RAG Kansas: Business Assurance Breaks Barriers in North America

It was a beautiful, bright and sunny autumnal day in Overland Park at Sprint’s campus, host of the inaugural Risk & Assurance Group (RAG) conference in North America. The guests, attendees, speakers, panellists, sponsors and RAG committee members gathered in the Sprint conference facilities to meet, network, learn and discuss the challenges, changes and developments in telecoms risk management.

The ever cheerful RAG Chairman, Rob Chapman, welcomed all the attendees to the meeting, which was held over two packed days of presentations, expert panels and debates. RAG CEO Eric Priezkalns, wearing his signature red trousers, added to the bright and vivid morning, opening up the conference with the ‘RAG Formula’. The formula places its emphasis on the reasons to share, collaborate and discuss freely the challenges and experiences in the telecom risk industry. This ensures that RAG events aid the progression of telecoms risk management.

The first session of the day was an informative panel entitled ‘Automatic for the People’. Overseen by Eric, the panel was made up of experts from Sprint’s Revenue Assurance and Billing teams: Matt Reader, Jenny Schultz and Robert Keyser. Sprint discussed their experiences, challenges, lessons learned and future objectives and their work towards automation and proactive RA controls. This panel enlightened the audience to what Sprint had achieved to date and what they were looking to undertake moving forward. This included the correlation of revenue assurance and consumer satisfaction, which immediately instigated discussion within the conference room.

The Sprint panel was followed by John Brooks from Subex, who discussed the ‘Challenges Facing Device Lifecycle Management’. The ever-changing telecommunications industry will witness a proliferation of devices in the coming years; there are an estimated 23 billion connected devices this year. John opened up with some interesting thoughts on the topic of device management and the need to get full visibility of the inordinate number of devices that will be in circulation and to fully understand the related risks to the consumer and business.

After a coffee break, Todd Borchett from CenturyLink and Nikos Andrikogiannopoulos from Cartesian undertook a joint presentation on ‘The Power of Predictive Analysis’. They walked through their experiences of undertaking data analytics in CenturyLink, describing their experiences and the benefits that analytics can bring to the business. They also went through the operationalisation roadmap for such analytics and the impact on processes, resources and controls.

Before lunch, the panel ‘Is Revenue the Priority? Objectives for RA’ enjoyed great participation from two contrasting service providers: Taruna Ranjan of T-Mobile and Mohammad Sha’ad Hossenbaccus of Millicom. They were joined by Assaf Amrani of Amdocs, Steffen Öftring of SIGOS, and Geoff Ibbett, leader of RAG’s innovation program. The panel discussed the traditional remit of the RA department and its changing scope of work. Is “Revenue Assurance” still the correct name for such a department? Geoff Ibbett proposed that Revenue Assurance should evolve to Business Assurance, as today these teams do not just look at revenue but other aspects of the business including cost assurance, service assurance, enterprise risk, operational risk, fraud, reputation, and security. The entire panel agreed that the name will change in the coming years as the remit expands further. Such adaptation will also encourage RA teams to become more proactive.

After such an interesting and interactive discussion, it was an ideal time to take a break and continue conversations over lunch. This was also an opportunity to sit and chat and build new relationships, talk to friends, associates, old colleagues, customers and potential prospects.

Jim Bolzenius from WeDo Technologies started the afternoon session with a presentation on the ‘Emerging Telecom Trends and Fraud Risks’. Jim discussed the threats and challenges impacting the customer lifecycle. His presentation also talked about utilising and augmenting additional complementary technologies such as predictive models, biometrics and digital profiles to assist fraud detection.

Rob Chapman returned to the stage to discuss RAG’s online services including RAG Learning, RAG Jobs and the RAG/BIAAS Number Plan Management Partnership. Such offerings should not be taken lightly and every telco should look to take advantage of these great facilities.

My former colleague Adrian Harris discussed the ‘Practical Examples of Machine Learning in FMS’. His presentation described his own experiences in using third party complementary algorithms, solutions and techniques such as Oracle, and R, against traditional rule-based detection methods. His presentation described his personal experiences of building such models and the challenges he faced as well as the advantages of following his preferred approach to blending machine learning with a rules-based detection logic.

