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April 2012

Revenue Assurance: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier

Revenue Assurance: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier

“Oh, there’s just one more thing. . . ” —Lieutenant Columbo

From the editor:

Is revenue assurance considered “yesterday’s program” at your company or the purview of one particular department?  When you sit around the conference table, do you hear executives say things like:

  • “Revenue assurance is covered and under control in our company and no longer warrants senior management or boardroom attention.”
  • “Any revenue leakage has already been discovered.” --  or
  • “We have put software monitoring tools in place, so we’re well-protected.”

Well, if that’s the take on revenue assurance at your company, I know a couple of guys who beg to differ.  And they want you to break the mold of in-house approaches by drawing inspiration from Columbo and a few other surprising sources.

Curtis Mills (founder/CEO) and Van Howard (revenue assurance expert) of ProCom Consulting not only believe RA’s best years are still at hand, but they also make a strong case as to why every board and senior management team needs to put RA back on the front burner.

Their analysis is delivered in a three-part series called RA: Sweeter the Second Time Around.  Here’s a quick preview of what’s in store. . .

  • Part 1: The Magical Market Cap Multiplier — This article (see below) discusses why significant revenue and cost leakage can still go undetected, even in companies with dedicated departments; offers an updated, broader definition of revenue assurance; and describes the benefits of a “forensic” approach to revenue assurance — how it will help the bottom line, regardless of the automated tools already in place.
  • Part 2: Colombo vs.  Pie Charts — How a Revenue Assurance “Forensic” Analysis Can Find What Software Won‘t -- This article will offer a more in-depth look at why current revenue assurance techniques are often flawed.  The article will also show why the forensic approach catches issues that software and in-house teams often can’t.
  • Part 3: How It’s Done — A Sneak Peek Into a Revenue Assurance Forensic Analysis — This article will provide an overview of how to conduct an effective forensic revenue assurance analysis and explain how to act on findings in order to achieve the financial benefits.

Curtis and Van’s rousing defense of revenue/cost assurance programs is a must-read for executives eager to earn that elusive second round of RA savings.  Enjoy. . .

RA: Sweeter the Second Time Around -- Part 1

Revenue Assurance:
The Magical Market Cap Multiplier

Revenue assurance programs have been active at most telecoms for a decade or more.  Because attention and sophistication have increased, it’s tempting to believe that the current staff and software monitoring tools have already captured the lion’s share of revenue leaks and cost savings.

Contrary to this conventional wisdom, it’s our observation that there is still a great deal of money to be found.  The real challenge is that revenue assurance programs at many telecom organizations today are designed to fail.

Now “designed to fail” is a pretty harsh assessment, but bear with us for a moment: We’re going to explain the reasons why this claim isn‘t as over the top as it appears and why it isn’t the fault of any one person, department or vendor.

Before we do that, let’s first look at why revenue and cost assurance is so crucial to corporate success and revisit the scope of what it should include.

The Multiplier Effect of King Cash

Many companies are being valued these days on free cash flow and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).  In fact, boards are often highly focused on these metrics.  Yet making money is very tough today, particularly for wireline and cable companies whose profit margins are being squeezed by the recession, commoditization and aggressive competition.

The good news about revenue assurance programs is that every dollar of found revenue added or invalid cost eliminated has a direct impact on EBITDA and free cash flow.  Any CSP -- particularly tier 2 and tier 3 service providers -- can typically identify 1-3% or more in EBITDA and free cash flow lift in as little as six weeks.

Improved EBITDA and free cash flow, in turn, translates into stock price growth.  Consider U.S. cable companies as an example.  They trade at 6-9 times earnings.  Add a dollar to earnings, and you’ve added $6-9 to the stock price.  The leverage is dramatic.  On a net basis, each $1 of revenue or cost leakage addressed equates to at least $3 in sales growth (due to cost of sales and incremental direct costs) through regular channels and multiples of that in terms of market capitalization.

This translation of EBITDA and free cash flow into market cap is what makes RA programs so profoundly powerful: they usually identify issues that are relatively inexpensive or easy to fix, which means the cost savings from RA initiatives drop straight to the bottom line and have an immediate effect on corporate performance measures and stock price.  This is why boards should move RA to the top of the agenda.

Graduating from “First Generation” to “Second Generation” Revenue Assurance

Over the last 10-20 years, the industry has undertaken what we would call “first generation” revenue assurance initiatives, which focused on rating, billing, and collections.  Carriers commissioned audits, fixed their processes, improved controls, and then implemented software monitoring tools with dashboards, that continue to watch for anomalies and send alerts on an ongoing basis.

Many carriers also established dedicated revenue assurance or internal audit departments; others spread that function throughout the organization.  These efforts were very successful in finding egregious forms of leakage that had previously gone undetected.  Common examples include rejected call detail records never recycled and rated, lack of correlation between usage revenue and costs, and long-distance and cellular usage rate calculation errors.  When industry competition heated up in the ‘90s and companies needed to improve margins, there was big interest in RA at the board level.  However, once the high-volume, easy money was found, executives and boards shifted their attention.

ProCom Assurance Pyramid

With margins now razor thin and competition even tougher, we believe boards should turn their attention back to revenue assurance, with a new scope of definition and a more holistic approach, as opposed to a siloed focus.  This “second generation” of revenue assurance should include the entire range of processes from quote to cash, as illustrated in the figure on the right.  As you can see, this is a range that spans numerous organizations, processes, procedures and systems.

The challenge lies in how to monitor that flow of information from order entry through to network transactions and billing systems, and tie that together with related costs.  This is a very complex thing to do.  The goal, of course, is to ensure the accuracy of service delivery, billing, collections, and complete financial recognition of retail and wholesale revenue.

