While working with a Commercial bank in South Africa and Namibia I tried to draw a comparison between revenue assurance in a telco environment and how I imagine it could be done in a banking environment. Take note of the reference to “tried” here. I have to warn the readers that engaging with a commercial bank to roll out new banking infrastructure in Africa during these financial times takes some doing. There was very little energy left to day dream about revenue assurance.
Limiting this observation to the process of product and system implementation, what is the difference between implementing Amdocs, Singl.eView and Flexcube? Not much except that Flexcube is implemented in the banking industry and not in a telco.
A headache for any RA team is tracking usage through unstable systems. Inevitably the finger pointing ensues between 2 departments without either taking accountability for system integrity. When the platform integrity was not assured during the implementation of the system, it is almost impossible to rectify this during production without at least several scars. The bank’s implementation of the core banking system was no different. It did however make me realise how often the Revenue Assurance Department picks up the accountability to ensure that system development staff is following Project management 101 principles.
I have yet to work for a telco that has the entire system architecture documented in enough detail to follow the basic flow of data. The bank experience again was no different. I did OD work for banks before but this was the first time I was involved in banking operations. As a novice it would have been nice to work through the operating model down to a functional architecture and then consider how the system architecture would support or enable the business objectives. Only a small number of people understood what I was trying to do and I was left again realising the huge gap between technology and human capability. The gap just widens.
Many organisations regardless of the industry are forced to do solution design in parallel. This is achieved by continuing work in isolation with the intention of integrating later. The designs are based on assumptions and generally high-level directives usually in the form of an MS Powerpoint slide presented to Exco. We build the solution from multiple points working in multiple directions and become confused when they don’t tie up. This again is not telco specific. Banks do it too.
Developing specialised functionality in-house
We are familiar with a few telcos which are forced to (or elect to) design and build their own telco systems, be they an RA automation / verification tool or strangely, a rating and billing engine. I am not a fundi of banking payment systems, but I felt the business architect’s pain when he wrestled with the concern of underlying functionality. Although he did not specifically mention complete and accurate billing, this is what he meant. I guess the term “complete and accurate” is telco specific lingo but the concern is industry independent. The sheer size and complexity of inter bank, inter country payment settlement would make me think twice before embarking on the in-house development of a payment settlement solution. The closest I could come to offer help was to suggest we get a system auditor in and that took some explaining.
Project management and communication
Coming back to project management, it is alarming to follow the demise of large programmes (and those chunky budgets gone) due to ineffective project and programme management. The Governance and Internal Audit guys make plentiful visits to check up on the health of the programme but somehow the message misses its audience or perhaps the audience has other realities simply not understood by reality-protected desk job executives…..executives meaning glorified middle management without subordinates.
Understanding your market and their appetite for certain products is vital to the costing and offering model. Similar to what we know as margin analysis, we would also look at the profitability of certain segments or go further to inform subscribers of more suitable packages to optimise their “bang for the buck”. Products working for one country may not necessarily work in another country and this is not a function of GDP or disposable income. There are nuances to what you sell, which can make or break the bottom line.
On the upside
The volume of customers and complexity of parameters per product do not come close to a telco I worked with so far. Yes, we do have the difference in the size of countries I am referring to here but still, once operational the speed and size of change do not require fulltime revenue assurance people onboard. The company involved has an awesome Fraud department with near real time monitoring of transactions. This knowledge and infrastructure can be replicated into Africa. You can also train a businessperson in the basics of banking without having to turn them into technical superbeings. It is one of the few companies where procedure manuals actual mean something.
As to how they ensure that service charges and interest are calculated correctly, the answer was “I am not sure”. It appears that the customer relationship management is adequate to know your assigned client accounts well enough to know if there is a problem on the account or not.
A famous quote in impoverished African countries is “Complaining with a white bread under the arm”. This refers to valuing or appreciating what you have. Here is an observation from the revenue assurance starved (moi). We often complain about working with telco execs that battle to grasp the basics of revenue assurance. We spend days dissecting their uninformed decisions and their inability to zoom in and out. When you are unfortunate in the nature of assignment the gods designed for you and you exchange the RA world for something else, you come to miss those dumb executive decisions. You try for a while to marvel in other’s experiences but somehow this is like trying to share a romantic meal for two with your parents. Value the opportunities you have and help to build this profession into something that other industries will want to copy.