Frankenstein and RA Solutions – Closer than you think

Due to overwhelming demand to explain the statement “Frankenstein was most probably an RA vendor” (well, not really, but it helps with a little thing I call my ego), here is the follow up to the statement.

Some stories I have heard about RA practices and the gambit of RA are incredible. I have put together a choice selection for the perusal of TalkRA’s esteemed audience. What follows is a set of activities which are apparently being performed from the RA system:

a) Dealer Hierarchy Management (not assurance, actual hierarchy management)
b) Incentive Analysis (again, not assurance but actually recommending how incentives should be structured)
c) Margin Analysis & Accounting verifications (and poof, there goes the product & finance teams)
d) Be a parallel billing platform (as a redundancy, not completely in jest)
e) Make coffee for the analyst while playing “Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48: 4th movement, Finale by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky”

Now, anyone who has read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein would remember a turning point in the story where Dr. Frankenstein, after spending countless hours in morgues, suddenly unravels the mystery of what animates the organic mass which is the human body. Of course, like any scientist of questionable intentions (as all scientists in novels are required to be), he decides – “Hey, why don’t I collect and collate bits and pieces from deceased people and see if it can be brought to life”. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Do you, perceptive reader, see the parallel? What happens when RA is misunderstood to be a cover-all solution? What happens when RA goes beyond assurance and starts sitting within the core business chain of a Telecom Operator? What happens when a core RA team demands non-core functionality from an RA system? Where do we, as conscientious RA professionals, draw the line between true-blooded assurance activities and core systems monitoring, maintenance and redundancy generation?

From a parallel perspective, let me share what I have learnt about Internal Auditing. From a paper by Mr. P Sudhir Kumar, I have seen that it is important to not only highlight the “core roles” of a team, but it is also important to identify “legitimate roles with safeguards” as well as “non-core roles”. I am of the belief that this is a lacuna in the current RA atmosphere.


Frankenstein’s Monster turned out to be a creature in search of his true identity, and in its search, it made the life of its creator hell. By attempting to make an RA solution which is not focused on core assurance, the risk a vendor takes is trying to step outside their domain competency and of course, the risk to the telecom operator is a half-baked solution. If the vendor has the necessary breadth of knowledge in parallel product lines to support additional specialized functionality, then I suggest go right ahead. If not, then remember, the monster takes your name, as it happened to Frankenstein, and drags you down with it.

A simple recurrent phenomenon to demonstrate this fact is the Rating functionality within RA solutions. I personally recommend against my customers from walking down a full-blown, 100% re-rating + discounting + billing approach. There are various methods to intelligently sample rate-plans and ensure a cyclic (or periodic) coverage. Such methods can be performed either on a Subscriber sample basis, or a regional basis, or a rate plan set basis, or ad-hoc sampling basis etc. The advantages are numerous, but to list a few arguments in favor of sampling:

a) Do you really want to maintain 2 parallel rating systems? For true rating assurance, we should never copy the setup directly from the billing systems, for in this case we are merely replicating the error. We should ideally re-enter the rate plans in the parallel engine with an understanding established about what the marketing tariff plan means. This means that every rate plan which gets edited/added/deleted etc. on the billing platform needs to be maintained as such on the parallel engine as well, if we walk down the 100% re-rating and billing path.

b) Do you really want to replicate the hardware which has gone into your billing platform? RA systems will not magically reduce the rating & billing hardware to half. If you want full-scale re-rating and billing, the same amount (or marginally different amounts) of hardware would go into the RA system rating platform as well. Instead of using it for only rating, I would personally use it for future expansion areas as well as powerful record matching functionality on a bulk data basis. But hey, that’s just me ;)

Perhaps I am being contrary to popular belief, but RA vendors do genuinely have the customer’s best interests in mind. It definitely suits us to have happy customers. This is why I believe, personally of course, that instead of saying okay to every requirement; it is beneficial to understand if all checks and balances requested are truly required. The last thing any vendor wants is to let Frankenstein’s monster loose…or do they (insert sound of maniacal laughter, to the background of wolves howling and rolling thunder)…

Ashwin Menon
Ashwin Menon
Ashwin Menon is the Head of Product at Subex. He has also been a consultant and he began his foray into revenue assurance as an implementation on-site engineer.

3 Comments on "Frankenstein and RA Solutions – Closer than you think"

  1. Did you take my last comment to heart? ;) I asked for more, and after 1 post in 1 year, we get 2 posts in 2 days! :D Great stuff.

    Being serious for a moment, I think your post really gets to the heart of a real and ongoing problem. The problem relates establishing a consistent role for the Revenue Assurance department. People have long avoided resolving the consistencies between what one RA department does and what another RA department does. We can’t blame the vendors for this – it’s perfectly reasonable that they should sell whatever software they have to anyone who wants it, no matter what the customer’s job title is. So if an ‘RA’ manager buys a tool to analyse pricing, that’s not the vendor’s problem. Somebody in the business should be making proper decisions about whether the relevant responsibility sits with the nominal RA manager. But if two different telcos employ two different RA managers with two very different job specs, that does tend to create a headache in systematizing the work of RA and making the skills and techniques transferable between businesses.

