Email a colleague    

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

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

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

Black Swan Solution Guides & Papers

Related Articles

  • WeDo Explores the IoT Ecosystem in Search of Tomorrow’s Pivotal Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions interview with Carlos Marques — A veteran product manager scans the IoT terrain, discusses key fraud and assurance challenges, and explains the preparatory steps WeDo is taking to become a key player in this emerging market.
  • New Report: Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies by Dan Baker & Luke Taylor & Colin Yates — TRI publishes a new market research report, Telecom Fraud & Business Assurance Solutions, Services & Strategies.  Free executive summary available.
  • Subex Juggles a Wide Variety of Business Assurance and Big Data Analytics Use Cases interview with Rohit Maheshwari — A expert in business assurance solutions explains top use cases such as: IoT security, big data analytics/AI, network asset optimization, multi-player gaming assurance, onboarding mobile subs, and AI customer analytics.
  • MTN Agility: Mastering Exponential Technologies in Revenue/Fraud Assurance and Beyond interview with Danie Maritz & Tony Sani & Luke Taylor — An in-depth look at RAFM operations and innovation at the MTN Group.  Topics discussed include RA/fraud control challenges, strategies, and MTN’s journey to exploit exponential tech (AI, robotics, and ML) in its RAFM program and support of internal non-telco businesses.
  • From Byzantine Software Contracts to Simple & Flexible RA Managed Services interview with Philippe Orsini — Is the way B2B/enterprise software is sold and delivered today progressive — or is it Byzantine in the age of cloud?  An expert lays out the case for managed services in RA and billing verification.
  • Premiere Experts Set to Speak at Summer RAG Conference in London, July 7th and 8th by Dan Baker — The Risk and Assurance Group (RAG) has announced that its 2016 summer conference will expand into a two-day event and feature many premiere experts. 
  • WeDo Hosts Revenue Assurance & Fraud Management Conference in Washington DC by Dan Baker — Black Swan is pleased to announce what looks to be a first class revenue assurance and fraud management conference being put on by WeDo Technologies, on October 1st and 2nd in beautiful Washington DC.
  • Test Call Generators: An Essential Test & Debugging Tool in Mobile Billing Assurance interview with Steffen Öftring — An “active” test call generator (TCG) can see problems that a “passive” revenue assurance system is blind to.  Here’s a discussion on the test call RA  process, over-the-air calls versus core call injection, and test call networks in global roaming RA.
  • The Revenue Assurance Game: How the Rules Change in the Era of IoT & Mobile Broadband interview with Rene Felber & Gadi Solotorevsky — Revenue assurance is perhaps the hardest of telecom functions to define because the term is used in so many different senses.  This discussion on the evolving role of revenue assurance was catalyzed by a survey of experts in the profession.
  • Day in the Life of a Revenue Assurance Analyst interview with Michael Lazarou — Revenue assurance is much more than a software category.  It’s individual analysts struggling to help their larger organizations get a handle on system errors and coordination problems.  In this interview, an analyst reveals the many challenges of getting the revenue assurance job done at a small GSM operator in Europe.
  • Revenue Assurance: History and New Beginnings in RA Maturity interview with Daniela Giacomantonio & Gadi Solotorevsky — The Roman Forum was the center of commercial life in ancient Rome.  Now, two millennia later, the Forum lives on in the exchange of ideas across countless professions and  media.  In this interview, two Revenue Assurance experts discuss both the new RA Maturity initiative of the TM Forum and the value of telco/solution vendor collaboration.
  • Migrating systems or launching LTE next year?  Don‘t forget transformation assurance & optimisation by Efrat Nissimov — System transformations and network migrations are major  revenue impacting events and they should raise a big red flag.  Why?  Because data integrity issues are bound to crop up as CSPs move vital data from a legacy system to something new.  It’s time for transformation assurance.
