Fear and Loathing in Revenue Assurance

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.

Samuel Johnson

Scene: Long after everyone else has left the office, two men in ill-fitting suits continue to toil at their desks.

Muddlemir: (Points at his laptop screen) Have you read this?

Paragon: No.

Muddlemir: You don’t know what I’m talking about yet.

Paragon: I’ve not read it, either way.

Muddlemir: The world, as we know it, is losing 300 billion dollars every year.

Paragon: Madness. (Pause) Why?

Muddlemir: Because of telecoms fraud and billing errors. We shall have to do something about it.

Paragon: What?

Muddlemir: We must do what the screen says we should do. It says we need software. With software we can save 250 billion dollars of the 300 billion we would have lost otherwise. Every year, 250 billion dollars. Imagine that!

Paragon: How much is the software?

Muddlemir: How much? Why, it costs barely anything, not when compared to 250 billion dollars, you can be sure of that.

Paragon: How much less?

Muddlemir: So much less that there’s no point even calculating how much less, that’s how much less.

Paragon: I don’t know.

Muddlemir: What don’t you know? What’s not to know? It’s written here, on my screen!

Paragon: Can we trust your screen?

Muddlemir: My screen wouldn’t lie. Maybe your screen, but not my screen. Why would my screen lie? That’s what my screen is for, to tell me things. If you tell people things that aren’t so, then you’re not telling people anything. And if you’re not telling people anything, then there wouldn’t be anything to tell, and my screen would be blank. So if it’s here on my screen, it must be true.

Paragon: If what I said was on your screen, would that make it true?

Muddlemir: Of course it would.

Paragon sits on Muddlemir’s laptop. The screen snaps shut.

Muddlemir: Get off my computer! What are you doing?

Paragon: I’m on your screen. Let me think of something to say. I know! There’s a million dollars in my shoe!!

Muddlemir: Get your bum off my computer!

Paragon takes off his shoe. There is nothing inside.

Paragon: There’s nothing in my shoe.

Muddlemir: Was it the right shoe? You didn’t specify which shoe.

Paragon: Good point.

Paragon takes off his other shoe. There is nothing inside.

Paragon: Still nothing.

Muddlemir: You’re doing it wrong. You have to write the words on the screen, not speak the words whilst sitting on the screen. Here, let me show you.

Muddlemir reopens his laptop, and starts a new Word document. He writes the word ‘Report’ in bold letters, then underneath: ‘I report there is a million dollars in Paragon’s shoe’.

Paragon: Still nothing.

Muddlemir: Well, put your shoes back on. Your feet stink. Maybe the money will be there when you take your shoes off tonight, before you go to bed.

Paragon: (Smiles) Good. I’ll look then.

Muddlemir: Yes, just because you didn’t find something first time, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep looking, over and over, just to be sure.

Paragon: It would be mad not to.

Muddlemir: It would be mad not to. If you don’t look, you’ll miss all the times that there really are one million dollars hiding in your shoe.

Paragon: True.

Muddlemir: But come on, we have work to do. That 250 billion dollars won’t find itself either.

Paragon: What do we do?

Muddlemir: Buy software. The software finds the 250 billion dollars for us. It works like a metal detector. You know, like with treasure hunting. My cousin had a metal detector and he went looking for ancient Roman coins in his back garden.

Paragon: Did he find any?

Muddlemir: No. But that was because there were no ancient Roman coins in his back garden.

Paragon: Were there Greek coins?

Muddlemir: No.

Paragon: Were there Persian coins?

Muddlemir: No. You’re missing the point. There weren’t any coins in the back garden, just bottle tops and the ring pull from a drink can. But he went looking even though his screen said Roman coins had been found in someone else’s back garden. He should have looked in that garden instead. But this 250 billion dollars is everywhere, so it should be easy to find it, no matter where we look.

Paragon: So what do we do?

Muddlemir: We spend money. We have to spend money to save money. Every fool knows you have to spend money to save money.

Paragon: How much do we need?

Muddlemir: A million dollars should be enough, I think.

Paragon: But I don’t have a million dollars. Not yet.

Muddlemir: I know somebody who does.

Paragon: Who?

Muddlemir: The CFO. We’ll ask for the million dollars tonight, then give him 250 billion dollars tomorrow.

