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June 2013

Analytics Biology: Evolving to New Data Sources & Intelligence Gathering Methods

Analytics Biology: The Power of Evolving to New Data Sources and Intelligence Gathering Methods

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.“

Robert Frost, American Poet (1874-1963)

In analytics, the well-trodden path is certainly the Teradata data warehouse.  The Teradata DW, the standard at most large telecoms, is as useful and powerful as ever.  But does that mean we should sacrifice a hundred fast ROIs for the comfort level of saying we have a “single version of the truth”?

No, it’s time for DW champions to fully bless value-creating solutions not invented or controlled by IT.  If there’s advantage to be gained from third-party big data platforms, bring them on.  Let those platforms fight for the budget dollars to extract value from the countless pockets of operational efficiency that have yet to be fully explored.

Over time, Charles Darwin’s laws will surely play out: the many species of big data beast will get pared down to a few robust survivors like the crocodile, horseshoe crab, and duck-billed platypus.

And while we’re at it, it’s time to look beyond the tried and true data sources and intelligence gathering methods of the past.

Here to help evangelize that vision is Paul Morrissey, Chief of Strategy and Business Development of analytics software firm Ventraq.  Paul’s perspective draws from his long career in telecom and in related fields like military intelligence and the mobile gaming industry.

Dan Baker: Paul, what is it about the way telecoms operate that frustrates you the most?

Paul Morrissey: Dan, I’ve been in the global telecom business for 30 years and a perennial concern of mine is that carriers have never been that close to customers.

To be honest, I thought that carriers were fairly arrogant in the way that they treated customers.  They didn‘t value them correctly.  Sure, they valued them as blocks of subscribers, but not as individual assets.

Thankfully these things have changed in the last 18 months now that we actually have the capability to know a customer’s likes, dislikes, buying habits, trends, associations, and other customer attributes we either didn‘t value or thought were too costly to go after before.

You should feel fortunate then.  Now that you head up the Big Data program at TM Forum, you no longer need to be a wolf howling in the woods.

Yes, working with TMF is feeding my passion for figuring out how telecoms can really move forward with big data.  And the first project I put in place there is something called the Customer Experience Management Index (CEMI).

Up to now, a telecom’s view of CEM has been rather fragmented.  It’s measured in many things: network quality, customer service, customer billing accuracy — and I thought this paradigm was wrong.  So I proposed we should instead measure CEM across the whole of the enterprise and come up with a business index rather than a technology index.

And that is what the CEMI is about.  It’s a global standard in the form of index that measures one carrier against another.  We started with a Catalyst on the idea, but now we actually have a written specification for CEMI in the TM Forum environment.

Then there’s the position you hold as Chief of Strategy at Ventraq.  Where’s Ventraq headed these days?

Well, you can bet that Ventraq is doubling down at empowering carriers to gain a more in-depth view of their customers‘ experiences.  One measure of that commitment is the sheer volume and number of data sources they ingest.

One carrier customer is taking 10 billion records a day into their Ventraq database.  And that data is multi-faceted.  It not only includes the B/OSS and network data you’d expect.  They also take in third party reference data and GPS positions.  They track: the smart phones the customers have; how those smart phones are used; what websites the customers visit; and how influential each customer is with other people in their network via social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Years back, CEM was a matter of looking at things like the call center to determine service satisfaction.  Now this is a valid piece of information, but there are many of other pieces of information that can be used as well.

So if you look at the last 100 customers who churned from your mobile network, and you have a set of attributes they all share, you can run those attributes against the rest of the customers and see how close they are to getting to churning as well.

What they are trying to do is break down the silos of where that data comes from and harmonize it into a single database with a 360 degree view of the customer.  That is what Ventraq aims to do better than anyone else.

Can you give us a couple examples of where a 360 degree view of the customer adds value?

One great example is the single-minded focus on a higher ARPU as the all-important business driver.

But imagine if one of the low ARPU customers you serve is the CEO or CFO of a company that you are providing global services for.  That customer suddenly deserves special VIP treatment, but if you are only looking at ARPU, you miss that perspective.

Now the only way you can figure out who the key influences are within those organizations is with large data management.

Here’s another classic example.  You are measuring call answering time on IVR or call answering time on a phone or you measure the frustration of people going through an IVR system, and then you ask the customer at the end of the call if they are satisfied with their service.

I use Skype and I’ve noticed that every time you make a Skype call, they ask you to rate the call.  When you finish the call, it asks you to grade the service 1,2,3,4, or 5 points.  Now a lot of people don‘t answer that Skype survey, but that’s an important detail too because it generally means the caller is more or less satisfied.  Now I can tell you that many carriers don’t have such a survey.

So these are the kinds of services that Ventraq focuses on it.

Tell me more about using social media.  I’m one of those who believes the noise to signal ratio of social media makes it one of the less valuable data sources to track.

Consider this, Dan.  The incremental cost to capture and analyze social media is so low that it can still deliver insights even if CDR analysis remains a more valuable source overall.

For instance, Ventraq has a system that measures each Twitter tweet.  Yes, that feed is very much of a fire hose, but you can still do some interesting things with it.

You can count how many times a telecom is mentioned in Twitter and measure the percent of positive or negative tweets.  It’s called sentiment analysis, and it’s based on keywords.  Now, where the data sets get more interesting is when you group the tweets by geographic location and learn that in New York, customers of Carrier A are more satisfied than customers of Carrier B.

Paul, I understand you also have a background in gaming and military intelligence.  What’s that about?

Well, I am chairman of a gaming company called Lucid Games.  And in the gaming business one of the techniques is to push information and cultivate the key influencers who advocate and tell others about your game.

And yes, I’ve also been involved in military intelligence.  So I’m eager to see some of the analytics principles in the gaming and defence world applied in telco.

One powerful technique uses an email extraction tool that lets you see groups of people who send emails to each other.  The idea is to send an email message to 100 people and ask them to forward the email to others.  If everything works well, the network will eventually send an email back to you.  In any case, the point is to analyze the flow of messages across the network to see who is connected to whom.

Thanks, Paul, it’s a safe guess that big data will pave the way for lots of novel data sources and techniques, including stuff that hasn‘t even been dreamed up yet.

Copyright 2013 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey

Professor Paul Morrissey is Chief Stategy and Business Development Officer at Ventraq.  He is a technology entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in fields such as advanced data centre, telco operational systems, security, and forensics.

In 2010 he was awarded a professorship by the School of Mathematics and Computing at Liverpool John Moores University for work surrounding university technology spin-out companies.  He is head of the Data Analytics Group at TM Forum and has been associated with Ventraq for over ten years.   Contact Paul via

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