RAG’s Inaugural Middle East Event Wows Bahrain

It was a glorious temperate day as the inaugural Risk & Assurance (RAG) Middle East conference kicked off at Batelco’s staff centre in Manama, Bahrain. Rob Chapman, Chairman of RAG, opened up this two-day event with his trademark eloquent demeanour. As delegates settled into their chairs, Eric Priezkalns, Chief Executive of RAG, highlighted and emphasised the objectives and aspirations of RAG to the 80+ attendees that had travelled to the event from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Russia. RAG’s formula includes sharing, seeking a win-win, moving forward relentlessly and the courage to be special, which Eric hoped would all be demonstrated in the coming two days.

Mustafa Ali, Head of Business Assurance at Batelco opened with the first keynote presentation, describing Batelco’s revenue assurance activities and aspirations. It was interesting to hear that in 2016 Batelco measured themselves against the TM Forum RA maturity model at 2.5 with just 35% controls in place. At the end of 2018 they achieved a score of 4.05 with aspirations to achieve 4.2 in 2019 and 4.5 in 2020 with 95% coverage of controls. Batelco highlighted that over 600 possible risks were identified within the business during their audit activities, reflecting the myriad of systems, processes, architectures and infrastructure. Mustafa explained the need to work with various vendors to produce best of breed solutions to resolve the business issues and achieve the aspiration of aligning to the TMF Maturity model. This initial presentation triggered what would be a continuous interaction between presenter and audience throughout the event.

Ferya Topal followed Mustafa on stage and proficiently described how Turkcell had upgraded their RA capabilities following Turkcell’s directive to be a ‘full digital operator’. The RA initiative was instigated two years ago with an objective for automation including robotics and machine learning. Ferya described the challenges and the need for the correct organisation and relevant education across the business for success. Again, the TM Forum maturity assessment model was mentioned and Ferya highlighted the objective this year to bring Turkcell up to the standard of 4.0 from 3.3 in 2017/18. To do this, activities have included a revenue assurance charter, a dedicated committee being formed, adjusted RA procedures and operating model, increasing RA awareness internally, and promotion throughout the business including regular interaction with other business lines. Ferya also explained the DevOps strategy to progress products and solutions that meet the needs of the business, combining software development with information technology operations, shortening the development life cycle while delivering features in alignment with Turkcell business objectives.

After many questions and discussion, Jacob Howell from TEOCO stepped on stage to discuss the need for business analytics to include machine learning to successfully handle the complexity and volume of data now available from the introduction of aspects like IoT. He highlighted the importance of subject matter/domain experts to create the validation data sets, stating from their own experiences that data preparation/collection is about 90% of the effort to deploy machine learning. This was the first discussion on machine learning and technologies such as robotics, a topic that would come up many times during the next two days.

Before breaking for lunch, Lee Scargall moderated a panel titled ‘Is Revenue the Priority? Objectives for RA’ (pictured above). The discussions were animated, with a panel that included Dr. Eman Gawish from Telecom Egypt, Anas Naser from Umniah, Wedo’s Carlos Marques and Subex’s Aswin Menon. There was much comment and opinion about where RA should sit and who should be responsible. The discussion could have gone on for much longer, but lunch was calling. And what a lunch it was! There was a beautiful spread of delightful local food. This fine lunch also gave delegates the opportunity to talk and hopefully build some new relationships with their peers.

After the delegates returned from lunch with full stomachs, it was an opportunity for Ashwin Menon to present the Subex product offering and the use of machine learning within their product portfolio. Ashwin provided some high-level use cases where such technologies have been utilised, including T-Mobile and BT to name a few.

Daniel Udochi, from MTN Sudan, a veteran risk professional, discussed risk culture and how attitude can improve the function of risk. Daniel discussed how risk should be perceived within a corporation. Attitude is a chosen state of mind and can be managed accordingly. He continued by examining the need for a balanced approach that aligns to the corporation’s long-term business strategy. It is the development of a mindset. Without the right mindset it is practically impossible to make an informed risk decision.

