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November 2012

Please Mishandle my Telecom Job and Professional Career

Please Mishandle my Telecom Job and Professional Career

Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.
What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888

It was a cold January night on the Hoboken, NJ side of the Hudson River.  But I was warm inside the auditorium at Stevens Institute of Technology where a packed crowd was there to hear Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb give his first public lecture on the subject of anti-fragility.

Taleb, famous for teasing his listeners with humor and his contrarian views, was in fine form that night. . .

Taleb: Is this microphone working?  Why is it that technology fails me when I come to talk about fragility? (Audience laughter) My first rule is that anything that is called efficient typically is fragile.  Take Amazon’s Kindle.  If you are upset that the person next to you has a Kindle, you can pour coffee on it and see what happens.  Whereas if you take a book, if you pour coffee on it, you just have to wait a bit for it to dry.

We cannot truly measure the “efficiency” of something unless you see what comes with it.  And fragility comes with it.

So let me ask: What is the opposite of fragile?

Audience: Robust.

Taleb: Who says ‘robust’?

Audience: Hardy

Audience: Fails gracefully

Taleb: OK, what about “resilient”?  Whenever I hear “resilient”, I just hate that word -- for good reason.

Now let’s say you have a package.  And this is a wedding gift, a glass vase, you are sending to your cousin in Australia.  So you go to the Hoboken post office and you send it.  And what do you write on the package? “Fragile, Handle with Care.” Agree?

Now suppose you wanted to put the opposite instruction on that package.  You would not write “Robust” on the package.  So what would you say?

You guys [in the audience] who are in engineering, what’s the opposite of negative?

Audience: Positive.

Taleb: Positive, that’s right.  Even in New Jersey. (Laughter)

So the negative of fragility would not be “robust”.  Maybe you would write something on the package like, “I Don’t Care”.

Fragile is the lower bound.  Unharmed is the upper bound  Agree?  At the upper bound, the vase is never going to be in better condition than it is right now.  So the lower bound is unharmed and the upper bound is also unharmed.  That’s the definition of something that is robust.

The real opposite of “fragile” — and there’s no word in any language — would be something that would benefit from mishandling.  It would gain from disorder, stress, and being treated roughly.  The label of the package should say, “Please Mishandle.”

OK, so you now have the basic insight behind this new English word Taleb’s created.  And as you’d expect, Taleb has just published his much anticipated book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, that expands on the theme in 544 pages.

Dan Baker: Taleb’s theory is brilliant because it has broad implications for many human pursuits, but I wanted a telecom industry perspective on anti-fragility.  That’s why I asked Eric Priezkalns to lend his perspective. 

Eric is the editor of talkRA and is the most prolific and most-followed blogger in revenue assurance today.  Besides that, he’s a colleague whose advice I treasure and someone who I correspond with regularly by email.  Eric, what’s your take on anti-fragility?

Eric Priezkalns: My thoughts immediately turn to Mother Nature.  Take the pruning of a plant.  Tomatoes don‘t require a lot of pruning, but pumpkins do well if pruned.  And if you don’t prune the pumpkins, you’ll end up with lots of small ones, instead of the big ones that make great Halloween lanterns.  In nature, there are some organisms that do best when worn down, eaten, and consumed.  I mean, take a berry — the plant wants its berry to be eaten, because the seeds will be spread elsewhere.  How’s that for anti-fragility?  The plant does best if Mr.  Goat comes along and munches on it!

Mother Nature's sister, Hurricane Sandy, came roaring through Pennsylvania only two weeks ago.   The 50 mile per hour winds fell many trees, which took down power lines and blocked roads.  The trees that fell were the big ones that had grown ungainly.  But the trees that survived -- though stressed by the strong winds -- probably are in better shape now because Sandy knocked off their weak branches. 

Speaking of being knocked about, plenty of small businesses have been felled by the strong winds of the recession.  But while many of those business owners suffered a big personal loss, their failure was probably short-lived.  Many of them will kick the dust off their pants and start new ventures.  They had dangerously overextended themselves in some way, but with their newfound wisdom they’ll build a stronger business next time. 

So there are some rich metaphors here to nature and business ventures, but what I most want to explore is anti-fragility in the context of telecom careers.

Yes, at first glance, the safe course would seem to be to continue in your present career — to follow the well-trodden path.  After all, that’s where your experience lies and where you’ve built up a long list of LinkedIn contacts.

When Stress is Good for You

But here’s the irony: the more stress you accept and the bigger and fresher the challenges you take on, the more you learn and the stronger you become.  We look at stress as a negative, but it is also a positive.  Nobody wants more stress than they can handle, but taking on stress is crucial to developing as a person and as a professional, and is vital to strengthening your career.

