Winn by name, winner by nature…. Glen Winn, who manages RA, Fraud and Risk at UPC Ireland, must be feeling pretty happy with himself at the moment. Glen is a regular at revenue assurance conferences, having spent many years working in the field. Only a few weeks ago he was at ViB’s conference in London, talking about the success he had with adapting ACL for revenue assurance in UPC Ireland. Now it seems that ACL has also recognized that success. UPC Ireland has been announced grand prize winners of the 2008 ACL Impact Award.
Okay, I hear some of the more cynical of you saying “phooey… why should I be impressed that a supplier hands out an award to one of their customers?” Fair point. But I am impressed even so. Winning this award is not like winning an award for revenue assurance. With awards for revenue assurance, there are maybe only 4-and-a-half projects eligible to compete each year, and the result is mostly determined by how hard the suppliers push their products (with a telco stooge acting as a convenient frontman) to the deciding panel. For the ACL award, there are no suppliers competing, as everybody has the same supplier. This award is about projects competing with projects. The projects can be very different in nature, so real results will be all that matters. This is not about revenue assurance projects competing with each other. This is about revenue assurance projects competing with all sorts of other financial control and improvement projects. The competition will be drawn from all over the world, and from all sorts of businesses. Glen’s win (pardon the pun!) is a real accolade for revenue assurance, and for the work done at UPC Ireland in particular.
ACL, otherwise known as Audit Control Language, is a Canadian business that has been around for 20 years. They have been working at the forefront of Computer Assisted Audit Tools (CAATs) for all that time. I was introduced to ACL back when I was an audit junior – long enough ago that everything I learned has been forgotten since ;) Their site claims there are 170,000 licensed users of ACL, which means the world of revenue assurance is a tiny speck compared to the territory they have conquered already. It should be no surprise that ACL should be a product seriously looked at by the revenue assurance teams in businesses like multiplay provider UPC. When revenue assurance software companies sell their tools, they are selling CAATs – they just do not know it, or at least do not like to use the term. The only difference has tended to be that their CAATs are highly specialized in order to cope with the problems faced in telcos.
CAATs for telecoms revenue integrity have always been (or at least are supposed to be) high-end solutions compared to the CAATs used in most businesses. Telcos are businesses that handle a high volume of transactions, each of relatively low value. Timescales are short. Many systems are involved in the transfer of data from the point of sale to the point where billing, charging, accounting or cash collection occurs. Products, processes, prices and technologies change often. There is a very heavy processing burden involved in the computerized audit of transaction data. This must be balanced against the need to keep CAAT technology both cost-effective and flexible enough that it can be reconfigured for changing needs. That is why there has been room for specialist software houses to flourish by supplying the niche for telecoms revenue assurance. However, there is always the risk that the barriers to entering this specialist market can be eroded. One form of erosion is the increasing sophistication and power of general-purpose CAAT and Business Intelligence tools. Another form of erosion is that telco business models and transactional data complexity may simplify over time, as legacy systems are replaced and eat-all-you-want tariffs become more common. Specialist RA software suppliers are happy to sell their products outside of the telco industry; it is fair enough that outside audit and integrity software houses should try to get into telcos. One real problem for the RA specialists is that they may find themselves outflanked by their more generalist competitors. If a tool like ACL can be shown to do revenue assurance, and can also be applied to many other financial control objectives, it will be harder to justify buying a different solution just for revenue assurance alone.
UPC Ireland is not the biggest telco in the world. However, the ACL award for UPC Ireland shows that general-purpose CAATs like ACL can be a serious competitor to specialist RA tools, particularly in telcos which process more modest volumes of data. As Glen Winn stated in his case study:
“The approach of using ACL as a basis for RA tools at UPC has proven to be extremely successful… Any small to medium-sized operator that is looking to implement RA tools/systems should look very seriously at this approach.”