whilst making sure the service evolves to anticipate and support changing needs. To find out more, you had better stay tuned!

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.