The rise in WeDo revenues and fall in Subex revenues suggests that WeDo’s steady but sustainable strategy has landed them the top spot in terms of market share for revenue assurance and fraud management. Following on from my post about WeDo’s 8th annual worldwide user group (WWUG) meeting, now is a good time to reflect on WeDo’s strategy and the things I might do differently. What? Yes, I did just write that. I have often commented on what I like about WeDo’s products, marketing, and place in the world. Rather than reiterate what has been said before, and what is demonstrably working well for them, I want to spend a little time reviewing areas where I still sense room for improvement. I do this with two thoughts in mind. Firstly, decline is most obvious at the bottom of a curve, but it begins at the top of a curve. Just because WeDo has overtaken Subex as market leaders, that does not guarantee they will keep rising. There was a time when it seemed Subex had an unassailable position in the market, and would go from strength to strength. Secondly, great champions do not relax when they reach the top. On the contrary, becoming the world no.1 will spur the greatest champions to work harder, and accomplish more. With that in mind, and drawing on the experience of being deeply immersed in WeDo’s worldview during their user event, I wanted to share some thoughts on areas where I would like to see WeDo sharpening and refining their thinking, in order to consolidate their position as market leaders.
During the WWUG, there was one omission from WeDo’s self-promotion that surprised me. They did not discuss the ongoing implications of the distributed data gathering patent secured last year. It is unclear if this is because the technology is not ready for more high-profile promotion, or whether WeDo thinks the offering is not mainstream enough to interest most customers. I spoke with CTO João Resende after his presentation, and he talked about it as an additional and complementary source of assurance that would work alongside the more common reconciliation techniques at the heart of WeDo’s product. To my ears, this makes it sound like WeDo regard the offering as an extra sale that will only be pushed to high-end customers who had already adopted WeDo’s mainstream assurance functionality. To use an English expression, we might think of the use of this distributed data gathering as relevant to telcos who want a ‘belt and braces’ approach to assurance, where parallel techniques are used to give additional comfort. Of course, the problem with selling both belts and braces, is that very few people feel the need to wear both belt and braces at the same time. My gut instinct is that the correct pitch recognizes that an alternative assurance technique leads to a substitute product, not a complementary product. As such, the vendor should seek to maximize returns by selling braces to those people who dislike belts. This is better than suggesting that every customer should always buy the belt first, and only later consider the purchase of braces. And because WeDo has a patent, this is an area where they should be pushing their USP relative to rival vendors. However, I recognize that the target market for these ‘braces’ may differ from the current WWUG attendees. If I were working for WeDo, I would look very seriously at how to pitch assurance based on the distributed gathering of data from handsets. This could appeal to new kinds of customers who have less or no interest in monitoring the detail of what is happening between various OSS and BSS systems. A more open mind would help WeDo and new customers to move beyond the paradigms typically adopted in WeDo’s current customer base.
Another area where I respectfully disagree with WeDo, is with CEO Rui Paiva’s belief that employees of telco business assurance functions will transform into pathfinders inside other industries, such as utilities, banks and retail outfits. Whilst I like his optimism, I want to see a lot more enablers before anticipating the outcome. This includes WeDo playing an active role in making this kind of transition possible.
Transferring to jobs outside of the comms sector is perfectly possible, of course. I have been lucky to see an increase in the number of job offers that I receive from outside telecoms, though I have not been tempted by any so far. The reasons for my good fortune are clear. First, and most importantly, my last job title was Director of Risk Management at Qatar Telecom. There are many other businesses – anything from travel firms to soft drinks makers – who want good people to manage their risks. They are searching for the words ‘risk management’, not for the words ‘revenue assurance’, ‘business assurance’, or ‘fraud management’. Second, copying an old idea is fast, whilst selling a new idea is slow. The global sales push for risk management is now an old idea, copied from sector to sector because of a string of major corporate failures with high political visibility. The only thing which slows this progress is that the idea of risk management needs to be somewhat modified and reinvented, instead of just copied, when it jumps from one industry to another. In fact, telecoms is far behind some other sectors when it comes to adopting and adapting the global push of enterprise risk management (ERM). So telco employees should be under no illusion that they are already masters of risk management and that companies in other sectors are ignorantly waiting to be saved by their telco experience and expertise.
