Who Are GRAPA? (a.k.a. “Splitters!”)

Who are the Global Revenue Assurance Professionals Association (GRAPA)? Apparently that is the big question on everyone’s lips. It says so in GRAPA’s own June newsletter:

The number one question asked by GRAPA registrants around the world: “Who is behind GRAPA?”

I cannot argue with that. I have received half a dozen emails asking me just that question. So please please do not email me to ask who is GRAPA. GRAPA is nothing to do with me. But if you want the answer, here it is.

GRAPA = people employed by telcos + Rob Mattison’s XiT consultancy

There you have it. Nice and simple. GRAPA is the half of the revenue assurance industry you can trust (i.e. people who work for telcos plus Rob Mattison and his XiT outfit) and not the half you cannot trust (nasty scary vendors and consultants who need to sell to telcos to pay the bills, apart from Rob Mattison and his XiT outfit).

I have nothing against Rob Mattison and his XiT outfit. I have seen him speak a couple of times and even met him once, though I doubt he would remember me. Certainly Rob does a good job of promoting himself around the world, but there is nothing wrong with that. He works for a living and seems to work very hard as far as I can tell. Fair play to him. He writes big books about revenue assurance. There is no harm in that. His relentless promotion of the topic is an overall aid to revenue assurance professionals like me, even if I do disagree with some of the detail. If he and his colleagues in XiT want to volunteer their time and money to set up a new vehicle for their ambitions, I have no objection. However, am I a little bit annoyed that he set up a group for revenue assurance professionals that excludes me? Yeah, I find that annoying.

I mean, I do not think I am evil. Perhaps I am. There is a fair share of people on either side of the love/hate Eric Priezkalns divide, so I will avoid stating an opinion about who is in the majority. Certainly I have been guilty of shooting my mouth off pretty freely at times. I prefer to describe myself as “plain speaking” or “straight talking”. But if I am evil, it is not because of how I make my money. I used to be employed by a telco. I was working for a telco less than 2 years ago. When I worked for a telco I poured time into the TeleManagement Forum’s revenue assurance program. Plenty of vendors benefited but I did not complain. I kept on working with the TMF even when I changed job from one telco to another. Now I have stopped working for a telco and work freelance, but I still continue to spend lots of time on that same TMF program. For example, writing this blog helps me put off the painful chore of reformatting an MS Word document to be consistent with a TMF template. Not very glamorous. Not as glamorous as sending out newsletters or appointing myself as Mr. President or videotaping Presidential addresses. It is just part of the ongoing saga to rework the revenue assurance maturity model. That will hopefully lead to a new maturity assessment tool and benchmark being offered soon. That effort has been spread across four years of my life, because I, like others, volunteer to do it in my spare time. It is also slow because it involves genuine collaboration, which means disagreements and compromises. My travails may end soon or they may continue. Sometimes it is hard to maintain my enthusiasm. However you look at it, that effort started out when I was working for a telco and continues today even though I no longer work for a telco. So, to my mind, there is something wrong with setting up a professional association that pretends people working for telcos can join and help whilst people working outside of telcos are bad and should be excluded (with the exception of Rob Mattison and XiT).

Some days I hate revenue assurance so much I do not want to have anything to do with it. Since the launch of GRAPA I have been having more days like that than usual. Rob says he needed to launch GRAPA because nobody provided a forum, but what was the TMF’s RA discussion group for then? Rob says there is a need for GRAPA because nobody sets RA standards or offers benchmarks, which makes a nonsense of the work just done in the TMF, on a purely voluntary basis, to provide new standard RA KPIs and benchmarks. Rob says he wants a professional body for revenue assurance like those for accountants and doctors. I am an accountant. Unlike GRAPA, my professional body does not discriminate on the basis of my employer. I remain an accountant and a member of my professional body whether I work in industry or work for an accounting practice.

