Straight Talking, part two (There Is No Other Way)

Some of you may have noticed an interruption to service. Sorry for that. I had my priorities confused for a short while but I have since come to my senses. I have decided to fight, with every fibre of my being and every recourse available to me, to exercise my freedom of speech and not be cowed by intimidation. I hope some of you will back me in this fight, which may be painful and costly. The fight is about this post. Read it and judge it as you will. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I ask you to post comments and hence guide how organizations, and critics, behave in future.

At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln said the following:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the American Civil War, and many wars since, good people sacrificed their lives for the ideal of liberty. Lincoln talked of government by the people, for the people. He talked of freedom. I hope his words were not in vain. To mix my quotes, the trials and tribulations of a small business niche do not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. However, I can still feel strongly about freedom of speech. I can also feel strongly about a software company, endorsed by the employee of a customer, that has misappropriated the words of Lincoln in order to promote themselves. I find this to be a petty thing to do. This vendor’s promotional tactics are backed by the employee of a customer. The vendor I refer to is cVidya and the employee is Geoff Hammond of BT.

Recently, I was tipped off about the creation of a new, and to my mind bogus, revenue assurance organization. It calls itself the “World Revenue Assurance Forum” (WRAF). On its website, WRAF said it was “of the operators, by the operators”. It can be shown that the URL for the World Revenue Assurance Forum is owned by cVidya, a software company, not an operator. I believe the claim made on the website, of being “for the operators by the operators”, is knowingly misleading. At date of writing, there was only one operator member, namely BT. BT is a customer of cVidya. BT was represented on the WRAF steering committee, to whatever extent that committee can truly be said to exist, by Geoff Hammond. According to the WRAF website, Hammond has been appointed to the role of “chairman of the WRAF steering committee”. I publicly mocked Geoff Hammond for his backing of WRAF, an organization I described as “crackpot”, on the basis that it appeared to be a blatant sales vehicle for cVidya. Even if it is not a sales vehicle, it is fair that any body of this type should accept public criticism. There being no public mechanism for debate with WRAF, I used an alternative – and much better known – mechanism for raising the public debate. That mechanism is this website, which is read by revenue assurance practitioners worldwide.

I have no personal need to attack WRAF. I would rather it did not exist if it takes the form suggested by its website. Unfortunately there are no decent industry bodies that effectively represent the interests of many of those people who work in RA. Partly out of self-interest, and partly out of frustration, I have used this blog as a way to raise points which cannot be raised any other way. Evidently a lot of money has been spent constructing the WRAF website, but oddly enough, at date of writing, the site’s homepage has been removed and replaced with a message saying it is under construction. Perhaps that indicates they have already abandoned or altered their plans. In which case, Geoff Hammond or any of the guys at cVidya could simply have contacted me, told me know what is going on, and we could have sorted out any misunderstandings quietly and politely. They all know how to get in touch with me – Geoff Hammond did contact me, but only to tell me to pull the post, something that nobody has ever asked me to do previously. I talk to people at cVidya on a regular basis for many varied reasons. But nobody has gone down the route. As an alternative, they are also welcome to exercise a right to reply on my website. I have never turned anyone down who asked for view to be put across, so long as they refrained from the more robust and abusive language that I sometimes have to endure. I can hence only assume that, if the backers of WRAF dislike what I write, it is not because they can find any inaccuracy with my facts.

By the way, the “construction” page has only overlayed the site’s home page. You can still see all the other WRAF pages on the internet, if you know the URL and type it into your browser. Once on one of those other pages, you can also hyperlink to all the other pages except the home page. Here is the link to the “news” page:

http://www.ra-world.com/News.html

From reports, it appears that cVidya has been telephoning its customers to drum up interest in WRAF. Hammond lends WRAF the credibility that comes with his job title. None of the current claims about WRAF being a worldwide organization are credible. In my blog, I criticized the legitimacy of WRAF’s claims about itself. In response, Geoff Hammond took steps to shut me up. I believe his action was cowardly. Hammond is afraid to debate his position, and cannot justify the grandiose title of Chairman of the WRAF Steering Committee, a title bestowed upon him by his friends in cVidya. I offered him a right to reply on my blog. Instead, he tried to silence me by exerting pressure through BT’s internal processes.

