Five Steps to Better RA Conferences

As a member of the organizing committee of the Revenue Assurance Group – affectionately known as the ‘RAG’ – I was thrilled to see a crowded room for our first meeting of 2015. Credit should go to Rob Chapman, RAG Chairman, whose hard work in reaching out to telcos, vendors and SMEs has driven the growth of this thrice-yearly London-based gathering. RAG is now in its 11th year, and is in excellent health. Everybody who attends knows this already, so today I want to communicate with those of you who have never had the chance to participate. I want to describe what the RAG is like, and then discuss five little things you should do, so you can also benefit from RAG.

RAG is a friendly, informal alternative to third-party conferences, but our Spring meeting proved we can attract an audience as large and as dynamic as you might find at any one-day event. There were people from 8 different telcos: BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Telefonica, Tesco Mobile, Three, Verizon, and Vodafone. Between them, they represent a large proportion of the British telecoms market. Hosts Cartesian were joined by a wide variety of vendors and consultants, including equipment manufacturers, software developers, senior managers from Big 4 firms and experienced freelancers. In the room we had the authors of two books on revenue assurance, the TMF’s RA accreditation course, and the very first RA benchmark survey. In addition, there were current and former directors and team leaders from the Communications Fraud Control Alliance, the GSMA Fraud and Security Group, and the TM Forum, plus a man who has managed the agenda for half of Europe’s BSS conferences since the turn of the century. So when I write that there was a lot of collective wisdom in the room, I really do mean there was a lot.

Whilst the RAG organizing committee keeps changing, to include new volunteers with fresh ideas, some of the people who attended the first few RAG meetings are still coming back, a decade later. RAG has always been supported by Cartesian, who provide the venue, lunch and refreshments. However, the longevity of this event has never been translated into a high profile. RAG is a quiet success. That is ironic, in some ways. At RAG, we often share stories about how to succeed in what we do, but RAG’s success story is rarely told. We cannot afford the kind of marketing that draws people to conventional conferences. However, RAG demonstrates that a low key event can attract a high quality of speaker, and higher levels of engagement from the audience. Part of the advantage that RAG has over more commercial events is in how the agenda is decided. The RAG committee invites speakers who can be relied upon to present interesting experiences and data. Participants are encouraged to discuss which topics should be covered in the following meeting. Quality drives our agenda, and never needs to be compromised. In turn, the quality of the agenda keeps drawing people back.

When discussing events, it is easy to focus on the agenda. RAG always has excellent speakers, but listing names and topics does not do justice to a key reason why people attend. Free-flowing conversation is one of RAG’s chief attractions (and it encourages many to linger in the bar afterwards). Rob’s chief problem as Chairman is keeping to the schedule, as there is so much dialogue during the breaks that it becomes hard to resume with the next speaker. Since joining the RAG committee, my simple calculation has been that more people leads to more conversation leads to more people. We should aspire to attract even more attendees willing to share an even more varied range of experiences.

As we reach the limit of what can be accomplished with a UK audience, I want to see more international representation at our meetings. For awareness of RAG to spread outside Britain, we must rely on you – enthusiastic professionals – to spread the word. I believe it is in your interests to do that. RAG helps people to learn and to network with one another. Crucially, because RAG is run at a lower cost to comparable events, that greatly influences how people interact. When vendors are forced to pay a small fortune to sponsor conferences, it is understandable that they must make sales to justify their expenditure. In contrast, the nature of RAG means there is neither a need nor tolerance for high-pressure sales techniques. Vendors and consultants can justify their attendance whilst taking a more relaxed attitude to how they share advice with the telcos in the room. The benefit for them shifts from pure sales to also gathering insights into what telcos are worried about and need help with. The emphasis is then placed where we really want it: on sharing knowledge.

Here are five steps I want you to take, so you can also gain some of the benefits of RAG, and increase your chances of attending a future event.

