Don Reinhart has traveled a long way with LATRO Services, the business he helped to found. The avuncular American now runs the company from their base in Dubai, and he has overseen a transformation in their portfolio that has layered increasingly sophisticated data analytics on to the network signals intelligence that was LATRO’s original specialism. We spoke earlier this month, following the announcement that Don is the new Chief Executive Officer of LATRO.
Eric: Hello Don, congratulations on being appointed CEO of LATRO Services, and thanks for giving this interview. You are new to the role of CEO but hardly new to LATRO, having been one of the founders of the business. Since then you have served as Vice President, Chief Technical Officer and Chief Operating Officer. What is the biggest change that comes with your new position?
Don: Thank you, Eric. Yes, you are correct – our story at LATRO is not one of dramatic, tech start-up, overnight success. We have been delivering value to our clients for many years and working hard to build our business and market share. The biggest change reflected in my transition to the CEO role is our focus on advanced analytics. Over the past five years, we have figured out how to leverage new data sources from the telecom enterprise to more proactively combat fraud. Specifically, our investments and developments around signaling analytics have empowered our customers to take a major step forward in controlling simbox fraud. This has fueled our notable short-term growth and will allow us to expand into other RAFM use cases as we see 5G and IoT roll out globally.
LATRO’s offerings have evolved over time. In recent years you have positioned yourselves as suppliers of RAFM services and solutions, but it would be fair to say that the focus was solely on fraud before you successfully expanded into revenue assurance. Where do you see the market headed in future? Can you talk about new LATRO offerings on the horizon?
We built LATRO on fraud management, and specifically simbox bypass fraud control solutions. Many of our other competitors in this niche, and fraud management in general, grew out of carrier services or billing domains. We grew out of the network – technical domains. This means our approach to fraud management is flavored by our expertise in these areas. This has allowed us to innovate and disrupt in the FM market. It is a natural extension for us to do the same in RA. And as innovators, we are always looking to the horizon in order to solve existing problems in new ways or new problems in inventive ways.
A few years ago, I presented at the RAG Bahrain conference on the topic of device classification in 5G and IoT networks. It may not be surprising that the technology we use to proactively identify simbox devices – through a device classification approach driven by AI/ML analytics – has use cases extendible to the 5G/IoT sector as mobile operators grapple with understanding the wave of new devices authenticating and connecting to their next generation networks. So, you can say that LATRO’s horizon contains network-driven analytics capabilities aimed at supporting business intelligence and insight, much like today’s RAFM systems do.
Another aspect of LATRO’s services involves assisting law enforcement by analyzing the information collated by communications providers and using it to construct evidence relating to crimes. Do you expect to see growth in this area?
LATRO does have a specialized cellular forensics business in the US market. We help law enforcement as well as defense and prosecuting attorneys process, analyze, and present evidence related to data derived from mobile networks. Our domain knowledge as a company, largely driven by our global RAFM focus, is a strong enabler for this business, making it a valuable complementary, niche market for the company. While we see growth in the US market for cellular forensics, the international RAFM and analytics telecom market is our core focus and largest growth opportunity.
Some anti-fraud businesses are now placing more emphasis on network security. How do you perceive the relationship between preventing fraud and securing communications networks?
There are clearly overlap areas between RAFM and telecom network security, especially when it comes to technical fraud methods and risk management. We have seen industry associations converging these areas for several years, as well as other vendors building their product portfolios around network security offerings. AI/ML analytics also has a role to play in enabling security related activities and processes. At LATRO, we still believe RAFM and associated business intelligence functions require a focus and specialization that can be diluted by diving into other security specializations. Like any good RAFM professional, our team of industry experts will continue to learn and understand the security impact and implications to RAFM, but we believe strengthening our focus in the RAFM-specific solution space is how we will deliver value to our customers.
You have previously argued that fraud can be reduced to zero. Do you still believe that is true, or have the threats changed in a way that now makes that impossible?