Atul Jain, CEO of TEOCO, provided light entertainment alongside some coaching during a session entitled ‘Achieving Breakthroughs by Thinking Differently’. Paul Davies of Symbox kindly volunteered to provide a light-hearted but personal scenario that Atul used as an example of how to overcome a problem by changing the way you think about it. The session certainly brought the audience together and encouraged discussion of alternative ways of thinking and solving problems. Atul’s main theme is that our beliefs are based on past experiences and these continue to influence our thinking and actions, which then reinforces our beliefs as we create a world that is likely to comply with our expectations. To be more successful, we need to reprogram ourselves. In the field of fraud and revenue assurance we definitely would benefit from some innovative thinking and new ways to address recurring problems.

Jacinthe Galpin, creator of the Risktory podcast, had the difficult task of following Atul, but did so with aplomb, giving the audience ‘A History of Telecom Compliance’. Her presentation provided an informative and visual view of how telecommunications regulation and compliance has changed and evolved across the globe in the past hundred years. Jacinthe successfully condensed this into thirty interesting minutes. So, what will happen next? Jacinthe predicts that governments will intervene when the following conditions are challenged: common carriage; interconnectedness; and scarcity. This left the audience with a topical debate that had to be continued later as time simply ran out.

The first day finished with an industry panel – ‘Security in an Evolving Business Context’ – moderated by Eric Priezkalns, and involving some leading individuals in the industry, including Dana Adams of TELUS, Krista Saarinen of Rogers, Simeon Coney of AdaptiveMobile, John Brooks, and Jacinthe Galpin. There were many discussion topics. Soundbites included how telecommunications are the conduit for criminal activities and the recognised role of security and risk to manage this. Security cannot be an afterthought as it affects consumer, brand and business and needs a proactive approach. Close alignment is needed between Security and Fraud teams. Legacy SS7 technology has recognised vulnerabilities and there are other legacy/old technologies that need decommissioning to ensure secure and reliable services. The telco to-do list goes on and on. The panel agreed that the financial and reputational risks of fraud and security issues need government support in the form of compliance obligations, to pressure the industry to protect the consumer. Sadly, with all the slots today, the panel simply ran out of time to continue the discussions and answer all the questions. But the sun was setting and we could stay here all night.

But not all things have to come to an end, the event continued at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, just down the road from the Sprint Campus, where attendees mingled, networked and continued discussions that had been instigated earlier in the day. As people slowly departed to their respective homes and hotels, we could look forward to a second great day of discussion and insights.

Note: I tried to keep this short and sweet, but with such an interesting day, it is hard to condense this into only a few succinct paragraphs. If RAG had any concerns about the success of the first event in North America, they did not need to worry, the event continued its ongoing success, building upon the recent Nairobi event.

Day Two

It was another beautiful bright day in Overland Park for day two of the inaugural Risk & Assurance Group event in North America. The attendees gathered yet again in the substantial Sprint conference room. The initial hesitancy of first introductions to unfamiliar faces had disappeared as people were deep in animated discussions with newly acquainted colleagues before the day’s packed agenda had even began.

The first keynote speaker to the podium, Eric Burger, the Chief Technology Officer at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), undertook an informative presentation entitled ‘Technology Risk and Compliance at the FCC’. This predominately focused on the challenge causing the most complaints from North American consumers: robocalling. Eric discussed possible technology solutions and the legal and regulatory work undertaken by the FCC to try to reduce this growing problem. Even though the FCC were making a statement, upholding a USD120mn fine levied against a man accused of making 96 million illegal robocalls, it was clear that the FCC believes success will demand a collaborative approach from consumer, vendor, service provider and regulator.

Robocalling, spoof-numbers, and wangiri were covered by the next panel discussion: ‘Robocalls, Spoofing and Traffic Nobody Wants’. This had one of the largest expert panels RAG has put together (pictured above), being made up of a good mix of service providers and vendors as well as Eric Burger, who simply moved from podium to stool. The panel was moderated by Warren Dumanski, VP Americas at TEOCO, who had a challenging job of facilitating the eight-strong panel that included Linda Vandeloop of AT&T, John Cunningham of Centurylink, Clint Breithaupt of Sprint, Paul Florack of TNS, Ethan Garr of TelTech, Jonjie Sena of Neustar and Alex Quilici of YouMail.

The panel was animated in their discussions of the challenges, opportunities, restrictions and future of this consumer plight. Although not your traditional telecom fraud, the impact on consumers of the scams and fake sales linked to spoofed number and robocalling such as wangiri fraud, credit card abuse, and account takeover cannot be taken lightly. YouMail estimate over 24 billion robocalls have been made this year alone in North America, impacting both consumer and network provider as well as causing a rather large headache for the regulator. The discussions indicated the problem could not be solved by one entity but requires a collaborative initiative.

