If you monitor the news about a specific topic you will notice trends over time. The trend for revenue assurance news is very straightforward: it has stopped falling downward only because it has hit the bottom. There was a time when RA vendors would issue enough press releases to maintain a reasonable flow of news, whether the topic was the products and services they were newly offering, or the contracts they had just signed with new customers. But I just googled “revenue assurance” and the top six news items were effectively the same: some liars who wrote a desperately old ‘market research’ report are still touting it around the interwebs as a ‘new’ report, claiming it forecasts the market until 2025, even though it lists the same old vendors who disappeared years ago. The irony is that the marketing blurb has never changed, meaning it still says RA is a growth market where sales will go up and up and up. If that was true, then a google search would be dominated by new deals, and somebody would have written a new market research report by now.
No vendor is going to be pleased by a decline in sales, but ultimately the executives running those RA companies have the good sense to recapture growth by extending their range of products and services to appeal to different kinds of customers, whether inside telcos or in other sectors. The greater concern is what will happen to telco staff whose job titles include the words “revenue assurance”. They may not find it so easy to move sideways, or to take on new responsibilities. It may be difficult, painful and expensive, but a vendor can choose to reposition themselves in the market. The employee of a telco has less autonomy. Many telco employees have changed the description of their work to “business assurance”. However, there is a danger in switching between these labels. The limits of revenue assurance were well understood. The same cannot be said of business assurance. Many things happen in a business; it is plain that business assurance professionals are not trying to understand every business activity. Furthermore, there is a danger in increasing the responsibilities of a function which is poorly resourced, receives little training, and has modest tools at its disposal.
Vendors should be leading the rebranding exercise, helping telcos to determine the remit of the telco business assurance professional by mapping it to their newer products and services. Does the role include assurance of commissions paid to dealers? What about reviewing contracts with big enterprise customers before they are signed? Should the business assurance team identify opportunities to improve the efficiency of network capital expenditure? How far should the assurance of revenues be linked to the assurance of the customer’s quality of experience, so as to ensure customers will not challenge charges because they deem their service to be unfit for purpose? Though vendors have extended their portfolios, I am not seeing a lot of leadership from vendors about which products should be considered ‘must have’ purchases for a business assurance team to cover all its typical obligations. Obviously they are hesitant because they do not know what is typical any more, but someone needs to lead the way.
One helpful initiative is the RAG Revenue and Cost Risk Catalogue, a work in progress that seeks to capture and describe all the risks that a modern business assurance function might deal with. The title, however, further illustrates the hesitancy of a community that is transitioning from revenue assurance to business assurance. Geoff Ibbett, the leader of the catalogue initiative, is wise to avoid promising that his team will map everything which might be covered by a business assurance function, but some of the catalogue’s contents already extend a lot further than the verification of revenues or costs.
It is easy to talk about the need to jointly collaborate on solutions, but ultimately some must act as leaders. Professionals like Bernice DeMarco at BT have taken giant strides in directions previously unknown to RA. Those who have had the good fortune to listen to Bernice and her colleagues describe their journey within BT will have appreciated they offer a more progressive vision for what an RA team can do. But the difference between progress and news is determined by the number of people who learn about it. Case studies about the leading work done by telcos should set an example that others will emulate. The challenge is to find somebody to document them.
We have no academics employed by the state to perform research, which in the context of business often means interviewing business leaders and documenting the results they obtain in practice. Vendors have selfish reasons to promote positive case studies, but perhaps they keep quiet when the most advanced telcos leave them behind. And as for journalists… some of us do the best we can, but there is no business model that would encourage more in-depth reporting from the front line of business practice. This leaves us in a quandary. Revenue assurance is old news, but there will be little new investment if there is little inspiration, and the easiest way to inspire is to share stories of success.