GRAPA: A Sucker Born Every Minute?

“There’s a sucker born every minute” – Phineas T. Barnum

Okay, those of you familiar with my previous blogs know what I think of Papa Rob Mattison and Global Revenue Assurance Professional’s Association (GRAPA). For you, there is no need to read on unless you enjoy a good Mattison-bashing (I know many of you do). The rest of you should and must read on. It is the only way to hear the other side of the story, the side you will never hear from GRAPA, because GRAPA is not a democracy, and not a genuine professional association.

Papa Rob Mattison, the lifetime President and Grand Wizard of GRAPA, (also known as the owner of GRAPA and its related commercial enterprises) has written some new stuff on the “news” page of his new-look GRAPA site. It essentially says you should pay him (and/or other members of his family) for a certificate because GRAPA will really show you, as a person, how to do your revenue assurance job. It also says that GRAPA is not really in competition with the TMF because the TMF, unlike GRAPA, only works for its members and not for the industry as a whole. Also, Rob says the TMF only writes standards about computers and KPIs and has no advice about how people do their jobs. Is this true? No. But some suckers might believe it.

Here is a quick recap of the history of GRAPA so far. Papa Rob wakes up one morning and says to himself, “I have written lots of books on lots of topics, but I need more money. How shall I get it?” He decides to set up a website, calls it a professional association, and uses it to promote his training courses. He calls himself “President”. People who go on his training courses will get a ‘certificate’ endorsed by his professional association. Somehow, by a miracle not properly understood by anyone outside of the Mattison family, the syllabus of the training course they previously wrote is a perfect match to the certification requirements that the ‘industry’ (in the shape of GRAPA) independently decides. What a fortunate coincidence! Otherwise Papa Rob would find himself disagreeing with what the ‘industry’ thought or having to rewrite his training courses.

Lack of knowledge is not an obstacle to Papa Rob. He expresses views and writes books about many topics, claiming to be an expert at all of them. Ignorance certainly does not prevent Papa Rob from giving some insights about the TMF’s work on revenue assurance. Even though he admits he has no actual involvement with the TMF (although his consulting business does sell business advice about TMF standards) he is still prepared to give a detailed comparison between the work of GRAPA with that of the TMF’s RA team. There is only one problem: he does not know what the TMF’s RA team are working on. I am in the team, and even I find it hard to keep track unless I dial in to the regular team conference calls. The team’s material gets developed over many years by dedicated individuals (not some self-appointed President, not by people who sign up over the internet and instantly expect their first comment to become part of a professional standard). The TMF team’s material only gets released following a stringent multi-stage approval process. So if Papa Rob says that the TMF is only concerned with software and systems, you can trust him… to not know what he is talking about. By the way, I know that the TMF’s RA team works on plenty of other things. I spent four years, several of those whilst I was an employee of telcos, helping the team construct a self-assessment of revenue assurance maturity. The idea that the TMF is only interested in computer systems and KPIs is a lie, pure and simple.

On the GRAPA website, Papa Rob also shared a list of the companies that work in the TM Forum. His analysis concluded that, in the TMF, telcos have insufficient involvement. He got the list from the TMF’s website. Now, every so often [sigh] I moan to the TMF why they do not do a better job of updating their website, but I guess they are busy with other things – you know, things like actually building an industry consensus and running a real international organization and time-consuming stuff like that. According to Papa Rob, only one telco actually works with the TMF’s RA team. WRONG! That list is out of date. That list stems back to when the team was first formed in 2004. I should know, I was working for that telco and joined the TMF’s RA team when it first formed. Back then the comparable list of GRAPA members was… none, because GRAPA did not exist in 2004. So, in 2004, if the TMF had only one telco working on RA, it was still one more than GRAPA had. Since 2004, the TMF has added a lot more active telco members! But Papa Rob does not know that, because he has never been involved. Unfortunately, that does not stop him forming an opinion and sharing his (lack of) knowledge with the rest of the world.

This new ‘letter’ from Papa Rob is an example of his research. Is this the quality of research you would expect from a professional? If he makes unjustified and inaccurate claims about others, can you trust the rest of his research, and can you trust what he says about himself?

