WeDo held their annual user event last week. What did we learn? They are the market leader in the field of business assurance… but we knew that already. They know how to host an impeccable event in a wonderful location… but remembering WeDo’s previous successes, this is what returning guests already expected. Next year their telco-only user event may change format, including customers from other sectors for the first time… but we could have guessed this was coming from their strategic direction. They revealed intriguing plans for their product roadmap… but I cannot discuss them with you, because WeDo embargoed that content. Big Data and other advances in technology will create opportunities for WeDo… but I have only a sketchy understanding of the implications. Everything is green in WeDo’s garden, so CFO Fernando Videira only pretended to complain when asked to speak about the company’s results, with only a few minutes of preparation. It takes a lot longer to prepare a bad news story, than to highlight WeDo’s rising revenues and EBITDA. WeDo has strong roots, and has grown straight and true. But as it increasingly branches out, I am less clear how its shape will develop in future. WeDo’s original strength in revenue assurance was later complemented by an improved fraud management solution. The product portfolio has kept growing since, and is increasingly designed to service retail, utility and financial customers too. Like a leafy tree, WeDo’s broad outline is recognizable, but it becomes harder to detail all the specific elements that compose the whole.
The opening morning boasted a heavyweight cast of proficient, intelligent and knowledgeable speakers. Miguel Almeida, CEO of Portuguese multiplay operator NOS, Robert Strickland, former CTO of Leap Wireless and former CIO of T-Mobile US, and Sergio Maccota, VP EMEA Partner Ecosystem at SAP, all gave excellent presentations that discussed evolving markets, business strategies, and technology trends. And yet, their well-informed talks conveyed nothing that stirred my human emotions. Whilst they talked at length about the future, there was little sense of implications for the future of business assurance practitioners in the audience, or the future of WeDo. I can know intellectually that better intelligence is vital for telcos who want to maintain profits whilst offsetting a decline in revenues caused by competitive pressures and increased regulation. I can also agree that SAP HANA provides a data platform which might be exploited by WeDo and its customers, and that telcos will be troubled by increasing complexity. But speaking as a guy who is conscious of how often I use big picture metaphors about the future, without precisely describing the path from here to there, I was aware of that same weakness throughout all of these talks. Whilst I had a vague sense of where things are going, and the presentations reinforced the impressions I already had, my feelings about direction remained as vague at the end of the talks, as they had been at their beginning. It is one thing to agree that telcos will need to tackle security, fraud management and revenue assurance in a converged manner, in order to address new threats. It is quite another thing to describe how to accomplish such a task. But I suppose this is where WeDo’s skills come in to play.
And so I was relieved by the excellent presentation given by WeDo’s VP for Product Development, João Resende, which closed the morning session. He not only covered many topics about the evolving challenges faced by telcos, and the tools needed to address them. João also related these challenges back to human desires and fears, expressing why telco managers need to address the issues he raised, and how they will be stretched to find the right balance that delivers optimal results. Early in his talk, João said that “Enterprise Business Assurance is leveraging the power of collaboration”. A strong focus on collaboration emphasizes how automation allows people to do their jobs better, rather than viewing people as subservient to technology. He went on to make a string of important and pithy points, most of which related technology to our humanity. These are the best ones that I noted:
“Our brain has not changed a lot, but things around us have changed. Thinking is what differentiates us from everything else.”
“Data can support Big Society or Big Brother.”
“If tortured enough, data can yield any answer.”
“[WeDo want to] remove from analysts the boring repetitive stuff, so they can concentrate on critical thinking… [and to] spark and empower human creativity, by promoting effective monitoring.”
And if that was not good enough, João was very clear about who he was speaking to…
“The biggest asset of RAID is its customers”
He then explained to the audience how much he wants their feedback; the roadmap for the RAID software suite will be driven by the advice and experiences shared by WeDo’s customers. Whilst this presentation still raised more questions than it answered, WeDo projected some confidence that they were actively constructing potential solutions that would suit the requirements of the audience. After a morning that talked more about problems than solutions, and which had described the power of technology without clarifying how to harness it, João’s customer-centric talk finished the session on a strong and positive note.
In the afternoon, the conference split into three parallel streams, each featuring presentations by WeDo’s customers. As such, I did not see them all, and cannot fairly pick out one presentation for praise, on the basis that there may have been other worthy presentations that I missed. And yet, I will highlight one presentation. Daniele Gulinatti, VP of Fraud Management & Revenue Assurance at Telecom Italia, spoke about the innovative and proactive approach adopted by his team. In doing so, he delivered what had been missing from some of the morning talks: a strong sense of what people can accomplish, as well as what technology can do. To begin with, Daniele described the ingenuity of the modern fraudster, and the difficulty of persuading the police to pursue criminals found overseas. As such, his priority was clear: he focuses on preventing frauds, before they can happen. With that in mind, he explained how Telecom Italia had developed its own tools, based on publicly-available information, to verify check digits on ID, and other controls implemented to verify the identity of customers wanting to purchase Telecom Italia’s services. The benefits were clear. Expenditure of EUR28K on training front-line staff to execute better identity checks yielded EUR1.5mn of benefits in the first year, as measured by the reduced rate of fraud suffered. Now the benefits are approaching EUR2.5mn in total.
