Sometimes I wonder why I get invited to conferences. Everybody can read what I think at this website, so who wants to hear me speak in person? Maybe they want to ask a question – though they could do that over the internet too. Or maybe they are just hoping to be entertained whilst I make a fool of myself in public. That is guaranteed, in a sense. This year WeDo asked me to talk about “the future of revenue assurance and fraud management” even though I am no more gifted at predicting the future than anyone else. I am sure many of the opinions I expressed will be proven wrong, though I find consolation in observing some other people’s opinions are probably wrong too. On the other hand, perhaps the truly foolish approach is not to have any opinion in response to questions like these. If you have no view on what is around the corner, how can you possibly prepare for it?
Most of learning is concerned with preparing ourselves for the future in one way or another; no amount of education can improve the past. As I am interested in the future of revenue assurance and fraud management it makes sense for me to attend the WeDo User Group & Summit, even if the price I pay is going on stage and acting the fool in front of an audience. It is a small price to pay in order to network with over 400 attendees from 55 telcos and quite a few other businesses too, and hence learn what they are doing to manage their risks, and how they plan to assure their operations in future. And as WeDo are guaranteed to throw a great party in the evening, and I always make a fool of myself on the dance floor anyway, I really had nothing to lose.
WeDo has consolidated their position as RAFM market leaders in recent years, and at their Lisbon conference you could feel the confidence that comes from being on home territory and occupying a winning position in their field. Take a look at the following picture if you do not believe me. It shows WeDo CEO Rui Paiva walking to the stage before his presentation.
At this moment, Rui is about to address the largest single group of customers he is likely to see this year. His bosses – the people who run the parent companies of WeDo – are also in the audience. But does he look nervous? Does he look like a man who is worried about dissatisfied customers asking him awkward questions? Nope. He looks relaxed. And this was no one-off lucky shot by the photographer. Later that day he was sat in the front row whilst I was talking on stage, so I benefited from an unusual perspective compared to most of the audience. So when I say Rui was ‘sat’ in the front row, you have to imagine how somebody sits when at the front row of the cinema enjoying a movie, or sitting on their couch at home whilst watching their TV. Rui’s legs were stretched out in front of him, and he was slouched so low that he was almost horizontal. All he needed was a bottle of beer in one hand and a bowl of popcorn in his lap and he would have fitted the stereotype of a man without a care in the world. And that says more about WeDo’s confidence than anything I could ever write.
Although WeDo exude self-belief, this is also a tricky transitional period for them. They are the market leaders in telecoms, and they repeatedly said they wanted to be the leaders of not just RAFM as a whole, but to be leaders in the separate areas of revenue assurance (where their sales are already greatest) and in fraud management (where they seek to aggressively overtake Subex). However, the very nature of their event reflected the transition they are going through, and makes it hard for me to write a comprehensive report. Much of the proceedings were split into two streams: one for telcos, one for other industries. Many of the product demonstrations were targeted at industries that I am not familiar with. Whilst the bulk of the audience came from telcos, and they represent most of WeDo’s revenues, there is no point comparing the potential of WeDo inside telecoms with the potential if WeDo can gain significant traction in other industries too. Clearly WeDo could be a much bigger, more successful business if they could gain the kind of penetration into fields like retail and healthcare that they currently enjoy in telecoms.
Although my interest continues to lie with telecoms, I would truly be a fool if I ignored the possibility of a future where telcos stop being seen as the pioneers of RAFM, and start lagging behind other sectors. And whilst that is not likely to happen soon, we must conscious that WeDo’s battle for market share in other sectors is really a battle of ideas: they will be selling concepts like revenue assurance just as many of us had to sell the concept of revenue assurance to telcos who had never done it before.