Forgive me, I’m going to make a pretty dark point but I think it’s helpful because I want to emphasize how important it is for individuals to manage risks for themselves as individuals, and to see themselves in a bigger context than their daily routines.


Telcos are big businesses, and between all the HR people in telcos, and all the training firms that service telcos, and all the recruitment consultants and everyone else, it’s easy for an employee to be taken down a career path.  It might be hard for them to imagine being anything other than what they are today.  They can become more and more specialized, and I certainly understand how that feels.  If you want a negative word for it, you might also say they’re being ‘institutionalized’.  That can happen in telcos because they’re big; you’re not likely to find that happening in small businesses.

But even though it is comfortable having a stable job with a good salary for twenty years, it is really fragile.  There were a lot of shock waves when several long-serving employees of France Telecom, faced with redundancy, chose to take their own lives.  I was really sorry to hear about that, but I also think some people drew the wrong conclusions.

Following those tragic suicides, many inferred that you had to be more sensitive when making people redundant.  Now, redundancy is not a nice thing, but I thought something else had already gone wrong, irrespective of how the redundancies were handled.  Decades of doing the same job had left these people unable to imagine a working life outside of France Telecom.  So the issue wasn’t just the stress of being faced with redundancy, it was that they had been protected from stress for a long time.  And that left them fragile — doubting their ability to adapt and prosper in a different role, in a different environment.  So what I’m saying about managing risk in a telecoms career isn’t just some abstract triviality.

In fact, you recently resigned as Director of Risk Management at QTel.  So you’re in the midst of a career change yourself.

If I’m honest, I came back to the UK to attempt a transition in my life, and I was conscious that maybe I could spend some time on my old pursuits whilst also finding some time for my new pursuits.  In practice, the old pursuits keep generating lots and lots of opportunities, and I’m not making any time for the new pursuits.  In a way, that’s great!  I like being in demand.  But it’s also terrible.  If I don’t do different things, and stretch myself in new ways, I’m not taking the risks I wanted to take.

A Meeting with the RAG — Revenue Assurance Group

For example, somebody called me yesterday, asking me to come into London next week, to spend the day talking to people from a wide range of telcos.  It was a bunch of guys who call themselves the ‘RAG’ -- the ‘Revenue Assurance Group’.  Organized by Cartesian, it’s a group of British RA veterans who really know their jobs, through and through, and that means they feel good sitting around, sharing war stories about what they’ve been working on.  They’ve been going at this for years, and it’s a pleasure to be in their company.

It was great to be at the RAG again.  I had an easy time, because they asked me about blogging — I don‘t think I’d have anything interesting to tell them about doing RA!  But it also reminded me of why I started blogging.  When Cable & Wireless was restructured, I had been doing work all across the group, but that wasn’t possible any more.  From then on, I would have to work for one half of the business, or the other half.  I was so dispirited that I took redundancy instead.  I started blogging and doing freelance consulting as a way to develop intellectual and creative muscles that had long lain dormant, and to create opportunities that I might not get otherwise.

In talking to the RAG, it occurred to me that you could apply the principles of risk management to what I had done personally.  I was talking about the ways I had used blogging as an aid to managing my own risk, and as a way to take on more risk.  That’s an important point I always want to drive home: the optimal risk isn’t the least risk.  The optimal risk is the maximum risk that helps you to achieve your goals, and the least of all other kinds of risk.  So if you want to work for 40 years, then maybe it’s a good idea to invest a little time and effort in staying agile, so you can change career if necessary.

As a risk manager, I empathize with why people don’t like to try different things.  Not least, they may fail!  And then you feel you wasted your time and effort.  But it’s not a waste.  Risk involves directing a scarce resource — for example, my time is a scarce resource — from a more straightforward option where I know what I’m doing, towards a different option where I don‘t know what I’m doing.  But I won’t ever enjoy the different results if I don‘t take the risk.

Elephant and Flea

The Flea and the Elephant

To use Charles Handy’s language, since I left Cable & Wireless, I’ve tried to be a flea.  Handy described himself as a flea, having previously been an elephant.  The way he explained it, elephants are a metaphor for a career as an employee of a big business.  In contrast, fleas bounce around from place to place.  That makes fleas anti-fragile.  They do better and better from change, whilst elephants are big creatures that are threatened by change.  So if I combine Handy with Taleb’s thinking, we may say the elephant is robust, but it isn’t anti-fragile.  My challenge right now is to become twice the flea I used to be.  I want to double the places I will bounce to, but that means half as much time spent on the more familiar spots, like revenue assurance.