Daniele went on to explain how his team had adopted a genuinely risk-based approach. His team evaluates the risks involved in offering a new product, the risks when the company implements a new process, and even the risks associated with the geographic location of customers. But one thing that cannot be said about Daniele and his team is that they see the world only in terms of risks, without any opportunities. On the contrary, when his team was moved in the corporate organization chart, so that it answered into Human Resources, Daniele responded to the new direction of the wind ‘not by building walls, but by building windmills’. His team’s skills were extended to a new challenge: analysing employee travel costs, to see if savings could be made. The result in the first year was a EUR3.3mn reduction in expenses. In the second year, EUR9mn was saved. And now, this in-house service will be sold to other businesses, who will submit their company’s travel data to Daniele’s team via the cloud!
Daniele’s presentation impressed me because it demonstrated three truths that people talk about, but sometimes find difficult to realize in practice. Firstly, prevention really is better than cure. Second, a genuine risk-based approach optimizes the use of limited resources, directing effort towards the greatest potential losses, and away from areas where losses are unlikely. Third, business assurance can become a source of new revenues, as well as a way to save existing revenues. And when I spoke to Daniele after his presentation, asking how he motivated his team to keep thinking laterally and experimenting with different kinds of solutions to established problems, he noted how enthusiasm was infectious. All of his team’s good work is driven by a virtuous cycle, where good ideas are acted upon, which means good results are delivered, and then the team feels empowered to come up with yet more good ideas. Seeing the members of the team that Daniele had brought to Portugal with him, it was obvious from their faces how much pride and pleasure they took in their work. Their enthusiasm infected me too, and I can still feel it now!
The quality of this presentation, and the enthusiasm of Daniele’s team, also made me wonder if WeDo should include one customer presentation, from somebody who actually does business assurance, during their opening morning session. Subex included an excellent customer presentation in the main session of their 2013 user conference, and I believe that successful real-life case studies can be very motivational for an audience of practitioners. Daniele ended his presentation by suggesting he might return in 2015, and reveal how much revenue his branded assurance service had generated for Telecom Italia during its first year. I hope he does. And if he does, WeDo should consider asking Daniele to present to the complete audience during the event’s opening session.
In an interesting move, CEO Rui Paiva only chose to address the conference on its second day. The presentation was just like the man: confident, relaxed, understated. Whilst there was a strong sense of WeDo’s progress, there were few sharp lines to define its objectives. Perhaps this was inevitable; WeDo is in the process of learning what it can sell to businesses outside of telecoms, and must experiment with what it offers to its existing telecoms base. The potential is enormous; the results are hard to predict. Though I cannot tell you more details about their product roadmap, I did get a sense that WeDo has many good ideas for how to enhance the value of its offerings. However, I am not sure whether I, or WeDo, could tell you which of those ideas will deliver the greatest returns.
The second day’s formal business closed with a round table discussion about Big Data. Whilst the session offered plenty of insights and anecdotes about Big Data, I was still fuzzy about the conclusions. Perhaps increasing business complexity makes it harder to be precise when giving predictions. For myself, I wondered if the overall feel was too optimistic. Though there was some mention of compliance and regulation, the general thrust concentrated on the positives that might be delivered by Big Data. However, I dislike it when big businesses equate their moral obligations to manage data with the need to comply with externally-imposed obligations. Though telcos inhabit a competitive marketplace, they harm themselves when they do things that customers dislike. Following the rules imposed by government is not the same as satisfying the wishes of customers, so it is a little too simple to reduce the potential drawbacks and limits of Big Data to the mere cost of compliance. This is because governments tend to lag customers, when it comes to understanding the implications of technology. A customer-centric business should be thinking how it can use data to ensure it is behaving in ways that its customers approve of, as well as of thinking about how Big Data can help them deliver improved services, and generate new revenues. But perhaps I am being unfair to the panel. Telcos and their suppliers concentrate on the current interests and preferences of customers, and it may be too soon to anticipate whether customers will identify a gap between how they want their data to be treated, and the expectations imposed on telcos by government.
With the debates and presentations over, there was nothing left for the assembled mass to do, except to enjoy the pleasures of the fine afternoon sun and a tour around Porto. As ever, WeDo’s home nation is one of their best marketing assets. The buzz from WeDo’s customers was that they had enjoyed another pleasant and educational user conference, and they were looking forward to the next one. I could have guessed that would be the outcome before I arrived in Porto. However, what I cannot guess is whether WeDo’s 2015 user event will see some more distinct changes from the patterns established thus far. During his brief speech on the opening day, Ângelo Paupério, VP of Sonae Group, the owners of WeDo, commented there is ‘good opportunity for consolidation’ in the field of fraud management and business assurance. He suggested this would benefit customers through increased investment in development. If this hint is acted upon, 2015 may see an enlarged conference with many more customers. Room may also be made for non-telcos, as they represent a growing fraction of WeDo’s customer base. And changes in technology and business requirements may lead WeDo to identify some clear winners in the competition to develop products that keep them on top of the market. But whatever changes that year ushers in, I expect that WeDo’s management team will continue to face the future with confidence.