Daniel remained on stage to join Protiviti’s Sanjay Rajagopalan, Khalil Hasan from Batelco, and Lee Scargall who moderated the panel about the ‘New Methods for Enterprise Risk Management’. The panel discussions brought up many topics including the continuation of attitude, leadership, knowledge and understanding to drive risk management, the need for Chief Risk Officers, the scope of a CRO role, a possible centralised structure to RAFM, and the need for ERM to play more of a role in strategic planning of a corporation.

There was then a coffee break, after which delegates heard two product presentations from RAG sponsors iconectiv and SIGOS. John Haraburda told the audience about iconectiv’s proprietary global numbering intelligence databases to support risk management including fraud and RA. Adil Bertal presented the SIGOS product suite and the hybrid approach of active testing and analytics.

An expert panel discussion followed on the use of proactive testing for fraud and assurance, which Eric moderated with his usual inquisitive and direct approach. The panel included John Davies from BluGem and Adil from SIGOS. John opened up this interesting and informative discussion with an explanation of a possible testing methodology that could be undertaken with operators. It was a comprehensive and thorough explanation and description of the process that laid a great foundation for further discussions. One provocative question from the audience asked if TCG is an old technology and whether signalling would eventually replace them. This was met with both vendors saying that testing based on subscriber activity was very important and the expense of deploying the monitoring of the signalling layer may prove too costly.

The day ended with dinner beside the swimming pool at Batelco’s marvellous staff facilities to enjoy the pleasant evening climate and the amazing hospitality provided by Batelco. This gave an opportunity for delegates to mingle and continue discussions around the dinner table on the wide and varied topics raised during the day.

The sun was out again on the second day, which began with the topic of IoT. Don Reinhart from LATRO gave an explanatory presentation on the possible threats that IoT may pose to consumers, operators and regulators. Once again it was suggested that advanced analytics such as machine learning would be needed to manage the volume of data being generated.

Carlos Marques from WeDo continued the IoT theme in his presentation by highlighting the need to ascertain where the responsibility for risks, threats and possible frauds should sit within a business. This included the question of whether they should all be covered by the security function.

Alain Kazan, Head of Fraud at Zain Iraq, followed with a comprehensive and detailed presentation about deep learning and detection of fraud threats. Alain drilled down into the challenges faced and processes that need to be undertaken to utilise such technologies. He was busy again when he joined my expert panel on ‘Updating Fraud Prevention Strategies’, along with Jacob Howell, Lisa Meeks of Etisilat, and Michael Houis of Fraudbuster. The five of us energetically discussed current fraud challenges and the need to evolve prevention strategies. The conclusion of the panel was that there is no ‘silver bullet’ but we need to utilise all facets to improve detection including process, education, awareness, resource, skillset, collaboration and technology.

Another substantial lunch followed, before Mohamed Jaffar opened the final afternoon by explaining his own experiences and challenges with refiling at MTN Afghanistan. This presentation generated much interest from the audience and Mohamed continued on the topic of wholesale traffic by contributing to my next panel discussion on ‘Tackling Fraud in Wholesale Traffic’ where he was joined by Bryan Rowe from Six Degrees. Both professionals shared 40 minutes of great content and discussion on the thorny topic of wholesale fraud.

RAG Committee member Geoff Ibbett presented an update about the RAG Revenue and Cost Risk Catalogue. This gained interest from a number of individuals and operators wanting to contribute to this working document. A show of hands identified yet more volunteers willing to contribute their knowledge and experience to this great work.

The signature final panel discussion at all the RAG events is the ‘Wise Heads’ panel. This time Eric invited Lisa Meeks and Geoff Ibbett to the stage and requested the audience to put forward any questions they wanted them to discuss. The number of questions and suggestions were bountiful and the event closed with some positive suggestions about content and structure for future RAG events.

This event had a number of underlying topics and discussions that continually garnered conversation – the recognition and adaption of advanced technologies, the continued evolution of revenue assurance and fraud and the broader responsibilities/relationship with security, risk, compliance and enterprise risk. Other recurring themes included the question of whether revenue assurance should be renamed business assurance, and whether RAFM should fall under ERM or report to Security. The opinions and suggestions on these topics will continue to be discussed animatedly in the next RAG events to be held in Bonn and Toronto in June this year.

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.