If I had no contractual relationship with BT, Hammond would not be able to exert influence over me in this manner. My blog has been a constant and regular critic of many people in the world of revenue assurance. I do not have any favourites, but treat all equally. Over the years, I have criticized, and received complaints in turn, from rival vendors to cVidya, including ECtel, Subex and WeDo. cVidya has been treated no better and no worse than anyone else. cVidya is the main supplier of RA tools to BT. I believe they are not justified when claiming to have set up a “World” RA forum. I have also been a regular and prominent critic of GRAPA, an organization that stated aims that sound similar to WRAF. The similarities between GRAPA and WRAF are plain. In criticizing WRAF, I have been entirely consistent. BT employees interested in revenue assurance were perfectly aware of my blog and the nature of its content prior to our forming a contractual relationship. My contract with BT is not a blanket agreement to endorse the actions of all other BT employees. I do not pretend to be a politician and there is a great difference between supporting the decisions of a company, and supporting the pretensions of one employee of a company. If I were a politician, I would probably avoid these debates. However, I believe that any endorsements of WRAF are premature, especially given the exaggerated claims about WRAF’s status. Nevertheless, Geoff Hammond has endorsed WRAF. In my blog, I merely state what many others already think. Hammond has raised objections to my post, none of which I consider valid. The most prominent of the complaints is that I should first ask his permission for using his name and the name of BT. I do not believe that is credible. WRAF and Hammond put their names into the public domain, allowing content about themselves to be published on the internet. I merely commented on that public information. As yet, nobody has given me a convincing explanation of why I should retract my earlier post. I have hence, after much reflection, reinstated it.

BT did not provide a satisfactory explanation of why I should remove my earlier post. To be precise, BT has not even said if they are complaining about the content of that post. But they asked that I remove it from the public domain. I think that is intolerable. I have a right to freedom of speech, and that freedom should not be suspended whilst BT lumbers through some slow decision-making process. If BT, as opposed to a single employee of BT, objects to what I say, it should state its objection and not expect me to be silent pending its deliberation. Why should I adopt the role of the accused, whilst my accuser, Hammond, fails to make a credible argument? In contrast to my plain language, Hammond and BT have been cryptic in their choice of words. I do not use innuendo; nor should they. When BT asked me to withdraw the post in question, I initially acquiesced. I have since decided that, after talking to friends and colleagues around the telecoms industry, that I made the wrong decision. The post has been republished on my website so everyone can see what the fuss is about and decide the rights and wrongs for themselves. Many thanks to those of you who have already commented on the blog or emailed me to indicate your support.

BT was my employer for a short while. I say “was” because, although I still have a contract with them, I intend to terminate it at the earliest opportunity, which would be Monday. It may be a race as to who terminates the contract first, though I would have preferred to settle the matter already. I believe that by terminating my relationship with BT, I will leave BT with no further opportunity to block my freedom to express my point of view. I believe I have done no wrong in law, and have not broken any terms of my contract with them. I have not violated any confidence, as all the information I discussed was already in the public domain. I would have wrote what I wrote, whether I had a contract with BT or not. I am not afraid. My actions speak for themselves.