I think we all can agree that fraud will never go away. And the telecom anti-fraud solution providers succeeding today are the ones who are able to empower their customer to adapt to changing tactics and methods. The bypass fraud case is a great example of this. You will notice that in many markets historically plagued by simbox enabled bypass fraud, the discussion today is now around off-net frauds like refiling and CLI manipulation. I believe this is largely due to the provision of effective controls like LATRO’s. We can point to several markets in Africa, Middle East, and Asia where mobile operators have provisioned our solution and now experience effectively zero simbox fraud. In these cases, we see the fraudsters changing their methods away from simbox fraud in an attempt to continue terminating bypass traffic through other means.
LATRO’s products include artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) capabilities but you’re not alone in being able to say that. One problem that customers have is that purchasing a product on the basis of AI/ML is a bit like buying a car because it has an engine. You know you want an engine, but what you really want to know is how powerful one engine is compared to other engines. What can you tell us about the power under LATRO’s hood?
Your analogy is an interesting one, Eric. I agree that the availability of AI/ML “engines” continues to grow. There are few if no communications service providers out there who fail to recognize the need to enable their business with AI/ML technology – so, they are out car shopping. Where the car analogy becomes problematic is around the focus on a powerful engine. The real gap we see, especially in the RAFM market, is the domain expertise and understanding needed to effectively apply AI/ML technology to business problems and process. At LATRO, we are taking an approach to AI/ML in RAFM that focuses on applying the tech to the unique nature of each telecom operator’s network, enterprise, services, and business. In this approach, we are able to leverage our combined experience and expertise in the RAFM and telecom domains to empower our customers to realize value from these systems.
Returning to your previous question, we have always been focused on solving problems to bring business value, and our approach to AI/ML is no different. In some cases, under the hood isn’t proprietary at all — we are leveraging the proven technologies available in the market in order to innovate within specific problem spaces. Later this quarter, we will be launching an analytics capability built on KNIME, the open-source analytics and reporting platform. It will combine a powerful RAFM reporting functionality with complementary network performance data to provide predictive indicators around revenue and traffic forecasts. In other cases, we develop proprietary algorithms and see this expertise as a key competitive advantage. We also hope to announce such an advancement on our signaling analytics capabilities, expanding the use case using some really unique AI/ML capabilities. In either case, our measure is how effectively we drive business value for our clients.
I know you are proud of the international team you have assembled. As an American who has lived for many years in the United Arab Emirates, has the pandemic added to the challenges of working across borders, or has it shown there are better ways of working than flying to and fro? Can you also comment on the geographic focus of LATRO and whether that might change as it did when you set up teams in the Middle East?
Yes, I am very proud of the diversity in backgrounds, experience, culture, and domain knowledge of our team. We thrive on the huge range of perspectives, talents, and skills across our globally positioned team. I am frequently asked how the pandemic impacted our teamwork flow and communications. In short, it didn’t. We had already adopted and were using remote collaboration technology years before 2020. I am thankful for this. Our team figured out how to extend that further with our customers as many of our projects implemented during 2020 and 2021 shifted to more remote cooperation. This wasn’t always smooth and did highlight the value of face-to-face personal communication and collaboration. I don’t think this will ever be replaced, and our team is waiting eagerly for some specific flights and countries to open up. But I think we learned how to find mutually efficient and productive ways to work with our partners and customers without defaulting to calling our friendly travel agents.
Given our focus on developing markets in Africa and Asia, Dubai has been a great location to build a business hub for LATRO. The pandemic has not really changed that, and we expect the Middle East region will continue to play an important geographic role in our ability to serve our core markets.
A lot of responsibility comes with being the CEO. What do anticipate will be the best part of the job?
As I mentioned, being a part of an internationally and culturally diverse team at LATRO is a highlight for me. Even more so, positioning and enabling others to achieve success in their roles – no matter where they may be located or call home – is one of the most satisfying aspects of leadership for me. As our long-time colleagues grow in their careers and achievements, it fuels a momentum for success that builds as we add more talent who recognize and embrace the values and culture of the team. It’s been an interesting experience for me to see the company grow, and I love to find out about business successes during internal meetings where I had no direct involvement. It’s personally exciting to see others achieve success within the environment and framework that was years in the making.
Thanks for the interview, Don, and good luck in your new role. I’m sure you will enjoy much more success in the years to come.