It Is Not What You Know…

The inspiration for today’s post comes from “D” in Israel… someone who wisely prefers to remain anonymous. The latest press release from cVidya prompted D to observe:

“cVidya Networks finalizes a managed services project for a tier 1 operator in Asia. The project resulted in reduction of 90% in leakage within the first 3 months.”

If cVidya is so good and diligent and many other fine adjectives…and knows the amount of leakage the customer is experiencing, why stop at 90%…?

Good question! But I do not suppose we will ever hear the answer ;) To be fair to cVidya, the same comment can be made about their rivals too. The only way to know the total value of leakage for certain (and hence be able to calculate what percentage you have saved) would be to run perfect systems and processes end-to-end, and compare the results to those you get with the current imperfect systems and processes. Any differences in the results can then be assumed to be due to the errors and leakages in the imperfect systems and processes. But then, how would you know your ‘perfect’ systems and processes really are perfect, unless you compare them to another series of perfect systems and processes… and how do you know those systems and processes are perfect unless you compare them to perfect systems and processes… and so on….

Really, this problem is philosophical. It is about the boundaries of knowledge. Some things cannot be known with certainty, such as the total value of leakage and hence the percentage impact of something we do to reduce it. The problem comes down to what Donald Rumsfeld famously called the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. The history of revenue assurance shows us that leakage often lurks in the unknown unknowns, the areas that are not just lacking control, but where we did not even anticipate the need for control. More importantly, no matter how confident we are about the quality of our work, we should always be ready to believe that there may be some unknown unknowns – places outside the boundaries of your visibility where things go wrong that you have not anticipated. For example, I recently discovered a new kind of leakage – on my own bill of all places – that nobody will be systematically checking for. If you fail to appreciate the risk that there are unknown causes of leakage, you fail to understand why we need revenue assurance.

This problem about knowledge and certainty has a long history. Trying to attain perfect and certain knowledge about something by comparing it to something else leads to an infinite regression. This was recognized by Plato right at the start of western philosophy. Aristotle called it the Third Man Argument. They lived over 2000 years ago, and were very smart men. If they never found a satisfactory solution, and nobody has solved it in the meantime, I guess we can safely assume that nobody in revenue assurance will find an answer anytime soon. That means we should stop pretending to know what we do not know, no matter how inconvenient that may be.

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.