One of the least predictable elements of the future is the extent to which risk and assurance techniques that were developed for and by telcos will take hold in other industries, and the extent to which the people who currently work in telcos will be carried along or inspired by the interaction with other sectors. WeDo’s sales outside of telecoms will be a metric for the cross-fertilization of our methods to other sectors. We might learn from other sectors in turn, and we might get jobs from different kinds of employers, but only if we avoid the separation currently manifest in the organization of this event. I saw hardly any talks from speakers outside telecoms, and that was because I mostly sat in the room where the telecoms speakers were presenting. There are good reasons for the separation; I would not expect WeDo’s non-telco customers to be as mature in adopting some of the risk and assurance techniques that have become widespread in telcos and are embedded in the functionality of WeDo’s software. However, we must be conscious of the divide between telcos and WeDo’s other customers, which will sometimes hinder education for people on both sides of the wall.
Because of the nature of WeDo’s event I saw less than half of the presentations, and I will not pretend to provide a comprehensive review. However, I will state that the talk I most enjoyed was given by a speaker from outside the world of telecoms. Tammy Taylor is the Director of the Revenue Cycle for the Methodist Hospital of Henderson in Kentucky, USA, and she spoke to a combined audience on the Friday morning of the conference. I had previously read about the extent to which hospital systems were vulnerable to hackers, but it was thought-provoking to hear Tammy’s account of the time when her hospital was held ransom by trojan software which locked down the hospital’s systems. Tammy explained not just the technological issues, but just as importantly she recounted what had happened on a human level – and so identified where staff training had failed to deliver the desired result. Tammy also talked through the way they approached the difficult decision of whether to pay the ransom or not. Though a hospital is not a telco, there was much of relevance to anyone facing the threat of criminal exploitation of the networked systems that their organization depends upon. I hope that Tammy’s talk sets a precedent for more non-telco speakers to address the full WeDo audience in future years.
There were many other good talks, so please forgive that I will only pick one more to highlight. I was particularly impressed by the fraud management panel assembled by WeDo. The panel consisted of: Chris Walters, who manages fraud for Consolidated Communications in the USA and is the incoming President of the CFCA; Jim Bolzenius, WeDo’s Senior Director of Business Development who boasts a long career in fraud management including a decade at Verizon Wireless; and Mark Broom, who oversees fraud at Orange Group and is Chair of the GSMA’s Fraud and Security Group. What I really liked about this panel is that it consisted of three highly-experienced heavy-hitters who were equally comfortable when talking about detailed specifics or abstract principles. They also benefited by interacting with each other, helping listeners to engage with the subject matter. I found that their conversation provided the most useful educational experience at the event, and I have the impression that plenty of the audience shared my opinion.
My belief is that WeDo must not just lead their market but should also seek to conquer it, by linking the success of their automated products to the empowerment of the human components of RAFM – in other words, by helping and supporting the people who work for the telcos who use and purchase WeDo’s solutions. The quality of their fraud panel was a good example of how they could set about that task. There are various kinds of organizations that can provide differing degrees of advice and education, and some of them were represented on the panel. I also have an interest in education, as a committee member for the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), and I took the opportunity to plug our next conference when I was on stage. But we should not be coy about where much of the funding for education must come from, especially when it comes to the kind of education that will lead the market and promote research and development of risk and assurance techniques. WeDo were the platinum sponsors of the CFCA/FIINA meeting held in Lisbon immediately before their user conference. WeDo will be the platinum sponsors of the RAG Summer Conference. They also run their own events, and the Lisbon summit attracted over 50 telcos who listened to speakers who were also proven educators. Whilst WeDo will always find it important to promote their products and entertain their customers, this year’s fraud panel demonstrates how their own events can also be used to play an important role in supplying education and exerting influence beyond their user base.
I believe the role of educator will be increasingly important to WeDo if they want to drive further sales inside telcos, and to promote sales outside of telecoms. There are some new ideas for how to tackle revenue assurance, but they are not being repeated widely enough. Some of those ideas are reflected in WeDo’s product roadmap, but I cannot talk about that for commercial reasons. Nevertheless selling a product also means selling the idea of why the customer needs that product. If you cannot sell new ideas, you cannot sell new products. The risk to vendors is that they get stuck on selling minor improvements to existing products. For WeDo’s sake, and for the sake of everybody engaged in risk and assurance, we need to set our sights high and keep selling new ideas for how we accomplish our goals.