  1. Become a member of RAG. This should be a no-brainer. If you have a relevant job, anywhere in the world, then you are eligible to join for free. If you join, you will be notified of our meeting schedule and agendas, making it easier and more likely that you will be able to attend. In addition, membership gives you access to all the materials that are shared after each meeting, as made available through the members-only section of the RAG website. To join, email Rob at this address.
  2. Tell your bosses that RAG is an opportunity for cost-effective and high-quality education. Maybe your firm might need to budget for a flight to London – but with so many low-cost flights around Europe and North Africa, the potential catchment zone for RAG is large. And maybe you might need to budget for a night in a hotel. But when you think about what your business pays to send people to training courses and other events, then RAG represents great value for money. I believe the chief obstacle to the growth of RAG is that it is not advertised – and that means nobody is spending money just to fuel a massive marketing budget. So do not wait for someone else to market the benefits of RAG to your boss. If you want those benefits, you must educate your boss.
  3. Tell us if you want to come to our London meetings, but cannot. Maybe we pick inconvenient dates for meetings. Maybe we do not give enough notice. Maybe it would help if we added an extra day’s agenda to one of the RAG meetings. If there are simple things we can do to improve your chances of attending RAG in future, then let us know. As in all forms of assurance, we can only fix problems if we first identify problems. Tell us about obstacles to attendance, and we will try to remove them.
  4. Tell us if you want RAG to hold meetings somewhere else. This is the most ambitious step, but I believe it could work. RAG works brilliantly in London because we have a strong core of knowledgeable, experienced and passionate people who always attend. It makes sense to invite others to join us in London, to build upon that base. We should always maintain the existing meetings in London. But some people who already visit RAG have international roles and responsibilities. Some RAG speakers would be willing to talk elsewhere. If there are other places in the world where we could assemble a similarly passionate and knowledgeable group of people, then we could try to do that. I have spoken with people who said they would like to see a similar get-together in the Middle East, or the US, or Asia. But the way RAG is run, nobody is going to hire a fancy hotel and then hope we get some good people to come. We need to identify who would be interested, and where they are. So even if visiting London is impractical for you, then let us know if you like the idea of RAG. That gives us a chance to see where in the world it might be possible to run a similar event.
  5. If you agree with what we hope to achieve, then tell other people. Like I keep saying, we cannot afford advertising. The popularity of RAG depends on people recommending our meetings to their peers. So if you want meetings where you get to share ideas with colleagues in other businesses, then tell them what we are trying to do with RAG. Speak to your friends at the previous telco you worked at, and to your partners and suppliers. Send them a link to this article. Tell them how to get in touch with us. The more people who show an interest, the better the chances of success.

I know that I may be getting carried away with ambition, but if you never try, you never succeed. Speaking to people around the world, both those who regularly attend RAG and those who have never been, I believe there is plenty of interest in events where people can talk and share information more easily, because the costs were kept low and the sales pressure was reduced. I believe that there are people in telcos, vendors and consulting firms who all feel the same way about this. The difficulty is making it happen without anybody taking a huge risk or spending lots of money that they really should not need to spend. Sometimes the main barrier to accomplishing a goal is not instigating a conversation which might find practical solutions, because you decided it was not worth trying. If it takes a fool to ask stupid questions in the hope of discovering some unexpectedly good answers, then I am happy to be that fool.

Following the last RAG meeting I spoke with Bill Hill, one of Cartesian’s founders and their Senior Vice President for Business Development in EMEA. I told Bill that a few people had been unable to attend RAG because of last-minute illness, and if they had all arrived then we would have literally run out of chairs, and the space to put them. What was Bill’s reaction? He said that Cartesian had access to another building nearby, with a room that could accommodate more people. It was a beautiful illustration of the benefits that can flow from a friendly chat. RAG has successfully met in the same room, in the same London building, for 11 years, but that should not discourage us from talking about how we might do more. When conversations take place, people find ways to help each other.

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.