Life at BT (but not as we know it)

I spoke to the lawyers this morning. They gave me the confirmation I wanted: I can now tell you the truth about BT. The truth, in all its horrible glory. So come on, BT, I know you are reading this. If BT’s lawyers have got more, they had better bring it now. The story of BT’s flaws and foibles is long, and will take several weeks to tell, so I recommend they act quickly if they want to shut me up. BT have already tried to silence me several times, and they succeeded for a long while. BT then snubbed my offer of an amicable agreement to keep things quiet and minimize further harm either way. What is my conclusion? That BT wanted to hurt me, as much as they could. Now it is my turn. BT has given me no choice but to defend myself the only way I can: by going public with the truth – all of it. I can outflank BT if I just stick to telling the truth, because whatever they say, there is plenty more they would prefer to leave unsaid.

Here is a quick recap for anyone who missed the story so far. Geoff Hammond of BT got his buddies at cVidya to appoint him Chairman of some phony “World Revenue Assurance Forum”. That body has since disappeared without a trace, and in disgrace. You may remember the “World Revenue Assurance Forum” described itself as “for the operators and by the operators” and saw no contradiction that cVidya, a software vendor, were paying the bills and running every aspect of the organization. I pointed this out in a blog. Geoff got upset about the blog, and complained to BT about it, though the blog had nothing to do with his work at BT, or mine. BT pressured me to remove the post from the internet. I reluctantly agreed, having been told the issue would be resolved the next working day. This was a stupid mistake: the post had already been cached on Google, and ripping it down only made people much more curious. So I put it back, and rather than explain the situation to every individual who called, I blogged about it.

In that next blog, I made it plain I wanted nothing more to do with BT given their deplorable attitude to freedom of speech. It was intolerable to work for a business with such a lazy and careless attitude to the civil rights of its employees. Having spent two years building up the blog, and having never even been asked to remove a single post before, I had no interest in kowtowing to BT’s control freakery. That next working day at BT, I expected an almighty confrontation, and had my resignation letter in my pocket, and then… nothing happened. The whole day went by, much like normal. So much for BT’s promises to resolve the situation as soon as possible. So I wrote another blog about BT that night, saying how stupid they were, in this era of communications by all the people to all the people, to make a ham fisted bid to censor an employee and then fail to follow it up. And that was the blog that made BT really unhappy. It is funny how BT’s complacent attitude became much more focused when BT became the subject of public criticism. Oddly enough, BT stopped putting pressure on me to remove my posts from the internet – probably because once they involved their lawyers, they realized they had overstepped the mark by trying to censor me in the first place. They ignored my offer to leave amicably, and instead wasted a month on procedure designed to boot me out.

Thanks again to everyone who has been in touch over the last few months, offering me encouragement during the recent fiasco involving me and BT. Probably everybody at BT was hoping this would blow over, that I would roll over and say nothing, and their reputations would be preserved. How wrong they are. They damaged me, and now I intend to strike a blow for the truth, by telling you everything that happened. If you like, you can think of like it the Americans expelling a Russian diplomat and then the Russians expelling an American diplomat in revenge. The difference is that I really have nothing to lose from being transparent and honest, whilst BT wants to keep its problems under wraps. My customers expect advice they can rely upon. Getting fit for revenue assurance is like training to be physically fit – if the exercise is not hurting, it is not working. Nothing hurts more than the truth. Unfortunately for BT, the truth is something they find hard to deal with. The problem with BT does not stem from any concern about protecting its reputation with the rest of the world. Picking a needless and avoidable fight with a blogger would be an insane way to do that. BT’s problems stem from being unable to admit its problems to itself.

Did you ever see “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – the remake where Donald Sutherland was on the run from the aliens? Boy, that movie had a creepy ending. It still gives me chills. Click below to see it again (spoiler warning!). It is the perfect metaphor for my recent experience of BT…

I have been holding this back because I did not want it to cast a shadow over the launch of talkRA, and the excellent articles we have seen from the team of authors. But it is good to talk, and it is about time I talked about what happened between me and BT. Well, what happened was what I said would happen in my post of July 26. It just took a lot longer to happen. Back on July 26, I told you I was going to leave as soon as possible, unless they booted me out first. The next day I went to work, it was business as usual. Nobody mentioned the “brand damaging” blog posts. This had me confused. I found myself in a parallel universe where all was calm. Instead of arguing about freedom of speech and BT’s brand, I was expected to talk about revenue assurance strategy. It was like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. On the outside, everything was normal. The final conclusion was that BT, eventually, decided that they do not like people writing stuff about BT on blogs. Which is hypocritical, because they were happy enough to read the blog when it was about everybody else.

Yup, they were unhappy with my blog. This is the same blog where I have pointed out BT’s slip-ups several times before. The blog that still presents those old posts where I made fun of BT (for consistency’s sake, why not ask me to rip those down too?). The same blog I talked about when they saw me speaking at a conference. The same blog they joked about reading, commenting how much it must have annoyed some people, when they interviewed me. The same blog they have now booted me out for. If not writing the blog had been a condition of working at BT, I would never have started. A question for you to ponder: would you give a leopard a job, then discipline it for not changing its spots?

