The use of ‘forensic’ in context of revenue assurance

I have come across the use of the term forensic in GRAPA literature. I was unsure of its meaning and assumed it made reference to the analysis and resolution of fraudulent activity committed by either the subscriber or telco personnel. A cursory glance at the training material and the certification requirements also suggest a major focus on forensic skills. In course module RM100 for instance forensics appear to mean analysis (…students will learn the detailed steps in the process of Forensics, Controls Management, Corrections and Compliance).

In a recent post on Linked In the following reference to forensic was made: “skilled technologist who have detailed understanding of the systems and data architectures or are supported by people who have that knowledge and equally important people who understand the business process flows e2e. 

Once you truely understand the nature of the systems and data you have, you will be able to readily identify the types of RA activities that suit or are needed in your environment and will be able to target the toolsets which most closely align with your needs”.

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary the term forensic refers to “the study of physical information connected with crime” or it may also refer to the place where the evidence of the crime is sent for analysis. Wiki defines it as “the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or to a civil action. More generally forensics encompasses the accepted scholarly or scientific methodology and norms under which the facts regarding an event, or an artifact, or some other physical item (such as a corpse, or cadaver, for example) are to the broader notion of authentication whereby an interest outside of a legal form exists in determining whether an object is in fact what it purports to be, or is alleged as being”. Now one can argue here that 2 billion records processed by mediation and forwarded to rating “purports to be, or is alleged as being” 2 billion billable records since a mediation rule is implemented to filter out non-billable events and pass them directly to EDW for reporting purposes.

Gartner, in an article about setting up an RACC, compared the approach of some 8 vendor and consulting firms to implementing an RA project and setting up an RA Competency Centre. In summary all the respondents were aligned with regard the need to understand the system and data architectures as well as having clearly documented business processes end to end. All 8 included in their phase 1 of the project a thorough analysis of the requirements. Some respondents were tool independent. No reference was made to forensics in either the Gartner scope of the project or the responds’ preferred approach and methodology.

My point is this. If the RA community wishes to standardise and unite this profession, we must speak the same language. I have not come across a workplace where this forensic approach to RA is present in the culture or language of the group. Individual enquiries as to its meaning returned either “GRAPA plays in the forensic/fraud field and not pure RA” and “GRAPA means RA as we understand it but it was written/coined by somebody who has a forensic investigation background”.

The beauty of managing a team consisting of RA, Fraud and Law Enforcement personnel is that one gets a glimpse of their cognitive processing and respective approaches to problem solving using a single issue such as the perceived underbilling of wholesale data usage. There is a distinct difference in the mental processes of a forensic investigator and financial analyst. Both these personnel profiles can apply for an RA position. This is the socio-cultural context within which we process our knowledge of RA standards and will necessarily lead to misinterpretation of an otherwise well intended contribution. In change management we are taught to show sensitivity toward diversity. Is this a matter of cultural differences and diversity? If so, what can be done to establish a reliable translator for such term differences? If a job description asks for forensic skills when I really need somebody with an analytical ability, would I be doing a fair evaluation of suitable candidates? 

Güera Romo
Güera Romo
Güera has many years of experience in business transformation in the engineering, defense, government, banking and telecommunication industries. She has experience in mergers & acquisition, rightsizing, re-deployment of personnel, business process re-engineering, system selection and implementation.   Güera holds a BCom Hon (Industrial and Organizational Psychology) degree and is currently pursuing a doctorate that draws on her practical experience of developing human resource capabilities within large corporations.

1 Comment on "The use of ‘forensic’ in context of revenue assurance"

  1. Güera,

    You make a great point, but is this not a case of distinguishing between an academic level of precision in language, and the need for people in business to say things that sound sexy and help them to sell to or influence others? Even the top professional services firms will tend to stretch language in order to create a certain impression in the mind of the listener. Forensic auditing is an example. Forensic audits do concern businesses involved in criminal activity, where the goal is to find the truth of what has happened and trace the transactions through whichever front companies and lies have been created to hide that truth. In that sense, the use of the word ‘forensic’ in forensic auditing is appropriate. To somebody not aware of the precise meaning though, forensic may be taken to just mean “very good” or “very detailed” because such work has to be very detailed. They blur the edges of meaning, and this is what has happened here, with people just wanting to say the work is or will be very good or very detailed, but want a word that they think will sound better to the listener.

    This playing with language happens all around us, of course. Even in the best professional services firms, with people who have real professional qualifications, misuse of terminology can occur for superficial reasons. I can think of a very good example from my early career. When I was a junior financial auditor, I understood the difference between a haphazard selection of a sample and a random selection of a sample. As I am from a mathematical background, it is not difficult to appreciate that something which looks random may not actually be random. Many auditors, when they pick a sample for testing, look at items at a list and, like picking lottery numbers, put crosses on the list in a pattern that seems to have no logic. But that does not mean it is random. In a random sample of ten items, it would be just as likely that you select the first ten items on the list as any other ten items, but nobody would do this because then people would say it did not look random. So they avoid picking selections like this, meaning their approach is biased and not actually random. In my professional training as a chartered accountant, they used the terminology ‘haphazard’ to distinguish cases where people just pick items without a pattern, to distinguish from truly random methods of picking a sample. But, when I was a junior auditor, whilst documenting my work I would often write things like “sample of ten selected haphazardly”, and many managers would say to me “you cannot write ‘haphazardly’ because it does not sound professional – use the word ‘randomly’ instead”.

    Of course, in a minor little audit workpaper the choice of the word ‘haphazard’ or ‘random’ is not very important, but you appreciate the principle here. Even if a profession attains an academic level of precision in its terminology, there will constantly be all sorts of human pressures to deviate from that precision. This is part of the reason why professionals need to be part of a continual education process. Even if they attain a certain standard, they need to be constantly retrained, and not just because things change but also to be reminded of the detail of unchanging standards and to keep the quality of their work high. Even the most senior individuals need to be subject to a process of inspecting the quality of their work and keeping the standards high, because even the most senior people are human and may make mistakes. To realize the desired level of precision, we need a culture including mechanisms that reward people for precision, which act as a balance that against the natural tendencies towards imprecision. We do not have those mechanisms yet. That much is demonstrated by the source for this misuse of the word ‘forensic’. However, what you are doing, Güera, is a vital starting point for creating that culture and those mechanisms. To do that, we must begin with individuals raising topics like this and striving for an academic level of quality in every decision we make, including our choice of words. Keep up the good work!

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