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.