Paragon: Good plan.

Scene: The CFO is still in his office. Muddlemir knocks and enters. Paragon follows.

CFO: What do you two want? I’m busy and it’s late.

Muddlemir: We’ve come to give you 250 billion dollars.

Paragon: Less one million dollars.

Muddlemir: Less one million dollars. We’ve come to give you nearly 250 billion dollars. Or, at the very least, a big share of 250 billion dollars – guaranteed!!

CFO: And how do you intend to do that?

Muddlemir: It starts with you giving us one million dollars.

CFO: No. Go away.

Muddlemir: Please, this is very important. I wrote a report to explain.

Muddlemir hands over a one-page report he has written. It reads: “A report on fraud and billing error by Muddlemir, with help from Paragon. On my screen I read that another report, which I have not read, says people like us, me and Paragon, can make 250 billion dollars every year. And all we need to do is to stop fraud and billing errors by buying some software. The end.”

CFO: Where’s this other report, the one mentioned in this report?

Paragon: We don’t have it.

Muddlemir: We don’t have it because it costs one thousand dollars. If you give us one thousand dollars, we can buy the report and then give it to you.

CFO: I’m not giving you one thousand dollars.

Muddlemir: We can save the one thousand dollars, if you just give us one million dollars, and then we will save the 250 billion dollars.

Paragon: Less the one million dollars. And the one thousand dollars. 999 thousand dollars. Or one-million-and-one dollars. We can save them both.

Muddlemir: And we can save the 250 billion dollars. The savings keep going up.

CFO: I’m not giving you one million dollars.

Muddlemir: Perhaps we didn’t explain ourselves clearly enough. We want to engage executive support – that’s you – because executive support is vital to the saving of the 250 billion dollars. And then all we need is another one million dollars. And then we will save 250 billion, and we’re afraid we’ll lose the whole 300 billion unless you give us the one million, as soon as you can.

CFO: 300 billion? Where did the other 50 billion come from?

Muddlemir: That 50 billion is money we can’t save, though we don’t know why. We need to spend one thousand dollars on the report to find out why. But, like you wisely suggest, we don’t need to waste the thousand dollars, because we’re bound to lose the 50 billion dollars, no matter how hard we try.

CFO: You’re wasting my time.

Muddlemir: Please, sir. My screen told me all the reasons why you should be afraid of losing the 250 billion dollars, which is more important than the other 50 billion dollars. 7 times more important, per my risk-adjusted calculations. The reasons you should be afraid are: (1) Sarbonne-Oxbow-Lake-Emerson-and-Palmer regulations, (2) customer dissatisfaction, (3) the need to reduce waste, and (4) losing your job. That’s the most important reason why you should give us the one million dollars. We’re afraid you’ll lose your job if you don’t.

CFO: I’m not going to lose my job, though you might.

Muddlemir: Please, sir. Just one million dollars. One million dollars is so very small compared to 250 billion dollars.

CFO: Do you know what this year’s global revenues will be for, say, SMS? The global revenues across every single telco all over the whole planet, combined, for every single SMS message sent?

Muddlemir: No, I don’t.

Paragon: No.

CFO: It’s less than 250 billion dollars. So what are the chances that you found a way to make 250 billion dollars?

Muddlemir: Yes, sir, but I think you’re missing the important part of the story. If it wasn’t for all the fraud and billing errors, then the global SMS revenues would have been a lot higher. The revenues are currently so very low because so very much money is being lost all the time already.

CFO: 250 billion dollars a year is more than the national economies of most countries. Do you really think you found some software that is going to deliver more value than the GDP of Chile, or Israel, or the Czech Republic? Put it this way. To make that kind of extra money, you would have had to find a way to earn an extra 37 dollars per year for every single person on the planet. That’s like collecting a ten cent tax from every man, woman and child, every day of the year. And anyway, didn’t you promise me similar amounts, the last time I gave you capex?

Muddlemir: Yes, and we already saved those billions. But this is even more billions on top of the previous billions we saved, according to the report. It’s all explained in the report we didn’t buy with the thousand dollars we already saved you.

CFO: Why do I employ you again?

Muddlemir: Because we’re cheap.

CFO: Not cheap enough. I’m giving you both the boot.

Paragon: Oh good. Is there a million dollars in it?

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.