James Garvert, VP of Product, and Jonjie Sena, Senior Director of Product Marketing from the events’ gold sponsor Neustar, then gave a joint presentation on ‘Addressing the Challenge of Identity’. This continued the theme of the morning: robocalling, call identification and trust indicators. It is clear that North America is facing a pandemic issue in call abuse and it is going to take concerted and collaborative effort from all facets of the telecoms industry to make any significant in-roads.

It was then my turn to get on stage and not just be a spectator; I moderated the fraud expert panel, ‘Trends in Fraud Management’. I had some great panellists to support the discussions including two well renowned Canadian fraud and security professionals, Krista Saarinen, Director of Fraud Management at Rogers and vice chair of the GSMA Fraud and Security Group, and Dana Adams, Director of Corporate Security Services at TELUS. They were joined by Philip Cannis from Oculeus and Christian Keil from start-up d.rect to provide a view from a vendor perspective. We avoided the topic of robocalling but did get stuck on the question: why are we still struggling to resolve the frauds that have been on the radar for so many years, including PBX, IRSF, and bypass? Collaboration was again a word that was used. There seems to be no one single silver bullet to eradicate these legacy frauds and that education and collaboration within the industry is critical for proactive resolution to some of these old issues.

Lunch allowed people another opportunity to mingle and of course without mouths full from the contents of the individual lunch boxes, ask those questions that could not be asked or answered due to time constraints from the morning sessions.

After an hour the attendees settled back into their chairs slightly heavier than they had been before. Steffen Öftring from SIGOS opened the penultimate afternoon session with a presentation on Active RA (and Hybrid RA) and the virtues of using test call generation to assure billing accuracy and provide revenue assurance, as well as the successful combination of a hybrid approach of using the more familiar RA products and solutions alongside active testing to improve revenue leakage detection.

Grant Merrill, Director of Revenue Assurance at CenturyLink presented ‘Analytics for Happier Customers’ and discussed how CenturyLink were leveraging analytics and automation within the business for increased revenue assurance management. This instigated a number of questions from the audience. I am sure we will all want to see how Grant’s initiatives progress in the coming months.

Paul Davies from Symbox enlightened us on ‘RAFM Measurement’ with the need for consistent management reporting, understanding of the relationships between metrics to build the right foundation to build standardisation, consistency and efficiency and how to map processes and automate. This is all critical for digital transformation and revenue assurance.

Geoff Ibbett updated the audience on his continued great work and the aspirations and the benefits that the RAG Revenue and Cost Risk Catalogue could bring to the industry. Of course, these things are also a collaborative approach (that word again) and to make this work, the need for contributors is essential.

And now after nearly 16 hours of interaction the event was nearing closure, but as with all RAG events, no two-day event finishes without a ‘Wise Heads’ panel to review the event’s talking points and learning takeaways. Peter Coulter, Member of the FIINA Executive Committee and Executive Director, Global Fraud Management, at AT&T joined the panel as well as Grant Merrill, Paul Davies, Adrian Harris, Geoff Ibbett and of course RAG CEO, Eric Priezkalns recapped on the event and the telecom risk industry. The conversation was sparky and unpredictable, and the audience remained as engaged as they were during the opening minutes of the conference during the previous day. As Eric pointed out, the Wise Heads makes everybody in the room a panellist, because there are so many contributions from the floor, with everybody feeling confident to speak amongst friends.

RAG Kansas was the inaugural North American conference for the Risk & Assurance Group, but the feedback was clear: RAG should return in the near future. Based on conversations amongst the participants there seems every reason to expect RAG to return to the continent in mid-2019. This shows the RAG model is working across the world, but also demonstrates the appetite and passion shown by those telcos who attended their first ever RAG. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and the hope and expectation is they will return for the next RAG conference in North America.

Luke Taylor
Luke Taylor
Luke is the founder of Risk Reward Awards, an association whose goal is to encourage recognition of the best work done by risk professionals. Previously he was the Group Chief Commercial Officer and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of a risk management software developer. Luke now divides his time between Risk Reward Awards, RAG and Lateral Alliances, his consultancy business where he works with the likes of Symmetry Solutions, XINTEC, GBSDTech, Yates Fraud Consulting and Focus Data, to name a few.