But don’t get me wrong.  I’m talking a lot about applying risk principles to my own life, but I know the human heart isn’t a calculator.  All this metaphorical language is a sign that I’m dealing with internal conflict.  There are irrational parts of my mind that insist elephants take less risk than fleas.  It’s hard to overcome those ways of thinking, even though I’ve spent years analysing the topic as rationally as I can.

Taking the anti-fragility theme to heart, what should an RA professional be doing to move the needle towards less fragility in the larger telecom organization?  Should checking for fragility be added to the RA mission statement?  Or should that job be left to the enterprise risk people? 

I mean, the normal role of business assurance is to find errors and outliers in data — and to take steps to reduce revenue risks.  Yet, if you follow Taleb’s teaching, you probably should be telling the business to take more risks: “Go ahead, spill some revenue on the floor.  You are playing it too safe and not doing enough tinkering — not taking enough risks to grow the business.”

You’re asking me a very tough question.  Let me begin with what sounds like a digression.  I believe in professionalism.  But professionalism only matters if it’s rare.  If every goof is a professional then nobody is a professional.  Climbing a mountain is an achievement if the mountain is steep and tall.  Don‘t take a hillock, rename it a "mountain", and expect praise because you climbed a "mountain".

A Blacksmith’s Association

What’s that got to do with fragility?  Well, suppose we go back in time and imagine that somebody set up the Global Blacksmith’s Professional Association — I’m sure you can work out where my thoughts are with this.  Perhaps the association trains people to be good at making horseshoes.  But it doesn’t matter how good you are at making horseshoes, if Henry Ford is about to open his factory and soon everyone will be driving cars.  Now, even after Ford sells his automobiles, there will still be the need for some blacksmiths, so I’m not going to say that it’s wrong to be a blacksmith.  But it’s daft to think that there’s safety in numbers.  Whoop-de-doop: you’ve got ten thousand blacksmiths chasing seventy-five jobs.  But I’d argue a real professional, even if trained as a blacksmith, also knows how to differentiate themselves, so they can keep on providing services to people who want them, even when there is a big change in markets and demands.  And that’s the same for RA people too.

Maybe we’re training too many people to do CDR reconciliations.  I really think that.  Not only are there too many people trained to do it, but demand for CDR recs is going to fall.  It will fall because of the kinds of factors always pointed out by guys like David Leshem — because retail pricing won’t be as complicated and it’ll be less of a differentiator for telcos.  It will fall because automation will improve, meaning you need fewer people to manage the RA systems.  Needing fewer people to do CDR recs is bad, if you’re one of the people who can’t do anything else.  But there’s plenty of other ways to improve telcos and make them more efficient.  The thing is, the really clever ways to improve telcos aren’t going to be easy to generalize.

People shouldn’t try to solve career challenges by joining the Global Blacksmith’s Professional Association, or the Global Risk Manager’s Professional Association, or the Whatever Whatever Professional Association.  That kind of cookie-cutter training is about manufacturing a lot of people who look the same.  That’s great for the guy selling the training, but it can be terrible for the person who receives it.  RA people have access to data.  If they’re smart, they’ll find their own ways to create value from looking at that data, and the way they create value may be specific to their company.  And that’s good for risk management, both for the telco, and for the employee.

Eric, readers of talkRA know full well that you have strong views on the RA profession.  You openly praise some and criticize others in the business assurance field.  I know that your fans appreciate you for speaking candidly and for not being afraid to ruffle a few feathers for the sake of the larger flock.

Before we go any further, I don’t think I’ve got any “fans”.  I just think there’s a fair few people who think like I do, but sometimes it’s not so easy to say so out loud.  I’ve felt that myself, plenty of times.  I know I go against so-called conventional wisdom on a lot of things.  But it’s because, in ideological terms, I’m a meritocrat more than I’m anything else.  Reward the best guy the most, the second best guy the second most, etc etc.  And when I say "reward", I mean give them things that they want to receive, not things that somebody else wants to give (which may not be the same thing).  If I could hand out rewards, I’d gladly play the part of Santa Claus, though I can’t do much but throw some praise and recognition the way of people who have impressed me.  That’s one of the pleasing things about running talkRA.  At other times I must sound like Scrooge, because I don’t like to see people receiving rewards when they don’t deserve them!

