When Publicity Turns Bad

Brendan Behan said:

“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”

If you wanted publicity, one place you would not go would be the discussion forums hosted by the TeleManagment Forum’s community site. The revenue assurance discussion is flagged as a “hot topic” but nobody has posted anything to that forum since I last did, back on March 13th. And to be honest, the main reason I post stuff to the TMF community is to generate debate and spark some interesting conversation. I might as well try to start a fire by rubbing together two wet sticks whilst standing outdoors in the middle of a rainstorm during monsoon season. So it is not as if it the TMF’s web community is a hotbed of active discussion for revenue assurance, although, to be fair, it keeps a pretty steady stream of debate going elsewhere.

But today, somebody did post to the TMF community revenue assurance discussion. But boy, this person got it wrong big time. I feel quite evil just for drawing your attention to it, but at the same time the devil inside me just cannot resist. The poor fool (no need to use his name and amplify the misery) posted the following:

Help with Subex Azure Fraud Control System

Hi there,

I am using AFCS 3.3 and I need some help with the “Customer profile management” sub-system. I need to know how to configure the profiler and run the intelligent agent.

Anyone out there can help?

Boy, this guy has got it wrong on every score. But the biggest blooper here is announcing to the whole world that you have a problem with your fraud detection system. Not a smart move! Okay, so maybe nobody other than me reads this group. This guy had better hope so. Because if those fraudsters are reading they will immediately go into overdrive to attack this guy’s telco. To make things worse, he posted this message not once, but twice, to try to increase the chances that people would respond.

Of course, you cannot expect this guy to be getting a pat on the back from his boss. After all, he makes it sound like they spent money buying a system that they do not know how to use. Not a great purchasing decision, then. Of course, the telco could just blame SubexAzure’s support and training. So the Subexians will just love the fact that their dirty laundry has been shown to the world. That should make for an interesting relationship between SubexAzure and their customer in future. And next time SubexAzure makes a sales pitch for their fraud system they might want to avoid talking about the “intuitive interface” or “comprehensive user manuals” in case they find the audience starts giggling. And they probably will not be too happy that this guy is talking about “AFCS” when SubexAzure rebranded their products a while ago (so instead of “AFCS”, we should be talking about “Nikira” which is part “The ROC”!)

Still, our fraud analyst has done many members of the TMF a favour. All of SubexAzure’s competitors will now be alerted that there is at least one potential new sale out there, as well as thinking hard about how to make sure the same thing does not happen to them….

Perhaps this guy never got trained on how to use the fraud system. Perhaps this job has been dumped on him and he does not know where else to turn but to post a message in public. Perhaps nobody ever picks up the phone or answers his emails when he contacts SubexAzure, or maybe he does not have a phone, or maybe he does not know their phone number, or maybe the support agreement is in arrears. Maybe posting a public message will get results – we shall see how active SubexAzure are when it comes to reading these posts! And I should not make fun of this guy, because I suspect he may get into a lot of trouble although the blame really belongs elsewhere. Managing fraud is not just about buying some software. This guy is obviously the grunt doing the hard work but not making the big decisions. Running a telco involves tough decisions like the following:

  • do you really care about the cost of fraud?
  • do you really care about the impact on reputation when innocent customers are victims of fraud?
  • is it more important to look like you do something to detect and stop fraud or to actually be effective in stopping it?
  • after spending money on fraud detection software, is there enough time and money to set it up and maintain it properly?
  • do you train staff to do their jobs, or just hope they can work it out as they go along?

This bad news is unlikely to result in an obituary, but it may well lead to a notice to terminate employment. Unfortunately, the guy at risk of losing his job is the one who told the world about the weaknesses of his telco. But he is only the messenger. The people to blame sit higher up. The mistake they made is to run a telco with the belief that software is the solution. But if you do not know how to use the software, it only makes things worse.

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.