Whilst WeDo is reaching out to relevant telecoms organizations, as exemplified by some of the guests on their fraud panel, they may be confronted with a sparsity of organizations in a position to teach the equivalent of RAFM to other sectors. It is in WeDo’s interest to develop a pan-industry syllabus for the methods of risk management and assurance, and I encourage them to partner with not only their customers but also with other educators and evangelists in order to realize the common goal of a more extensive universe of risk management built upon the automated analysis of data. I believe we in telecoms have valuable experiences which can be taught to others. What we lack is the school where we can share our knowledge. WeDo can play an important role in constructing the school hall.
One of the analogies I used in my talk was to refer to the difference between articulating the scientific principles of a communications satellite and possessing all the tools, materials, skills, techniques and technologies needed to put a working comms satellite in orbit. Those of us engaged in telecoms RAFM are ahead of the game; we can imagine a more extensive deployment of risk and assurance, but we do not have all the components necessary to realize our goals in practice. In order to succeed we must harness the maximum extent of resources and use them to pursue a common vision. That means embracing the risk and assurance challenges faced by businesses outside of telecoms. We must also work cooperatively in the knowledge that different people will solve different parts of our collective puzzle. We might think of WeDo as the makers and sellers of booster rockets; they are invested in our collective project and want to see it succeed. But the rocket is worthless if there is nothing to launch into space. Their solutions ultimately serve as a platform that help human beings to run their companies and make the best possible business decisions. We all need to work together on every step of a combined initiative, covering everything from the metaphorical development of the photovoltaic cells that will power our satellites to the training of our mission controllers.
As much as I enjoy yakking about education, perhaps the best known reason to attend WeDo’s user conference is the quality of the entertainment and party that WeDo put on for their guests. This year was no exception, and there was enjoyment to be had at both the start and end of the day. Patrick Dixon, author of The Future of Almost Everything, gave us a spirited morning session. Dixon leapt to and from the stage as he bombarded us with facts, stats and insights about the way our world is changing. But perhaps the spirit of WeDo was best represented by the band they selected for our evening spectacle. Seated in the grand courtyard of a former convent, WeDo’s guests were regaled by a riotous mix of rock songs played by the house band from WeDo’s Brazilian office (pictured). WeDo may need to give the band members a pay rise or risk having some music mogul sign them to a contract. Or else WeDo may go the other way, and decide to help the band sell their songs online, via various friendly telco connections. The crowd flocked to the dance floor, enjoying both the band and the DJ who came afterwards. As a consequence many an experienced RAFM professional enjoyed a lot more exercise that night than they probably gained by visiting the hotel gym. The following photograph gives a good idea of what the dance floor looked like, well past the hour of midnight…
So there is the photographic proof that I did make a fool of myself on the dance floor, just as predicted, though at least I was joined by plenty of respected professionals who should also know better. And probably my talk contained several outrageous, absurd and provocative observations that the audience disagreed with, though I was thankful to a fellow Yorkshireman in the audience who agreed that people from our part of the world are known for ‘saying what we like, and liking what we say’. In contrast, Abraham Lincoln once asserted:
It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.
But Lincoln was a politician, even if he was a relatively good one. The goal of learning cannot be pursued without communication. Somebody has to speak first, and nobody should be afraid to speak up. We are not playing at politics; our goal is the management of risk, and that is best served through sharing intelligence. If effective communication means getting somebody like me to say stupid things in order to prompt people into correcting my mistakes, then I will gladly play the fool and reap the rewards that come with it.
When it comes to extending the limits of RAFM practice, the real fool is the one who plays dumb and so minimizes the opportunities to learn. WeDo are leveraging their market position in order to benefit from the insights of their existing customers, and to build a platform so they can more effectively speak to prospective future customers. They must suppress their fears when stepping ahead of the rest of the market by advocating for businesses to manage their risks in ways they have never done before. And when WeDo takes a risk by talking about innovation and novelty, they should temper this by exhibiting the same confidence as in everything else they do. We all have an interest in pushing back the boundaries of risk and assurance. The future of revenue assurance and fraud management will belong to those who have the courage to claim it first.