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May 2011

Do-It-Yourself RA for Small Operators and MVNOs

Do-It-Yourself RA for Small Operators and MVNOs

Retailers like Home Depot (U.S.) and HomeBase (U.K.) have made Do-It-Yourself (DIY) home renovation a worldwide trend from Germany to Australia.

Well, last week I spoke to a consultant who’s taken Home Depot’s motto, “You can do it, we can help“ into the field of revenue assurance.  U.K.-based Mark Yelland runs a one-man consulting firm, raaiim, whose mission is to help small operators, MVNOs, and any operator on a tight software budget get rolling successfully in revenue assurance.  He’s even written a book on the subject called “Revenue Assurance for Service Providers,” available from Amazon, with David Sherick as co-author.

Mark is the kind of guy I could easily imagine sitting for hours with, discussing ancient history over a canter of Sherry at a private English club.  Sadly, there are a lot of consultants out there who cloak their expertise in fluffy techno-babble.  But with Mark, what you see is what you get — grandly simple concepts and analogies that get to the heart of what you want to know. 

Dan Baker: Mark, you’ve become a crusader for all the tier 3 and tier 4 operators out there.  Tell us how you got started in this.

Mark Yelland: Well it all began when I worked for Cable & Wireless, which is really a worldwide federation of small- to mid-sized telcos.  I looked after some of their smaller territories — places like the Turks and Caicos Islands where the population is less than 50,000.

Now the larger U.K. and Panama operators inside the Cable & Wireless group could afford to buy off-the-shelf RA software to help them, but that wasn’t the case at Turks and Caicos.  Yet they still needed solutions.  So that was my dilemma: how to help the smaller players compete on a level playing field.

What’s the starting point for getting a smaller operator into RA?  Where do you begin?

As long as they can get their hands on the data, there are lots of free or inexpensive software tools that can help them do the analysis.  For instance, I’m now working with an operator to analyze wholesale international records.  This sort of work can be done on an MS Access database or the free version from OpenOffice.org.

In fact, that analysis identified a number of issues for them.  In general, you don’t need big systems and a lot of number crunching to find out what the big issues are.  Almost all of it you can figure out using a small sample of data.  You don’t need a month’s worth of data to find a problem that affects 2 percent of your traffic.  And you can often pinpoint the problems in an hour’s worth of work.

Plus, by becoming skilled at analyzing the data on your own, you’re in a much better position to decide exactly where you should spend your software budget and whether or not you’ve matured your in-house practice enough to justify that investment.

Bottom line, as a smaller operator, you can’t afford to buy a system that becomes obsolete in six months.  That’s why I encourage my client to develop the right mindset, give them some simple tools, then let them use their brains.

[Laughing] What an original thought — “using your own brains ...  Seriously, at what point does a DIY carrier realize that Excel spreadsheets and Access database are not enough?

You use what you’re comfortable with.  No reason to spend a fortune buying a particular type of software when you have software inside your business you can use.  Once you get used to that, you are then in a position to ask yourself: “well, do I need to upgrade or automate further?“

But you, as the operator, need to decide how far you go, because a vendor is not interested in the success of your business, just earning some money from you.

I’m the subject-matter expert for new revenue assurance vendor XINTEC, who has a fraud, RA and test-call generator product.  Like most software firms, they need someone with hands-on experience in RA to help them get the most out of their product.

Just because a software firm sells you RA software doesn’t mean they understand how best an RA program should be implemented.

True.  And it’s funny.  I’ve been interviewing revenue assurance software vendors for 10 years and I can’t recall ever hearing one of them say, “You know, it’s a good idea to have an industry consultant implement this.“

There’s a reason for that reticence.  Most software vendors have come to believe they should never reveal a weakness.  Now with XINTEC, it’s clear we have complementary skills.  I am not an expert in designing professional systems to extract data and number crunch.  I can do my Access database as a one-off snapshot and I can help talk to a client and explain where he needs to be looking to help him solve his problems.  But then the ball needs to get passed to XINTEC to design the interfaces.

Designing software is not my skill set: It doesn’t give me a buzz.  But helping people solve problems does give me a buzz.

I’m curious about the needs that MVNOs have in revenue assurance.  Since MVNOs don’t own their own facilities, my guess is their needs aren’t as great.

Actually, the question you raise is a common concern.  The MVNO is rather handicapped in its analysis because it doesn’t have full access to the mobile-usage records.

Last year I was doing work for an MVNO and its wholesaler (MNO) was a well-respected multinational.  What we tried to do was reconcile the retail records for the MVNO — what it charges its customers — against the wholesale records of the MNO.  But we got push back from the MNO who said, “You shouldn’t be using those records to reconcile, because they won’t match.“ It was a ridiculous statement, because if it were true, it would mean the MNO’s records were totally unreliable.

Well, there’s a quote from the Godfather that applies here: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.“ To protect itself, an MVNO needs to understand what motivates the MNO.  And many times a minor issue for an MNO could be quite significant for the MVNO.  For example, if the MNO is holding a lot of records in suspense that are not being billed, it might be only 1 percent of the MNO’s total portfolio, but it could be 80 percent of the MVNO’s business.

So while it’s true that MVNOs don’t need the big solutions, they certainly need systems that keep tabs on their MNOs.  The lesson here is simple.  You can’t rely on MNOs to act in an MVNO’s best interests: They act in the best interest of themselves.

This article first appeared in Billing and OSS World.

Copyright 2011 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Expert

Mark Yelland

Mark Yelland

Mark Yelland has been working in the revenue assurance and fraud space for over 20 years.  For the last five, he has run a small consultancy firm, RAAIIM, targeting the smaller and newer operators, helping them get started or improve their revenue leakage and risk management.  Showing them what can be achieved with minimal spend — getting more out of their existing systems, or developing tools using open-source products.

Like all engineers, he enjoys solving problems of all types, trying to find elegant, cost effective and simple solutions to big problems.  His engineering training comes from the degree course at Cambridge University and his business skills come from the Open University MBA.   Contact Mark via

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