When I joined the TMF’s revenue assurance effort, I may have been more of an idealist than I am today. I was not shy to point out at their first meeting the shortage of people employed by telcos; I was the only one. I have done my share of plain speaking about the token involvement of telcos in the work the team has done since. I have been guilty of straight talk whenever I thought vendors were co-opting the team’s agenda. But somehow or other they have not thrown me out yet and I still keep trying to work with them. There are lots of obstacles for telco employees to work with the TMF’s team, especially the costs. But rules is rules and I do not make the rules for the TMF. So the upshot has been a collaborative effort dominated by vendors with very limited involvement from telcos. Which is a shame. However, even when there were absolutely no barriers to telco involvement in the TMF’s work, telcos still did not get involved. There is a perfectly good web forum provided by the TMF for free. But the number of posts from telcos to the revenue assurance discussion group is negligible. And 99% of those posts from telcos are of the “can someone tell me how to do something/give me free advice” variety. In short, the posts included a lot more questions than answers. And if an answer was posted to a question from a telco, chances are the answer came from a vendor. Maybe sometimes those answers were biased, but at least that is better than nothing.

I applaud Rob for trying to set up a association based on the idea of people freely volunteering their time and knowledge, even if the volunteers who do all the admin are strangely identical to the people on the payroll at his XiT consultancy. But all the data tells us that altruists who give up their time and knowledge for free, with nothing to gain, are very rare indeed. Statistically speaking, they are freaks. From my experience at the TeleManagement Forum, revenue assurance is no different from other activities looking for volunteers. You have to apply the 1% rule. For every 100 people who sign up, look on, or reads, only 1 person will be active, contribute and write. The internet age has offered up many interesting new sources of quantifiable data on how people work in collaborative groups. Some examples revolve around the encyclopedia Wikipedia. You can debate the stats on the distribution of contributors to Wikipedia (see here for a good discussion of just that topic) but on the whole it seems that a tiny proportion of a volunteer community do most of the work, whilst a larger minority may contribute to one or two things where they have specialist skills and talents. So splitting the community of professionals into two and excluding 50% at the outset looks like a bad start if you want to access the small band of people who give away something for nothing. Most people do not give away something for nothing, and the people behind GRAPA have yet to show they are any different.

The formation of GRAPA looks set to divide the revenue assurance community, not aid it. On one side, you have the all-new GRAPA, including all the telcos, Rob Mattison and XiT. They have no money and little incentive to be charitable, with the obvious exception of Rob and XiT who appear to be bankrolling GRAPA so far (somebody has to be paying for the software, website, legal costs and press releases). On the other side, you have the TMF’s existing revenue assurance community but now with added Global Billing Association (do not ask me about the implications of that either – but at least it shows you can have mergers as well as splits). They are dominated by vendors and consultants, have some money, have done some stuff already, but telcos often steer clear because it is too costly to get involved or they fear they will become a sales target.

I notice that XiT is not listed as a member of the TMF. That is very confusing as the XiT homepage says they advise clients on following the Telecommunication (sic) Management Forum’s eTOM process standard. So Rob is aware of the TMF and its role in setting standards; it is a shame he decided not to get involved in the RA standard-setting initiative that the TMF started years ago. Probably Rob set up GRAPA because it was cheaper to create a new association from scratch than pay the TMF’s membership fees ;)

There is an hilarious sequence in Monty Python’s Life of Brian that is all about the rivalry between various groups. They all have the same goal (to overthrow the Romans), but they cannot agree to work together. Instead they despise each other for being “splitters”.*

* Warning: I am not trying to make any point about any religion here and certainly do not want to upset anyone – I just think it is funny. And excuse the bad language too.

REG: Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah…
JUDITH: Splitters.
P.F.J.: Splitters…
FRANCIS: And the Judean Popular People’s Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
LORETTA: And the People’s Front of Judea.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
REG: What?
LORETTA: The People’s Front of Judea. Splitters.
REG: We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.


REG: People’s Front! C-huh.

FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?

REG: He’s over there.

P.F.J.: Splitter!

So painful though it often is, I believe we have to find a way to bury our differences, avoid the splits, and get along. GRAPA needs to open it doors to all revenue assurance professionals, including the good people working for the many small and big businesses selling advice, equipment and software to telcos. Benjamin Franklin had loftier concerns, but I think his words also apply to revenue assurance professionals, however they pay the bills:

“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

And finally, with teeth gritted, in the spirit of hanging together, here are all the relevant links, including the ones to my competitors and to industry associations that I cannot join….

The TM Forum’s revenue assurance community discussion group
The TM Forum’s revenue assurance team

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.