Why are we here? What is the good life? How do we determine our purpose, and judge if we have been true to it? People have asked themselves these questions all through the ages. Existentialism and revenue assurance may not seem like an ideal crossover topic for a blog, but there are times when everyone has to ask why they do the things they do, and the running of talkRA is no exception. So please indulge the plethora of rhetorical questions as I review the site’s purpose and search for better ways to achieve it – and invite you to keep us pointed in the right direction.
Looking at the mission statement, I feel that talkRA has satisfied the old advertising maxim: it does exactly what it says on the tin. As the mission statement is unchanged since talkRA launched in August 2008, I was surprised by its continued accuracy. Apart from broadening the scope to cover risk management and business assurance, the mission statement still captures the essence of the site:
talkRA is dedicated to promoting the development of the practice of revenue assurance, fraud management, revenue management and business intelligence in telecommunications service providers and other industries…
It provides a platform for thought leaders, allowing them to communicate and exchange ideas without imposing any limitations based on employment or affiliations.
The result has been a varied mix of news, insight, comment and irreverent humour. Do you agree? I think you probably do, based on the numbers of visitors we receive. This February we set a new record for unique visitors in a single month. That can only be the product of ‘word of mouth’ recommendation by you, the readers, for which I thank you. It gives me confidence that, even whilst the industry has its ups and downs, people keep finding this website is a source of news and views they will not find elsewhere.
But can we do better? I hope so, and we should try. When I first spoke to Dan Baker, specialist researcher, we discussed talkRA’s role as a non-aligned hub, used to share and promote information of interest to the RA community. With the perspective of a man who has made a career out of analysing markets, Dan highlighted how this third way – neither a promotional vehicle for vendors nor a organization that sets standards for employees – filled a gap not satisfied elsewhere. talkRA can accommodate those who might otherwise struggle to find a platform, whether they are freelance consultants, opinionated iconoclasts, academics, niche experts, or those just wanting the space to muse about their work and maybe share a joke. At the same time, we welcome the constructive input of vendors and other organizations, and do not censor. There are several ways to deliver balance, and the talkRA route is through free speech and debate. Even ‘opponents’ are welcome here, but sadly they prefer not to venture from their personal (and presidential) fiefdoms.
The philosophy of non-alignment can result in curious bedfellows. There is no objection to information about a vendor’s product being presented alongside a call for open source developers, and the bloggers write as customers as well as providers of communications services. However, even talkRA could do more to present more varied fact and opinion, and to offer more gateways to useful information. To pursue this goal, I want to re-emphasize talkRA’s role as an inclusive hub. An aspect of this is seeking partnerships that further our mission whilst acknowledging commercial offerings that may be of interest to readers. So when Dan Baker completed his recent and authoritative report into the current state of business assurance, it was natural to bring his offer here, to talkRA, rather than just pointing readers to the website of Dan’s business. The result is a minisite within talkRA, dedicated to the new report.
Another way for talkRA to achieve more is to encourage the flow of information about what various RA tools actually do. Nobody wants to see talkRA descend into a competition to see who can make the most exaggerated marketing claim. However, it strikes me that we rarely discuss how RA products differ. Vendors will naturally be reluctant to present a point-by-point comparison. Nobody has the time or opportunity to do extensive and impartial reviews for free. Only two kinds of people conduct meaningful reviews: people looking to buy a solution for their telco’s specific needs, or professional researchers like Dan Baker. But we could allow vendors more space to state positive facts about the new features they have added to differentiate and augment their products. In other words, we will not make room for corny shtick saying you should buy a tool because ‘operators estimate they leak 2, 5, 10 or even 20% of revenues’, but I see no problem in having a vendor describe some new software they have just released. Then the vendor can be turned over to you… and you can publicly ask any and every difficult question you want, and further judge the vendor by the quality of their answer.
So, to recap, what is talkRA for? It exists to promote the fields of revenue assurance, business assurance, and all the business disciplines that relate to them now or which will relate to them in future. Have we done this? I think so, and I hope the growing readership justifies my confidence. Can we do better? Sure! Nothing is perfect. We work in business, and whilst talkRA seeks to avoid bias, it can accommodate more unbiased commercial information, alongside other content. But, as ever, this is open for debate. If you disagree, then let us know. It is better to have honest transparent feedback than see the consequences of a bad decision only through falling visitor numbers. Our mission is to support as broad a community of interest as possible; being open and non-aligned is a way to optimize the breadth of that community. Ultimately that means trusting the community to give its guidance.