Flashback to the beginning: I was happy to go. I was expecting a prompt and simple conversation, and that both sides would agree to disagree. I had the resignation letter ready. Instead BT took a month to reach a decision about what to do. My notice period is a month. When did I write that resignation letter? A month ago. Do the math.

These are the symptoms of an organization with a dysfunctional culture. Nobody can see the wood because all the procedural trees keep getting in the way. Is it any wonder that a business with a communications policy that can be summarized as see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil finds it very difficult to locate the faults in their business? Luckily there is now a place where they can find out: here. The only downside for BT is that now everybody else will find out too.

The funny thing is, I offered to talk to BT about managing communications together. I offered to compromise, even though I wanted to leave. That was not good enough. So now BT has made no compromise with me about communications. Which suits me fine. Now I can write what I like, just as I did before. BT wanted to control, not to compromise. Freedom of speech is not free. It has a cost, and I just paid it. I would gladly pay it again. It is a small price to pay.

Where does that leave me? Probably up a gum tree without a paddle. Possibly unemployable. Certainly unchanged and unapologetic. You see, my agenda is painfully simple, but horribly painful when presented to an unwilling audience. Some of the RA world is also unwilling to hear it. However, there is also a segment of the RA world that thinks like I do, and they need to be represented in any “world forum” too. My agenda is straightforward: revenue assurance is not very good (a week in the award-winning BT is enough to prove that!). It will not get any better unless there is some room for debate and criticism. That is why absurd stunts like the World Revenue Assurance Forum deserve all the criticism I can throw at them. Only a jackass believes you create an open forum for debate by appointing yourself as ruler, then picking and choosing who gets to attend your regal court. Only a dictator then silences criticism in order to save face. We saw the attitude of WRAF and Geoff Hammond to criticism – a combination of disappearing act and procedural huff. I offered Geoff Hammond a right to reply. He dived for cover, and his website went under cover too. He cried to his boss, and to HR. Probably he cried to cVidya too. But today, though, the lies about steering committees and world forums are no longer being repeated. Good riddance to Emperor Hammond. His reign as Emperor of Revenue Assurance lasted only a few days, but that was still too long for my liking. As for you “black rock” commentators, bring it on! Where else would you get an equal opportunity to have your voice heard, if not here? Perhaps you should become bloggers on this site, if you think you have opinions worth sharing ;) Do you?

In the end, BT’s procedural flaws should not be confused with RA, and so do not belong on talkRA. I write this post as an epilogue, drawing a line under an incident that started out with the unscrupulous actions of a few people and their vain bid to exert control over the world of RA. My criticisms of BT are far from over, but as they no longer to relate to RA, I will set up another channel to convey them. Perhaps I should call that channel the “World Blogger’s Rights Forum” ;)

The ultimate irony is that BT booted me out for talking about BT policies and procedures, even though BT plainly did not follow them. However, demonstrating the seriousness of BT’s failure is now going to prove incredibly difficult. Those policies and procedures are not given in writing, and they are only accessible via BT’s corporate intranet, which I was barred from accessing at the time. Even worse, on the few occasions I did ask about policy, I was repeatedly given misinformation. I know there are plenty of good people working in BT who are reading this now. If you are worried about how I was treated, then do me and everyone else a favour – send me copies of BT’s policies and procedures for conduct, public communications, and anything else that would be relevant. Only then will I be able to point out all the differences between what BT says and what BT does.

Funnily enough, my lowest point at BT had nothing to do with any of this nonsense. I was sat on a conference call for BT Group’s RA steering committee, and somebody interjected about best practice in revenue assurance. He started quoting chunks of something he had read about – a little thing called the RA Maturity Model. He was quoting what I had written. I was on the call. I wrote it and gave it to the TMF. It has taken four years of miserable slog to get the maturity model to where it is today. cVidya gave it to their customer to impress them, like they give it to everyone. BT’s staff then recant it to their bosses to impress them. I was sat on the call, seeing those years flash before my eyes. This was possibly the most depressing experience I have ever had in my career. It sums up why I cannot take BT and Geoff Hammond seriously when they aspire to be thought leaders in revenue assurance (and why I grow tired of cVidya’s obsession with linking their name to everything that comes out of the TMF’s RA team).

Before you can lead, you have to think for yourself. You cannot cut straight to the part where you get appointed Emperor, and skip the part where you do the work needed to justify the title. If you want to lead, you have to be able to speak for yourself, and not go into hiding at the first sign of criticism, nor mindlessly repeat the words of others. Leaders have a sense of direction. They do not just wait to see where everyone else is going, then rush to place themselves at the front. In the film, the bodysnatchers took over the bodies of people and switched off their brains. They started small, but systematically dismantled any resistance, until they had succeeded in taking over the whole world. Be warned. The revenue assurance bodysnatchers are out there. And they might be coming for you next…

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.