  • How can Cable/DSL Internet Providers Meet the Usage-Based Billing Mandate? interview with Ryan Guthrie — The popularity of YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu other video outlets has turned the tables on service profitability for cable/DSL service providers.  Many are moving to usage-based billing, but that largely unprepared for the revenue assurance aspects of this move.  This interview explains the technical challenge and points to solutions in billing, speed caps, and traffic revenue monitoring.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance: How Rural LECs can Recover $284 Million in Revenue Shortfalls interview with Kelly Cannon & Darrell Merschak — Independent rural LECs in the U.S. still rely on the AMA/EMI billing formats for CABS billing, even as that format has proven to be highly inaccurate as a source of inter-carrier records.  This interview includes an analysis and discussion of revenue recovery techniques ILECs can use by leveraging SS7 probes.  Also discussed are billing strategies, traffic dumping threats, and the possible fallout from the FCC’s bill-and-keep mandate.
  • Make Business Assurance Progress Every Day: How to Set Goals, Automate, and Energize Your Team interview with Kathleen Romano — Business assurance (BA) skills have wide applicability outside the revenue assurance and fraud mangement domains.  In this article, a telecom executive explains how she’s applying her BA skills in the Payments area.  In addition to discussing the key operational challenges in Payments, the interview also provides keen insights on setting goals in business assurance, leading a team, and making critical decisions.
  • LTE Rollout: Make it a Smashing Success with Risk Assessment, Controls, and Marketing Offer Analytics by Gadi Solotorevsky — LTE brings splendid new capabilities to mobile users.  But like 2G and 3G deployments before, operators can only make money if they successfuly plan, coordinate, deploy fast, and pay attention to pricing plans and the customer experience.  This article lays out a 3-phase tactical guide on  how revenue analytics professionals can add value in LTE service risk assessment, controls, and marketing offer analytics.
  • RA Prevention: How to Manage Revenue Risks and Communicate RA’s Value to Senior Execs by Shaul Moav — The era of revenue assurance prevention and risk assessment is here.  Several of the mature operators of the world have developed their own methodologies and tools.  Using firefighting and fire prevention as a metaphor, the article details a new commercial software approach explaining the goals, method of risk evaluation, and senior executive dashboards developed for the process.
  • Precision Clockworks: How Revenue Assurance Synchronizes with the Business at Swisscom interview with Marco Pollinger — An expert revenue assurance department is one whose work dovetails well with the lines of businesses it supports.  In this interview you’ll learn how Swisscom manages its revenue assurance function for maximum effect.  The article discusses: the operator’s innovative RA organization, the screening and RA approval of new services, its pre-production bill audits, and its coordination with corporate risk management.
  • Versatile, Portable & Corrections-Savvy: Quest for the Swiss Army Knife of Revenue Assurance Software by Mark Yelland — Revenue assurance maturity models are not cast in stone.  Since  best practices will change over time, it’s healthy to explore moving maturity models forward.  For example, great gains have been made in leakage detection, but RA corrections has been harder to master.  The author dreams about seven functions that should ideally come together in a single all-purpose revenue assurance software tool.
  • Bringing Strategic Planning & Value Engineering to Revenue Assurance interview with Maged Fawzy — Engineering and architectural techniques have a role in revenue assurance.  This interview with a top Egyptian RA consultant explains how continuous risk assessment and long range — yet flexible — RA planning can sharpen a carrier’s RA program and lead to better use of revenue assurance software and integration services.
  • Forensic Fossils: Is Your Revenue Assurance Shop Fit for Display at a Natural History Museum? interview with Jim Marsh — Without the continuous guiding light of seasoned revenue assurance leaders, even the best teams of RA professionals, technology, and business processes can fossilize and lose their vitality.
  • Revenue Assurance: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier by Van Howard & Curtis Mills — Many operators today consider revenue assurance yesterday’s opportunity.  But this article shows why significant revenue and cost leakage can still go undetected, even in companies with dedicated RA departments.  Also discussed are the benefits of a broader or more “forensic” approach to revenue assurance, an approach that boosts the bottom line regardless of the automated tools already in place.
