The conferences and meetings of the Risk & Assurance Group enjoy a special atmosphere which is hard to describe in words. The mood encourages an openness, a willingness to talk freely, a lack of shame when asking difficult questions, and the pleasure of sharing ideas and jokes with people who come from lots of different countries and companies but whose experiences have much in common. I like to call this the ‘RAG spirit’. Last week I wondered how the RAG spirit would translate to a new setting, as we headed to Deutsche Telekom’s headquarters in Bonn, Germany, for the first RAG conference held outside of the UK. Thanks to our magnificent and welcoming hosts, the camaraderie of the event exceeded our greatest expectations. But you do not have to rely on my subjective opinion; objective data confirms my impressions. RAG participants may ask questions by speaking from the floor, and they can also send them to our big screen by typing on their smartphone. The following tallies for questions submitted online will give you an idea of just how dynamic the audience interaction was.
- Tony Sani of MTN Group received most questions for any individual presentation, with 14 questions being asked by smartphone following his keynote about the importance of education for RAFM professionals.
- Just behind Tony were the presentations of Kostadin Taneski, who spoke about the RA risk model developed by A1 Telekom Austria, and Esad Mumdzic of Deutsche Telekom, who talked about using graphs to detect fraud. There were 13 online questions in response to each presentation.
- Panel debates often encourage even more questions than presentations, but I was amazed by the 23 questions received online during the discussion of RAFM shared service centers with Inguna Ievina of Tele2, Andy Mayo of Vodafone, Rahul Kanavi of TCS, and RAG’s own Lee Scargall.
- The 20 sessions that were run across the two days of the conference generated 165 online questions in total, an average of just over 8 questions per session.
And it is crucial to remember these numbers exclude all the questions posed by audience members who simply raised their hand and spoke aloud!
I could continue to list the excellent talks and panels, but I fear there is no fair way to cover them all. The agenda dealt with everything from the impact of the General Data Protection Regulation to why other industry bodies are wrong to ban discussion of OTT bypass, to the reasons why Optus’ RA team also assure the network fixed asset register, to methods for identifying forged signatures on contracts. Having been to conferences where not a single speaker had anything new to say, RAG Bonn was thrilling because every speaker had something new to teach the audience.
In hindsight, the only mistake we made was forgetting to take a group photo of all the many attendees! But then, we had no time for posed photos. There was too much content to go through, and no speaker was allowed sufficient time to answer every question put to them. I do not believe photos will be necessary for promoting any future RAG events in Germany; the recommendations of the attendees will give us a marketing advantage that other conference organizers can only dream of having. And it seems likely that RAG will return to Germany in future. If Deutsche Telekom Group can find space for us, we would be glad to collaborate with their team again. Customer Finance VP Roman Lukes was charming and generous. Keynote speaker and host Gjurgjica ‘Gina’ Pesheva surely deserves a bigger role in managing RAG as we go forward, if she is willing to take it. And Stefan Lueg was unfailingly considerate whilst planning for, and taking care of, every detail relating to the comfort of attendees. I was just glad that Stefan found time to listen to some of the talks between shepherding guests and booking restaurants!
Though most participants jetted home at the conference’s close, there was an air of satisfaction as a dozen long-standing RAG collaborators like Tony Poulos, Geoff Ibbett and Luke Taylor assembled at a nearby bar to bask in the remainder of the long Summer day whilst enjoying the local beer. An equal number of new friends joined us; I took that as a positive sign also. However, the relaxation of that evening was short-lived. By the next day it was already necessary to shift our focus to securing sponsors and speakers for RAG Johannesburg, scheduled for September 4th and 5th, and also planning the agenda for our next one-day meeting in London, which will take place on July 20th. New registrations were rolling in, along with questions about travel options and agendas.
Over 70 people have already booked to attend our conference at MTN’s Johannesburg offices, and the limited seats at our old venue in London mean that meeting is also likely to be full. It has been a long journey which has seen RAG transform from an informal get-together of UK operators that first met at Descartes House in 2004, to an association of telcos, consultants and vendors with intercontinental appeal. But this is no time for our RAG-ged crew of volunteers to relax. Our spirit drives us on. The momentum is with us, and with the support of telcos like Deutsche Telekom and MTN we will raise expectations for risk and assurance professionals worldwide. Come join us for the ride.