    One way of looking at this is to ask the following question: is the job of RA a kind of audit, a kind of assurance, or a kind of miscellaneous problem-solving consulting? Auditors check what others do, but they don’t do what others do. Consultants may do what others do… with the idea being it gets handed over to somebody with a permanent ongoing ‘business as usual’ responsibility after a while. Assurance… erm… can be a bit vaguely in the middle. If it is just checking, then “assurance” means the same as “audit”. But many RA teams, quite rightly, don’t want to be pedantic and will also get involved in solving problems as well as finding them. But when does that stop? It can be hard to knowing when to stop, and to insist that a task is now the responsibility of somebody else – especially if the RA manager is getting increased headcount and budget precisely because his team is doing more things. This is a factor in why we see some RA departments do a very effective and comprehensive job with just 2 or 3 people, whilst other RA departments employ nearer to 100! In the small focused department they set strict limits to their work, whilst some of the largest RA departments are sprawling messes that do a lot of things that most of us would say are not the responsibility of RA.

    I like that you drew an analogy with Internal Audit’s view of risk management. The three-step categorization you show is very similar to the guidance of the Institute of Internal Auditors. Businesses sometimes get frustrated that Internal Auditors are so precise about what they can and cannot do. But it ultimately helps the business that Internal Auditors are so precise – it prevents a situation where the checkers are checking their own work. I’ve often argued that the purest form of RA checking could have been done by an IA function; the barriers relate to skills, history and culture, not the actual remit of IA. It’s just that Internal Auditors don’t tend to be trained or asked to do high-volume high-regularity and highly-routine automated or semi-automated inspection of data, looking for specific kinds of problems (and not caring about many others). Hence, we employ people with the relevant skills and tools and put them in an RA Department. But some Internal Auditors can and do have the relevant skills, and can and do use relevant automation – they just tend to be in a minority amongst Internal Auditors. Just look at the use of ACL. So perhaps RA Departments have always had some pressure to increase their differentiation from Internal Audit by emphasizing the things they can do but Internal Auditors would be reluctant to do. This might lead RA departments to take on more consulting-style work and even hands-on operational tasks than they should really refuse, because their team lacks the skills and experience to actually do it.

    I hear that cVidya are pushing more and more for risk management to be treated as an optional extra to RA – I’d rather stop working in telcos before I accept that nonsense. Show me the software that can reliably predict a ‘black swan’ event and I’ll apologize to them. As the idea is ludicrous, I’m more inclined to say cVidya should shut the hell up and stop confusing gullible people in RA who like to build empires without thinking through the consequences. So I’m glad to hear a vendor talking about the customer’s best interests. Let’s just say that not all vendors think alike. And knowing where your competence reaches its limits is also the mark of a true professional. Like Dirty Harry said: “a man’s got to know his limitations”. It is clear that professionals like Internal Auditors have a very keen sense of their limitations – and it is right that they should. RA professionals do best when they show an equal amount of discipline in deciding what they are competent to do, and what they should leave to others.

  2. Güera Romo Güera Romo | 28 Apr 2011 at 1:52 pm |

    I think the RA industry lacks the desire to leave things they cannot do to others. It is not in the general RA population’s interest to step away from something and that is precisely the reason we are not standardising and formalising our value contribution. We are trying to be a catch all service. That which goes wrong anywhere in the company, for whatever reason automatically becomes “an opportunity” for RA.

    I don’t agree with this mindset but I will acknowledge its contribution to the development of this industry. It then comes as no surprise that CSPs find alternative uses for existing system functionality. To my previous post, just because system capability is available does it mean RA automatically becomes responsible for it? If a CSP wants to do 100% re-rating, must RA do and monitor the re-rating? Why not the people who do the actual rating? Let them do it twice…to check themselves. They will soon find out they are duplicating their own effort and pay more attention when they do it the first time. But yes, I know CSPs which are keen to do 100% re-rating. I also know external auditors that suggested such horrors. Sampling and ad hoc monitoring just don’t seem to inspire the trust. Perhaps because we are not approaching sampling from a statistical perspective. I once made that mistake and was ridiculed by an engineer who pointed out my naivety in this regard. Afterwards I went “duh, why didn’t I connect those dots??” Fact is I was too busy killing other fires to engage the brain :(

    Vendors are there to make money and will sell what they can to whom they can. This is what keeps the RA industry going. I too get upset when I see new buzz words thrown in the mix. I remember reading an industry survey stating that “X% of CSP are NOT YET doing Collections Assurance”. This was weeks after I read about Collections Assurance for the first time”. Frankenstein? Sure we need frankenstein like solutions to cater for these horrors we are building in business. Do we blame a vendor for selling us the torture tools for out own souls? No. They walk into a haunted house. What do you expect them to sell you??

  3. Refreshing posts & comments.
    I have come across a few operators who are up to their necks with immense complexity of doing things they shouldn’t.

    Thanks TalkRA!

Comments are closed.