Irrespective of my contractual relationship with BT, I think WRAF is a sham, and Geoff Hammond, a representative of BT, is foolish to back it. He is making BT look foolish as a result. If that fact hurts BT’s reputation, the fault is not with the person who points the fact out. The fault is with the person who lends their name to a bogus organization. The emperor, Hammond, has no clothes. I have the impertinence to be the child that says so out loud. You can chide me for my childish antics, but not without also damning Hammond for his vanity. Perhaps I should have handled the matter internally, away from public eyes. But let us be realistic – WRAF put itself in the public eye, and a subsequent private debate within BT would likely be unproductive. Somebody must have already agreed to sanction Hammond’s public endorsement of WRAF, and they would be unlikely to listen in an impartial way to criticism of that decision. Hammond should withdraw from the role as Chairman of WRAF’s steering committee, and cVidya should back down from attempting to create “operator only” organizations that they “facilitate”. Do I hurt BT by assuming the role of critic? Does Hammond hurt BT, by being the emperor with no clothes? What kind of BT process finds fault with my communication to the external world, but approves the way Hammond brings BT’s name into disrepute? Is BT’s name brought into disrepute because of my discourse – consistent with everything I have said before – or because of the decision by Geoff Hammond to lend his name to a cVidya sales vehicle? If BT is unwilling to hear this criticism, so be it. I will terminate my contract with BT and exercise my freedom to criticize without impediment. I now deeply regret forming a contractual relationship with BT. If I had no contract with them, I do not believe they would have dared ask me to withdraw what I wrote.

It has been a difficult time for me. It brings me no personal pleasure to upset Geoff Hammond. When I have spoken to him in person, I have found him to be a nice person. I also have no desire to be provocative. It is not my goal in life to pick fights with people. At times I worry that some people will just think I want to be difficult and cause trouble. But I also feel very strongly that WRAF, if successful, will not serve the best interests of the telecoms industry and will hurt many good people who deserve better. Nobody can seriously think that I planned to take work with BT with a view to starting a public squabble with the Head of its Group RA function a few weeks later. That would be absurd. It is not as if I have a track record of writing diatribes about BT or any other telco. Sometimes I make fun of people who go too far, especially the big vendors, who can afford to look after themselves. I have been most assertive when stating opinions on organizations that claim to represent the industry where I believe that claim is fundamentally dishonest. My views on WRAF are strongly expressed because somebody needs to consider the wider ramifications of what an undemocratic and unaccountable organization can do to the credibility and livelihood of the many different people working in the field of RA. Not everybody works for a big software vendor. Not everybody works for a telco. According to its own stated agenda, WRAF will seek to make decisions that will impact many people who will have no opportunity to participate in or influence this body. Even allowing them to join later is unacceptable, as the key decision-making positions and direction of the group will have already been finalized. I have no crystal ball, and cannot say I know what WRAF might do in future. But I can say that some of my predictions about the plans for GRAPA turned out to be true, even though other people scoffed at my warnings and accused me of scare-mongering. I correctly predicted that GRAPA would seek to introduce a professional certification process for RA, and hence create a divide between who is fit, and who is not fit, to work in revenue assurance. If they do so, they intend to levy fees on the certified practitioners. Some recent comments from cVidya staff gives me every reason to fear that they also have ambitions to introduce their own certification process for RA professionals. I have no objection to professional certification itself, but I do strongly object to the idea that certification might be introduced by an undemocratic institution that does not represent the interests of all valid stakeholders working in the revenue assurance domain. It is too early to predict if WRAF will go down this route, but if WRAF was a genuinely democratic body, there would be far less reason to fear.

I am going to end my relationship with BT, and the sooner the better. Let Hammond be the “chairman” of a sales vehicle for a software vendor, if he still wants the role after this. There is room in the world for people with contrary opinions. In many ways, Hammond and cVidya deserve each other. My conscience is clear. If anyone wishes a legal fight over my freedom of speech, I will fight them, no matter what the cost. Those of you who read this blog, I know it may be difficult to express it, but I hope I can count on your support. Now may be a difficult time to ask, but I sincerely ask that you let me know how you feel about this topic. Many thanks to those of you who already contacted me to give wise words of advice. I feel myself to be in a battle for the freedom to say what is right and wrong about the world of revenue assurance, a minuscule sideshow in the great scheme of things, and not worthy of being censored. Whatever you have to say on the topic, I would be deeply grateful to hear it. I speak to you as equals who enjoy our freedom. That was what Lincoln was talking about, so many years ago. I may sometimes resort to mockery, but I do not take those words lightly.

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.