Unlike the global push for ERM, which has name recognition and has successfully penetrated many sectors already, the cross-sector selling of business assurance is only just beginning. WeDo is very well placed to show firms in other industries what can be learned from telecoms, and also to gain experience from adapting the concepts to Sonae’s non-telecoms businesses. But they are still starting with the difficult task of selling a new concept to businesses who have never heard of the idea before. And the history of business assurance shows the first steps are the slowest. Acceleration occurs as a tipping point is reached, after which there may be a headlong rush of adoption as a novel idea turns into common wisdom. In the early days of business assurance in other sectors, it will not be enough to assert that telcos do business assurance. Firms will want to know if rivals in their sector are doing business assurance, and they will be less likely to respond positively until one of those rivals makes a serious investment in this area.
Whilst it will be difficult for WeDo to take the lead, and they will surely like the support of telco staff who move in the same direction at the same time, it is necessary for software vendors to take the lead. The vendors have most motive to knock on new doors, sell ideas, and overcome scepticism. And the market leader has the greatest burden of all, whilst also suffering the risk that they open doors that merely allow others to rush in and seize the prize. It will be several years after the idea has been sold before adopting organizations will have translated and stabilized their commitment to business assurance through the employment of permanent and dedicated staff.
And I should not neglect a further complication. Whilst there may be some increase in the number of business assurance jobs in sectors outside of telecoms, I agree with Mike Willett’s observation that many non-telco businesses already do things which are similar to business assurance. The different names of the roles, and the differing detail of the tasks performed, may sometimes blind us to the fundamental overlaps in objectives and techniques. These roles may not benefit from the same coherent philosophy that tie together WeDo’s conception of enterprise business assurance, but they will not be simply ignored or overridden. For business assurance to take hold, there will be a stage where pre-existing assurance roles will need to be co-opted and adapted to work with the emerging business assurance positions. As such, I imagine that whilst there will be some migration of former telco employees into business assurance roles in other sectors, they will also compete with internal promotions within those companies, and with new recruits who are looking to join the bottom rung of the corporate ladder in freshly-created and low-paid roles.
In contrast to Rui’s optimism, I am pessimistic about the prospect of many well-paid jobs for experienced and senior business assurance managers with a background in telcos. Senior managers in other sectors will treat newcomers who do business assurance as having unproven worth. They will be suspicious of the motives of anyone wanting such a role. There will be a reluctance to gamble on creating expensive new positions which are not well understood, and where there is a lack of confidence that existing managers will know who to recruit or how to manage the people they have recruited.
We must also be realistic about how many individuals are really suited to moving between business sectors. I have been lucky enough to obtain an excellent professional qualification as a chartered accountant, and I have had first-hand experience of the internal workings of many other organizations outside of the world of telecoms. The first years of my professional career put me inside big businesses like banks, car manufacturers and power stations, and also inside small businesses like restaurants and travel agents. So when I approach the topic of risk management, I feel comfortable with taking the abstract principles and recognizing how differently they will be applied to different contexts. When I do risk management for a car manufacturer, I should think about their stock and their supply chains. When it comes to generating electricity, I should be aware of how politics and forecasts of energy reserves will influence the risks. And if I worked for manufacturers of soft drinks, I would be concentrating on proving the controls over what goes into the product and assuring the health of consumers. If I went into all three with a telco-like attitude that cost management or increased revenues stand out as priorities, I should rightly face some pushback from those who recognize that there are competing priorities.
Moving between the abstract principles and a fine level of detail is an important skill, and like any skill, it needs to be practiced. Many years ago, I wrote about the zoom, which is the ability to move between general and the specific, in order to manage knowledge whilst comprehending the interdependencies in any system. This skill is of increasing importance when businesses become more complicated, or when the individual is challenged to adapt to new environments. For this reason, I recommend that practitioners of telco business assurance take steps to enhance their career by seeing what other functions they can learn from, work with, and support, within their own telco. If someone is unwilling or unable to expand their reach within their existing company, we should be wary of transplanting them into a radically different environment. Without first developing the individual’s agility, the leap from a job which narrowly relates to the accuracy of the CDRs presented on a phone bill, to another narrowly-defined assurance role in a non-telecoms organization, is likely to be a leap too far. Such overreach can leave the individual stressed, underperforming, with very limited prospects of advancement, and in danger of failing. Whilst I would like to see other industries follow the lead of telecoms by developing their own variants of business assurance, and I would love to see my colleagues enjoying a rich and varied career by moving backwards and forwards between communications and other sectors, I am much more pessimistic than Rui about the speed and extent to which this will happen in practice. WeDo should not rely on a transfer of people from telcos to other businesses, though they may want to consider ways in which they could facilitate such a transfer.
Part two of these reflections will build upon these topics, whilst extending to other observations arising from the recent WWUG user group meeting. The post will be published next week.