Real Names for Real People

Abraham Lincoln once said

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”

On that basis I should probably shut up and also stop writing this blog. But the same principle applies to anyone making a comment on this site. I fully encourage people to make comments to anything I write, and I am happy to publish them all (excluding the adverts for viagra and the like, of course). There is only one condition. Identify yourself. Recently I have had quite a few genuine-looking but critical comments that I decided not to publish. They were from a person or people who decided to remain anonymous, using a series of fictional names and email addresses. Obviously, the point of collecting an email address for someone making a comment is so I can in some small way confirm their identity. So it is a shame, but those comments will not appear on this blog.

Football manager Brian Clough once explained how he handled players that disagree with him

“We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right”

You see, I have nothing to fear from publishing comments. I would not write something if I was afraid to take some criticism. So feel free to criticise. I will publish the comment and then pull it to pieces so everyone can understand why I was right all along ;) All I ask is that everyone keeps the debate open and honest, with no hiding behind disguises. In a democracy, everyone has a right to speak up, but I have no interest in encouraging people too scared to stand up for their point of view. After all, we are only debating revenue assurance here, not human rights or political intrigue. So there is no need for cloak and dagger tactics, whoever you are.

Here is the best example from the anonymous comments I received. It was from somebody calling themselves “RA Manager” with the email address RAManager@telecom.com. And what was their comment? That I was biased. I really wanted to publish this comment, because I thought long and hard about it. It was short but reasonably well argued and the author had obviously thought about it. But I especially wanted to publish it because I concluded it was wrong and was not afraid to pull it apart. It was not just wrong, it was silly. If anybody has taken a kamikaze approach to shooting his big mouth off and saying what he really thinks about revenue assurance, it is me. I have so many enemies as a result of my “say what I like, like what I say” policy that I sit with my back to the wall and only eat food prepared for myself. I spend more than half my life being an annoying pedant, constantly bemoaning the bias of others. I pull to pieces hyperbolic marketing claims and openly challenge what other people say. I spend hours writing this blog just so I can get on my soapbox and rant.

A regular reader will probably notice that most of the time I critique the only people who make really really good money from revenue assurance (and hence the only ones who might give me lots of money), the software vendors. I particularly loathe the idea that revenue assurance problems can be solved by chucking data into a big database and stirring it up. It is not enough to have data. You also need context, understanding, metadata, a framework for analysis – call it what you will. My usual complaint is that too many put a high dollar value on the bare mechanics of data but spend too little on the intelligence – by which I mean human intelligence – that performs useful analysis, determines what data is needed, and allows actions to be prioritised. I must have blogged and spoken about this problem a thousand times. I despise the common bias towards automation and data over human creativity and insight. The regular misconception is that data is valuable, hard to get and worth paying large sums for in order to generate valuable returns. In turn, human intellect and understanding is treated as cheap and easy to both acquire and replace. The philosopher Karl Popper referred to something similar as the “bucket theory of the mind”. He drew a head like a big bucket with data streaming in like water through the holes for ears, eyes, nose and mouth.

Karl Popper bucket head

The point Karl Popper was making is that this is a naive model for assimilating and using data. There has to be something else – some pre-existing but evolving theories and thoughts in the mind on how the world works and is structured – or that data would simply lie still, stagnant and flat like water. The same thing happens with revenue assurance when you implement systems to crunch data but do not employ people to think.

So I admit that once, just once, I blogged about how maybe raw processing power may change the dynamic in how to do revenue assurance. Think of it like an argument about who wins when a computer plays a person at chess. All I was saying was that if you make the computer capable of crunching more calculations in less time, it has a better chance of winning. If you can increase the processing power, it may make dumb brutish data crunching techniques relatively more effective for revenue assurance. In turn, human insight may become less valuable. But you still need both. This was in my blog about some amazing claims made for Netezza by Virgin Media. So how might I be biased? Well, my associates Guy Howie and Paul Daubney run a business called Pro-Optimis which has a relationship with Netezza. But here is why I think I am not biased:

  • Obviously I know about Netezza through Paul and Guy, but I only blogged on the strength of independent material in the public domain i.e. the press release including comments from Virgin Media and an upbeat article about Netezza from the notoriously cynical people at The Register (the same people who use a picture of a vulture for a logo and the motto “biting the hand that feeds IT”).
  • If my pals Paul and Guy win some work with Netezza I am happy for them, but I do not get a penny.
  • The whole point of setting up the team of associates was to openly acknowledge that we respect each other’s abilities but that we have different strengths and weaknesses. Different revenue assurance problems need different kinds of solution so the work goes to the person qualified to do the job, giving the best result for the customer, not the quickest buck for the supplier.
  • I impose my impossibly high standards on myself as well as everyone else, much to my own annoyance, but I refuse to let myself get away with anything because I am as stubborn as a mule.
  • People mostly pay me to do talking and writing and bossing others around, not to crunch data in databases or hack code. If I drum up trade for people who crunch data and hack code by arguing that might sometimes be more powerful than techniques I use then it will cost me money, not make me money.
  • Like most people, I desperately wanted Kasparov to beat Deep Blue.
  • If I generally thought computers were better than people at solving problems like those in RA, I would stop wasting my time writing this blog for people to read, and would start writing poker programs like these guys.

Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev was giving a secret speech to the top party members, denouncing his former boss Stalin and the use of torture, gulags and the rest. Somebody heckled “and where were you when all this was happening?”. Krushchev angrily demanded that the heckler stand up and identify himself. Nobody spoke up, and after a while Krushchev answered the unidentified person by saying

“Where was I? The same place you are now”

So that is my point of view, written by me, Eric Priezkalns, a human being, not a robot. I dare you, “RA Manager” and your other alter egos, to reveal your true identity or identities and come out of your corner fighting. Or are you going to continue to peck away at the keyboard like an anonymous chicken?

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.