If you do not believe that the TMF has got more than one telco actively engaged, just look at what people are doing in the industry. My last blog was about an article written by Einar Nymoen of Telenor. I know Einar because we worked together on the revenue assurance maturity model. Einar eloquently explains how Telenor used the maturity self-appraisal and other TMF guidance to implement benchmarks across its international group. Was Telenor on the list of telcos mentioned by Rob? No! The reason is that Papa Rob used a list that is out of date. Do the benchmarks used by Telenor only relate to computer systems. No! The maturity appraisal alone covers all the aspects of revenue assurance: people, organization, process, tools and influence. So where does Papa Rob get his information from? If he wants to do some research about what is happening in revenue assurance, he should begin by reading talkRA – a site that gives real information away, for free, with no selling of certificates, and no need to register your email address and get spammed forever after.

According to Papa Rob, his information came from “several GRAPA members who also belong to the TMF”. Who are these people? Instead of seeing Papa Rob writing on the front page of GRAPA’s site, we should see what these people have to think. For example, perhaps these TMF members should explain how GRAPA managed to get industry consensus amongst so many telcos so quickly, when the TMF finds it hard and slow to get agreement? Is it because they have some special way to reach this consensus, or is it because their consensus is a sham?

Papa Rob is right about some things (gasps of amazement!) The TMF is slow. Being slow is sometimes the price for letting people have points of view and disagree with each other. The TMF is also poor at marketing its revenue assurance work. For the TMF, revenue assurance is part of something much, much bigger – a view of all telco processes and systems. I agree that the TMF has too few telcos actively involved in its RA program, but it has more active involvement than GRAPA will ever have. GRAPA, unlike the TMF, is fast. They market heavily on the internet and by email and can promote their work very quickly. They claim to have reached industry consensus on certification in less time than it would take a dozen people to agree the best way to make a cup of tea. They then do a deal with Papa Rob’s training company, which sells the training and certification on behalf of GRAPA – what a clever way to ensure GRAPA is “not for profit”! GRAPA is cheap, because they intend to make money from training and certification, so they cannot afford to wait years for people to actually reach agreement. GRAPA has lots of members, including people in telcos, if you measure the number of email addresses that get registered as users, but which never log on again. GRAPA has very few active telco members, if you look to see who is actually participating. I notice that the executive committee of telco members is no longer listed on GRAPA’s site. For years the website listed people in jobs who, when I asked them, said they never spoke with Papa Rob or anyone else on the so-called committee. What kind of committee is that? Some of them had changed their jobs, but kept on being listed under their old titles. That tells you what you need to know about GRAPA’s membership and how it is run.

Everybody around the world knows what a President is. The world saw what a new President looks like after the recent US election. The USA voted for a black President, Barack Obama, for the first time. In a real democracy, things can change. One of the founding fathers said this of the United States:

“Here, sir, the people govern; here they act by their immediate representatives” – Alexander Hamilton

GRAPA has a ‘President’ as well. Presidents are supposed to represent their members. So ask yourself, GRAPA members, did you vote for your President? When will you next get to vote on the President? If you, as a professional, disagree with Papa Rob, is your voice heard? Can you stand against him in an election? If the syllabus of his training course is wrong, can you get it changed? Or do you just pay your money for your certificate, and take what you are given from your masters, without having any voice, or any vote? Just how valuable is that certificate, if everyone else can buy it too? Are you a member, a sucker or a slave?

Alexander Hamilton was talking about a democracy that, 200 years later, selected a black man to be President. In a democracy, things can change. Men, once treated as slaves because of the colour of their skin, can become Presidents. So if you believe in GRAPA, and think it is a democracy, I encourage you to change it. Start asking questions. Start proposing your own changes to the syllabus. Ask why only Mattison’s training company is affiliated to GRAPA, and why other training companies are not welcome. Ask where the money from certification is going – they offer certificates in auditing after all, so why not audit them! Ask about the benefits you will receive when you are certified. Do not be slaves, or suckers. Be free men. People like me cannot change GRAPA from the outside, and I am not allowed to join. Yes, I tried to join GRAPA! I hate GRAPA, but I tried to join it, because you can only change things if you participate. But the family Mattison, who control GRAPA and decide everything for it, would not let me join their “industry consensus” party. In a democracy, there is freedom of speech. That is why I am not a member of GRAPA. GRAPA is not a democracy, and that needs to be said.

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.