The Unsung Heroes of 2021

It is difficult to find a hero when life is easy; a person’s inner strength and compassion only becomes truly apparent when times are hard. Many heroes stepped up to be counted this year, though not every hero receives the acknowledgment they deserve. These were eight of those heroes.

For Devotion to a Cause: Colin Yates

There are two reasons not to include Colin Yates in this list of unsung heroes. The first is that Colin has won a fair few awards over the years, including admission to the RAG Hall of Fame. The second is that Colin helps people every year, begging the question of why I have waited until this year to mention his devotion to the cause of fighting telecoms fraud. When somebody gives as much as Colin has, it is easy to take his efforts for granted. Colin has enjoyed success with his consulting business and the PRISM database of numbers associated with international revenue share fraud, but I never get the sense that Colin does it for the money. He seems to spend at least as much time and effort giving free advice to telcos and law enforcement agencies as he does on running his company. I have often benefited from his insights. Perhaps the best explanation for Colin’s inclusion amongst this year’s unsung heroes is that he continues to give so much of himself when most of the rest of us would choose to enjoy some well-earned rest. Over the span of a long career, Colin’s constancy has been remarkable, and remained so during 2021. That means there is never an ideal moment to sing Colin’s praises, because he always deserves more praise.

For Pursuing a Vision of a Better Future: Andrew Wong

Readers of Commsrisk may not recognize the name of Andrew Wong, Chief Operating Officer of Japanese technology business SORAMITSU, but next year you will become much more familiar with his work and the work of his colleagues. When others talk about a need for new ideas, Andrew and his colleagues have invested in it. SORAMITSU is best known for developing digital payment systems in cooperation with central banks, but under Andrew’s leadership they have spent 2021 revolutionizing the technology that telcos will use to exchange intelligence about crime. Andrew backed a vision where telcos have two options for how they cooperate with each other to fight crime: they can pay for data from other telcos by uploading their own telco’s data, or they can contribute money to the upkeep of the system because they choose not to share their data. Giving information to others need no longer be considered a one-way act of charity; the exchange of data can be aligned to rational self-interest. The vision also embraces a new way to ensure the quality of the data submitted by each comms provider. Only a business working in this domain can truly judge the reliability of intelligence reported by their peers, so their feedback will be used to measure the quality of intelligence gathered. Ideas like these are so radical that some will refuse to consider them until they have been shown to work in practice. Having spent 2021 making the technology, we can look forward to Andrew and his colleagues demonstrating there is a better way to tackle sophisticated cross-border crime in 2022.

For Showing Others the Way: Günter Haberkorn, Ray Green and John Davies

Data is vital for the identification and resolution of many kinds of problems, but no amount of data can substitute for wisdom. There is no challenge in the field of telecoms risk management comparable to the challenge of learning how to identify and mitigate risks. That challenge is so severe that some ignore it completely. Like an ostrich, they may find it more comforting to bury their heads in the sand and hope approaching risks will wander away again. That is why teaching about risks can be frustrating, whilst being essential for the health of our profession. Our community needs people to share their wisdom, not just through the occasional lecture or blog, but in a format that professionals can easily access on any day and for many years to come. During 2021, Günter Haberkorn of Deutsche Telekom, Ray Green of Focus Data, and John Davies of BluGem each provided valuable content to RAG Learning, the free online training platform of the Risk & Assurance Group. You will not see their names on certificates that people hang on their walls, nor will you see them photographed with happy students who have just completed a course. But Günter, Ray and John have given innumerable people the gift of learning, and that is a gift whose value goes on forever.

For Giving as Much as It Takes: Bill Leahy and Geoff Ibbett

Geoff Ibbett was included in my 2019 roll call of unsung heroes for the tremendous time he put into developing the RAG Leakage Catalog, the most comprehensive inventory of revenue and cost leakages suffered by comms providers, and for then choosing to make it freely available to everyone. It follows that I should sing Geoff’s praises for taking the next logical step this year, by compiling a new crowdsourced inventory of all the frauds that plague comms providers too. After all the work that has been put into the new fraud catalog, we eagerly look forward to its publication in the new year. But having sung Geoff’s praises before, it is right that this year I also mention one of the unsung heroes that make it possible for Geoff to serve as a leader of our professional community. Bill Leahy of Symmetry Solutions is responsible for creating an environment and providing the resources for Geoff to flourish in his role of custodian of the leakage and fraud catalogs. Bill does it because he is a believer in the power of community and the importance of helping one another to prosper. I applaud both Bill and Geoff for their unstinting dedication to pooling the community’s collective knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

For Being There When You Need Him: Hakim Akayour

2021 was a difficult year for me personally. I will not labor the point because you already know how many sacrifices people have made as a consequence of the damned pandemic. Through RAG and Commsrisk I have tried to pursue some objectives that were designed to help you succeed in the workplace, and so also make life better for countless customers of comms providers. Things go wrong from time to time, but the world is better if fewer things go wrong, and if we fix the remaining problems more rapidly. Having the responsibility for preventing and resolving those problems can often seem thankless. That is why I want to encourage people who choose to act selflessly. And that is also why I started sharing my unsung heroes of each year, to show that a person can make a difference and be appreciated for their contribution even if they never receive the rewards their efforts merit. My final unsung hero of the year is Hakim Akayour of BT, who provided help whenever fate seemed to have turned against me. It would take a much longer article to enumerate the ways he keeps helping me to do the things I choose to do. Sometimes he helps in big ways, and other times in small ways, but either kind is offered without fail. Whatever little I accomplished this year, it would have been far less without Hakim.

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.