Revenue assurance is like a slow-starting gravy train. It can be stuck in the station for ages, completely empty, with no scheduled departure. At such times, revenue assurance is ignored by almost everybody. But then the train starts to inch forward, with a few passengers waving from the windows, saying they are headed for financial paradise. At this point, a neutral observer can enjoy the panic that occurs, as everybody else realizes that they want to board. That is what happened amongst telcos during the great greenfield rollout that occurred between 2000 and 2010. Now the same thing is happening to regulators, especially in Africa. The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) is the latest to join the craze, issuing a tender for “a telecommunications traffic monitoring and revenue assurance system”.
Do regulators really want to do revenue assurance? Maybe not, but as a branch of government they can be very interested in making money. And because they believe telcos are run by idiots and crooks, then think it will be easy to implement a clever system to make lots of money from telcos.
POTRAZ’s requirements neatly demonstrate what happens when somebody shouts: “I’m going to get me some really easy money!” A lot of other people will shout: “me too!” However, most of the people shouting have no plan except to hitch their carriage to somebody else’s train, with no idea of where they are headed, or if the guy in front has chosen the right direction. This is what Zimbabwe’s regulator is asking for:
- Real-time measurement, monitoring and billing of international incoming and outgoing telecommunication traffic flows between international carriers and operators in Zimbabwe, including data and internet traffic.
- Real-time measurement, monitoring and billing of national interconnection traffic flows between the various operators within Zimbabwe.
- Measurement and monitoring of all Mobile Money Transactions by mobile operators.
- Fraud detection; i.e. ability to detect, track and identify fraudulent routing of telecommunication traffic at both international and national levels.
- The system shall be scalable so as to accommodate other applications including number portability and SIM Registration.
- Real-time measurement and monitoring of Quality of Service at the Interconnection.
We do not know how much POTRAZ is willing to pay, but I think it is safe to assume the Zimbabwean regulator is going to be disappointed. However, I expect they will pretend the eventual system did everything they asked it to. Plenty of telcos did the same thing – although they knew nothing about revenue assurance, they asked for everything at once. What comes after is a painful transition period that usually takes years, involving lots of workarounds and ‘upgrades’ that seem to deliver what the original RA system supposedly delivered. I especially like the idea of a ‘scalable’ RA system that can also manage number portability. Why stop there? Whilst they were at it, they should have asked the RA system to scale up to protecting the nation’s borders and forecasting next week’s weather. But I must admit, if I were Zimbabwean, I would be less keen on the regulator ‘measuring and monitoring’ every single mobile money transaction.
Anyone who fancies pitching for this project will find all the details here. You have until 30th June 2015 to express your interest. I just hope, for the sake of the Zimbabwean taxpayer, that the contract is won by somebody relatively honest…