And this brings us to why many revenue assurance programs are designed to fail.

What’s Not Working and Why

Unfortunately, it’s ProCom’s observation that, because of how most small- to mid-sized telecom/cable operators in the U.S. approach RA, they fail to catch some pretty glaring areas of revenue and cost leakage.  There are three systemic reasons for this, none of which are about the competence of any particular organization, person or vendor.

  1. The low-hanging fruit has been picked.  Most of the easy money has been found already.  Everything else is hidden in the nooks and crannies where most people don‘t know to look.  Those who know typically do not have the time to investigate.  And to look there means you must have cross-company, cross-functional expertise and access, which is often not available.
  2. Software monitoring is not enough and must evolve.  Software-based monitoring and reporting strategies don‘t age very well, even if they started at an A+ level.  They tend to only interrogate what you decided to monitor when you set it up.  They also often only monitor post-processing data as opposed to raw data, where much unseen leakage may originate.  Most significantly, however, they often have a siloed view of the operations and can’t always adapt quickly enough to operational changes.  To be effective, revenue assurance programs must take a holistic view of the company, dynamically adapt to constant changes, and be pervasive throughout all affected systems, processes and organizations.  Software does exactly what you tell it to do, but can only do so much.
  3. Financial eyeballs are not enough.  Many revenue assurance initiatives rely on people with MBAs or CPAs who take a financial view rather than a raw data, operating view.  This is clearly important for understanding triangulation of revenue and related costs across the business.  However, the money is now often buried in pre-process operating data that require deeper probing that financial types may not understand, such as AMA switch records in binary code.  In addition to finance-oriented people, operations people with deep technical knowledge are the key.  Only they will know where to look, what to look for, and the meaning of the symptoms.

The irony is that the very people you need are already overburdened.  Operations staffs are thin from years of cost cutting, and it takes everything they have to simply keep operations going.  Even if they had the time, they probably wouldn‘t have the inclination to identify leakage in their own areas of the business.  There is an understandable aversion to material problem discovery that could make them vulnerable to blame or create a perception of suboptimal performance.  And even if they had the time and inclination, they lack a third critical requirement — cross-industry perspective.  The most effective revenue assurance experts have worked at numerous CSPs and have an awareness of the common pitfalls and areas where lost money hides.

The Key to EBITDA Growth: “Forensic” Analysis

For a board and senior management team that wants to preserve and grow its EBITDA, commissioning periodic forensic analyses is essential.  We use the term “forensic,” not in the criminal evidence sense, but to describe an intensive hands-on, detail-oriented investigation using a heuristic method that analyzes a variety of technical --- and often esoteric -- data.  Usually one finding leads to a subsequently deeper layer of exploration -  a “peeling the onion” exercise.  It’s like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation meets Columbo — part science and part art, derived from years of experience and a nose for detecting leakage.

There are four key success factors to a good forensic program:

  1. Use outside proxies for internal cable/telco operations and systems experts as needed.  You need experts with long-term, legacy operations backgrounds who know where and what to look for.  Ideally at least some of these people are actively working across CSPs, so they can bring fresh perspective on potential leakage areas.
  2. Give the experts (whether internal or from outside) direct, unfiltered access to raw data. They need switch-level and other raw data right from the mechanical or digital source through billing, prior to processing by any internal or external systems.  Obviously, this access can and should be adequately controlled.
  3. Give the project senior management ownership and direct involvement. It’s essential that these initiatives be viewed as positive undertakings that won‘t result in blame or retaliation for any systemic weaknesses the review uncovers.  This policy and culture has to start at the top.  The project should report to senior management.  Likewise, senior management must incentivize internal people to support the project and hold them accountable.  In this way, they won’t “gate keep” or drag their feet in giving the forensic team access to all of the raw data.
  4. Follow through.  Significant recovery opportunities are often not seized or, due to lack of follow-through, they are often never implemented.  For the reasons stated above, organization managers may be reluctant to realize recoveries in their areas, and they often have good reason to avoid the extra work to implement, due to overloaded staff and other priorities.

After recovery opportunities are identified, it is important to develop work plans with specific objectives, responsibilities and incentives.  Executive management should then ensure that recovery opportunities are realized by requiring regular status reporting until completion.

Forensics are key, but investments in revenue assurance monitoring and analytic tools are also part of a winning program.  Software tools enable day-to-day vigilance.  You just need to understand the limitations of software and learn how to compensate for those.

Part 2 of this series will discuss what these tools can and can‘t do for you in the ongoing battle to protect your margins.  In Part 2, we’ll also describe why the most elusive forms of leakage require a forensic approach.

Copyright 2012 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Curtis Mills

Curtis Mills

A widely respected communications industry expert, Curtis Mills is president and CEO of ProCom Consulting LLC.

Curtis began his career with Accenture, where he became one of the first executives in the firm to focus on BSS/OSS for the communications industry.  For over 25 years, Curtis has helped communications service providers (CSPs) improve their mission-critical customer, billing and operations support processes and systems.

Working with CSPs of all sizes and service types, his clients have included SBC/ATT, Frontier Communications, CenturyLink, Windstream, Verizon, and Amdocs, among others.   Contact Curtis via

Van Howard

Van Howard

Van Howard is a Senior Manager at ProCom Consulting, LLC and has 20 years of in-house technical operations and management experience at CSPs throughout North America.

He has led numerous revenue assurance and compliance initiatives at CSPs on behalf of senior executives and regulatory commissions.

Prior to his revenue assurance focus, he led various OSS and billing system development and testing efforts, with a heavy emphasis on order processing, message processing, data interfaces, and regulatory compliance.

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