  • From Risk to Robust: Turning the Big Picture Into a Real Agenda for Change in Telecoms by Eric Priezkalns — Inspired by a Financial Times article written by Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan”, here is an insightful and entertaining primer on telecom risk management.  The article takes ten risk management lessons from Taleb and applies them specifically to the communications industry.  You’ll learn about the value of small scale trials, organization accountability, cures for a blame culture, incentives that work, the power of simplicity, and more.
  • Synthesizing the Telecom Business Assurance Practice With the Analytics World by Dan Baker — Business assurance is a wrapper term that allows you to draw a circle around various telecom assurance, control, and optimization activities.  This article maps business assurance as a subset of telecom analytics, constrasting it with marketing analytics while a diagram shows where biz assurance fits in the larger B/OSS world.
  • CABS Revenue Assurance Disputes: May the Carrier With the Best Data Win by Cheryl Smith Rardin & David West — Revenue assurance innovation is far easier when partners cooperate to make it happen.  This articles shows how a U.S. operator, software vendor, and consultant teamed to develop a breakthrough in Carrier Access Billing (CABS) assurance.  Learn about: the dispute resolution data gap that needed to be filled, the partnering strategy, the implementation challenges, and payback results.
  • Revenue Assurance vs.  Business Assurance: Who’s the Rightful King of Controls Software? interview with Sergio Luis Silvestre — Business controls software, originally developed for RA, is finding application in other areas of the business such as internal audit, collections, security and risk management.  This article argues that “business assurance” is the best term to describe this broader set of  controls software that can find a home in numerous departments or functions of a CSP’s business.
  • PwC on the Business of Revenue Assurance Consulting & Mentoring interview with Tim Banks & Dan Stevens — Revenue assurance consulting firms offer a broad range of services to clients these days.  The article explains the practice of mentoring RA mangers and providing a CFO with visibility on the status of an operator’s business controls.  Perspective is also offered on the value of RA software and the opportunity to broaden the RA practice scope.
  • Robots for Hire: Verifying Accuracy In the Age of Complex Mobile Billing/Charging interview with Xavier Lesage — As real-time charging and complex lifestyle calling plans gain credence across the globe in wireless, billing quality issues will rise in importance.  This article discusses a unique managed services approach to invoice testing and roaming fraud protection that checks results against advertised or published source data for the utmost accuracy.
  • Ericsson: Revenue Assurance Consulting With an NGN Flavor interview with Thomas Steagall — Helping operators detect billing and provisioning problem is merely table stakes in the RA services business these days.  The article discuss why operators need to ramp up their RA function with service experience and group-wide financial health monitoring.  Advise is also offered on: key RA maturity questions, risk-and-reward contracts, and how to extract greater value from software investments.
  • Do-It-Yourself RA for Small Operators and MVNOs interview with Mark Yelland — Budget-minded small operators and MVNOs are no longer hamstrung in RA capability anymore.  This article offers high-leverage strategies for operators who cannot afford expensive RA software tools.  With  data access, brains, and a DIY philosophy, any small operator can map a  path to greater RA savings, maturity, and program growth.
  • Revenue Assurance Maturity: Report From the Arena interview with Eric Nelson — Revenue assurance maturity can‘t be easily computed.  How do you  compare the KPIs of Comcast billing with that of mobile money RA in Western Africa?  Even still, this article offers some universal RA wisdom from a straight-shooting veteran of carriers large and small.  Topics discussed include: dashboard or process, COTS vs. inhouse solutions, and tips on gaining internal support for the RA practice.
  • Revenue Assurance: Where Do We Go from Here? by Rob Mattison — By leveraging a good core understanding of telco technologies, operations and revenue management activities, RA professionals are applying their knowledge in areas such as Margin Assurance, Market Assurance, Revenue Engineering, and Revenue Governance.  This article lays out some useful definitions of the many facets of business and revenue assurance.