How Risk and Assurance Functions Can Shine Like a Bolt

I have always enjoyed following the Olympic Games. They bring together people from all around the world to compete and to exhibit their sports. Also unusual games and unknown athletes find a spotlight. Sportsmen represent their nations rather than themselves; they are respectfully competing independent from religion, politics and ethnics which provides a valuable spirit for peacefully living together on this planet.

Bolt and the narrow spotlight

The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (pictured) got a lot of attention in Rio last month. No other athlete can electrify masses like Bolt. In fact, he is listed among Time magazine’s most influential people. There is a saying “the winner takes it all”. Indeed, Bolt won for the third time all possible gold medals in his disciplines thanks to his exceptional talent and determination. But Bolt did not really “take it all” alone: He wanted the audience in the stadium and around the world to cheer with him, he wanted the joy and the Olympic spirit to go viral. Having watched the 200m finals the flip side became obvious as well. The spotlight was not wide enough for his competitors; who really remembers the people who also ran? Many other unknown sportsmen got a spotlight in Rio as well but only famous figures seem to excite masses.

Support organizations can be invisible winners

In a corporate context, the company’s champions are perceived to be the people who generate new business, create customer solutions and sell the most. Support organizations are naturally not in the spotlight as they exist to perform back office work. Their contributions are expected to be invisible to the customer. Defective support organizations provide unwanted insights into broken processes and negatively impact customer satisfaction. They also slow down radical improvement initiatives such as transformation programs. Mature organizations proactively improve processes and accelerate integration and automation. Much of that important work is invisible but enhances customer experience. The customer is happy if the product works when needed, as expected, and the price feels fair.

Money and risk angle provides visibility

Risk and assurance functions in telcos such as Revenue Assurance and Fraud Management typically support their organizations across functional silos. They cover full process value chains such as Need-to-Order, Network-to-Bill and Order-to-Cash. They also provide important information to their organizations, creating end-to-end transparency. Customer support organizations benefit from the improved quality and efficiency promoted by risk and assurance teams. Common process and information governance improvement projects strengthen information sharing and serve as a valuable input for radical transformation programs. Best practice risk and assurance functions provide process visibility, risk ownership and intelligence about profitability. Such organizations measure and understand their contributions to customer satisfaction.

Becoming invisible helping hands

In our company we recently formed a new risk and assurance unit combining: governance, risk and compliance (GRC); revenue assurance; fraud management; and credit control. All sit within the CFO’s organization, enabling mission alignment across the extended Order-to-Cash value chain. Our emphasis is on money and risks along value chains and on proactively providing specialist input in changing environments.

Back in the old days, I sometimes used the Superman symbol to stress the value contribution of revenue assurance. Sometimes this was greeted with rolling eyes. In the present time we want to have a deeper impact on the health of our processes and contribute to growth and profitability. We want to become “invisible helping hands”. We are in a very good place to realize such goals as we are representing a network hub with specialists while steering the business from the perspective of money and risk.

How to shine without a spotlight

In a former article about finding the right place for revenue assurance I expressed my aspiration with the following words:

Assurance principles will be embedded in people’s thinking and acted on daily. To realize this goal, RA needs to repeatedly demonstrate that complex problems outside the traditional RA domain can also be solved sustainably.

Revenue assurance and fraud management organizations with low maturity try to catch the spotlight whenever they identify a revenue leakage or a major fraud incident within their traditional responsibility area by boasting about the value of the loss detected. Such self-praise makes RA managers look like kids on a football field, imitating the poses of stars like Ronaldo after they have scored a goal. Mature functions also identify and report leakages, but swiftly shift the focus towards recovery to save what can still be saved. They also steer the necessary process improvements to ensure that similar flaws will be avoided in the future. They don’t have to brag because they receive recognition from various stakeholders who understand the sustainable value of their contribution.

The rush to market

Business and product generation functions are exposed to market pressure. They are often forced to quickly release minimum viable products (MVPs) which will likely result in process shortcuts. This often leads to insufficient emphasis being placed on back office processes. Non-functioning products and unprofitable behavior may result from the poor control of complexity. The need for involvement of risk and assurance functions in such cycles is obvious but getting actively involved in such hasty development projects is not that easy when you represent a non-commercial function. Typically, risk and assurance functions are perceived not to take an interest in realizing opportunities.

How to become a helping hand in the product development cycle

Specialist expertise is generally welcome early in the product development process whereas idealistic process improvement and risk/assurance people have to wait outside. Complicated issues have to be quickly resolved by specialists. Not all product development efforts will succeed which demands a risk based approach for involvement. This means for risk and assurance function leaders to identify signs for the right moment to provide specialist support. Mature business control functions are well embedded in commercial management teams. They know what is in the pipeline and they usually have deep business case insights. The application of risk and assurance rules can be agreed with business control based on what products are likely to take off in the near future. An example of a triggered action in the RA is ensuring that all revenues will be recorded and added to the financial ledgers. Once the initial specialist tasks are completed, trust is established for further and more systematic support, for example towards ensuring that campaigns will turn into charged subscriptions.

“Provide it all” and shine like a Bolt!

Bolt is a star, Bolt is a brand, Bolt is a source of inspiration. He gives meaning to the lives of many. Risk and assurance functions are none of that. We are not in the spotlight and we should also not imitate Bolt or Ronaldo. Instead, we should increasingly focus on supporting our winners, the guys who create business, the guys who realize our customer’s needs, wishes and dreams. We can work in the background, identify and resolve complex problems early as “invisible helping hands”. When we have succeeded, we can share our lessons learned and help our organizations to strengthen process visibility, risk ownership and profitability intellect.

Go out where the changes are initiated, “provide it all” and shine like a Bolt!

Rene Felber
Rene Felber
Rene is Head of Risk & Assurance at Telia Company, Finland. He is responsible for managing GRC (governance, risk & compliance), fraud management, revenue assurance and credit control. He has also been the leader of the TM Forum’s global RA survey since 2014. Additionally, Rene is one of the driving forces behind the TM Forum’s new Business Assurance Initiative. In his co-lead role, Rene’s ambition is to help professionals in the Business Assurance area to acquire capabilities to master future challenges and to become proactive value drivers in their companies.

Rene has over 15 years of industry expertise and has spent 10 years in international consulting and auditing, with a background in GRC, RA and outsourcing/partner management. He received an outstanding contributor award from the TM Forum for thought leadership in his area.