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Revenue assurance lives somewhere in the city meadowlands that separate Billing/Operations Borough from Internal Audit Village.
Being a staff function, RA has little official power on its own, but if RA is put behind energetic, smart, and influential people, it can deliver great value to the telco organization.
My quest to better understand the human dimension of RA led me to Michael Lazarou, an RA analyst at a small GSM operator in Europe. Reading a couple of his excellent blog posts on talkRA, I contacted him, we met on Skype, and his keen observations on the RA function follow.
|Dan Baker: Michael, to start, I’m curious how the RA function at your company is organized?|
Michael Lazarou: Happy to, Dan. My firm is a subsidiary of a larger telecom group with more than a dozen operators worldwide.
The group is involved in our local RA operation in a big way, setting the agenda for our RA activities. We actually have a contract with an outsource firm who runs activities for us.
Locally we collect and organize the data and push it to the outsourcer. Then they do exception analysis to a certain point and that’s where we pick up the results, analyze them, and then follow up with different departments.
Because we have a new convergent billing/charging system, we’re doing a lot of rating performance checks these days. Both prepaid and postpaid are rated in real-time. We are also busy reconciling the network elements with the rating platform.
|In one of your blog posts on talkRA, you talked about the challenge of interacting with the other departments — and trying to win their support for RA programs.|
Yes, that is the biggest challenge for revenue assurance because other departments see RA as someone trying to get them into trouble -- or create more work for them than necessary. Not everyone realizes we’re there to help the company. We spend a lot of time asking for information and data. And if you don‘t get back to them and show the results of your work, they won’t respect you. Many consider us internal auditors. Not everyone gets what we’re about. And I think is due to a lack of awareness and the fact that our organization is at a lower level of maturity.
Actually, very few primary controls are in place: that is one of the key issues. Revenue assurance lacks a view of everything going on. Sometimes RA brings up important issues that may be known but no one does anything about.
Getting reliable data and convincing people to cooperate remains a key problem. It also takes a long time to get our hands on data to work with.
|So, how would like to improve the operation? What would you do to make it better?|
Perhaps the most important thing is educating the organization about revenue assurance. The business is not just about launching new products and service. It also needs to ensure that the product and service is of a good quality and there are no leakages or other operational issues.
We also need executives to take a more active interest in RA to push it along with more controls.
|I think in many ways revenue assurance is still taking its first baby steps. One time I sat in a room with RA leaders from several large operators. They were having a round-robin discussion about moving their RA programs forward, and the subject of RA for enterprise customers came up. Well, the general consensus there was that while RA programs were mature on the consumer side, at enterprise accounts, it was a relative greenfield.|
That is interesting because we are having a similar discussion about corporate customers just now. Our enterprise customers have many services, many mobile phones, PBX systems, so there’s potential for leakage because their provisioning is more complicated.
I see revenue assurance as a sort of continuous improvement function. It exists to help the company tighten its processes and also serves to bring departments together because RA has a 360 degree view of what marketing is doing, what the business is doing, what’s happening in roaming and the recording of the books in finance.
You have a bird’s eye view of the company and that’s a privileged position because the information that comes out of RA can be used to make decisions at both a higher executive and operational level.
Unfortunately, organizations have a tendency to only think of RA after the fact. There’s pressure to launch a new product or a new service, but only afterwards will people think about leakages and fraud. So the biggest obstacle I guess is human nature and the rush to compete and gets things out to market.
|How successful are you if a new product is getting launched to be in there with them and helping them plan and build up controls?|
We usually get to do a quick review of products before they launch, but that’s as far as we can go because we lack the people to take part in the planning from the very beginning. We talk to billing or the related IT departments to get all the information we need to modify our own scripts and activities, but that is as far as we actually can go.
|A while back I had a discussion with Ed Shanahan, former head of the revenue assurance practice at TMNG (now Cartesian). Well, he remarked that at a theoretical level RA’s responsibilities are vast and you never have enough staff to get the job done. And yet if RA aligns itself with the services and the things that the company wants to be excellent in today, the program can go very far.|
That advice applies very well to our situation I think. There are certain things that are going on in a company at any given time. So, if RA is aligned with those and can provide some assistance in the five top on-going activities, such as roaming, interconnect traffic, and a few other things, it can make a big difference.
And yet, the reality of a small operator is that our resources are thin and we are being pushed in a few different directions, so we may not have the time to put in the controls we know we need.
|Thanks for your great perspective, Michael.|
Copyright 2014 Black Swan Telecom Journal