What I want to say to RA people is that they shouldn’t wait for people inside or outside their company to give them a rubber-stamp of approval, or tell them what they need to do.  They have to bust down the doors in their own company, and show the value of what they can do.  And it’s those guys that I love most — the real innovators.  You don’t find innovation by setting up a professional association.  A professional association can occur because things have already settled down and become routine.  So there’s a paradox.  The innovators may struggle to get the credit they deserve, because there’s nobody to appreciate what they’ve achieved.  And that’s why I’m drawn to doing this paradoxical thing, of first building up pioneering activities like RA and then ripping them down, so they don’t turn into institutions that constrain us.

Eric, how can you light a fire under an RA or business assurance person and make this antifragility concept real?  What can be done to motivate people?  Who’s going to carry the torch?

Only a minority of telco people do really great RA work.  But let’s face facts: their motivation comes from within; they don‘t get much incentive from their employers.  When we do a great job, then nobody may notice.  In fact, we may be punished!  Why do I say that?  From my experience of telcos and management, I’ve seen the same pattern several times — the bigger the project, the more likely it will be successful.  Yeah, I know that made no sense.  Big projects are complicated, may fail etc.  But that’s not what I observe.  What I observe is that the bigger something is, the more commitment is needed at the outset, the larger the budget and so forth, then the more everybody is required to say the results were right at the end.  The bigger the project, the more people are committed to ensuring it is a success — or seen as a success.  And the easiest way to engineer success is to take whatever outcome you got, and then you call that "success".  So the sure-fire way to succeed is to be a big-shot running big projects with the big budgets on the big outside suppliers.  And that’s true of RA too, although RA is only little when compared to the really big stuff.

How can this business assurance meritocracy you talk about be created?

I don‘t know how to do it, but I’d like the world to include an X-ray technology, so we could look into a company and see who really was doing the good work.  And then we’d give that guy a big shout out, just to reward him for doing so well.  And he’s probably a guy with no budget, getting no attention, but being really ingenious and developing things that we should all emulate.

A Meritocratic Santa Claus and Diogenes

So that’s me wanting to be the meritocratic Santa Claus, giving people a shout-out on talkRA.  Mostly you get to see me being Scrooge, because that’s easier to do.  You don‘t need a fantastic X-ray machine to spot the guys who praise themselves too much.

You know, maybe if anybody’s going to invent the kind of X-ray technology I’m talking about, maybe it’s RA guys.  Why?  Because we’re talking about seeing things, and RA guys should be leading the way at seeing things that nobody else sees, because of how they’re looking at the company’s data.

So I agree with you bringing this round to anti-fragility.  There’s a lot of big businesses that don‘t have a clue what they’re doing or why.  And that means they don’t have a clue who’s doing it well and who’s doing it badly.  And that means they don‘t have a clue what they should be rewarding more, and who they should be firing.  But it’s not hard to see why they have that problem.  They use the same broken metaphor as everyone else.  Life complicated?  Things are hard to understand?  Want that new car but don’t do anything that clearly merits it?  Fine!  We got the solution!  Shove everything in a black box, shake it around, and take out whatever you like.  I’ve seen many an exec running their companies like that.  Even if I don’t have all the solutions, we won’t find any solutions unless we start identifying the problems.  Mostly that’s what I’ve been doing!


One of my favourite philosophers was Diogenes of Sinope.  In many ways, he was a cantankerous, difficult man.  I don’t think he ever solved a philosophical problem, but he sure knew how to point them out.  One of the things be famously did was walking down the street, in the middle of the day, holding a lantern.  It’s the middle of the day — why was he holding a lantern?!  People would stop him, asking him what he was doing.  His reply: “I’m looking for an honest man.” It’s a stunt, but it also makes a point.  Philosophers can sit around and muse on the fine points of what is the truth, but their answers are not much help if we can’t do something as basic as calling out somebody for straightforward dishonesty.

When you talk about RA professionals these days, I think the boundary goes way beyond the telecom enterprise.  Especially at tier 2, 3, and 4 carriers, the expertise may reside in a non-employee contractor, a managed service provider, or a consultant, who comes in every year or so to refresh the program with new ideas.  Is the weighted center of RA expertise moving to these non-employee experts, or are you saying that RA expertise across the board is declining?

I’ll try to sympathize with RA people, even if they’re not developing their careers.  A lot of them have no external stimulus which encourages them to grow, to develop, to be better.  They get no reward for taking risks and trying to do new things, better things etc.  So RA becomes just another entitlement department in a big business.  Turn up, press the buttons, and you’re entitled to your pay.  And I think being a ‘professional’ is part of the problem.

Turning Hillocks into Mountains

I don’t want to see ‘professionals’ who congratulate themselves for climbing the same hillock, over and over.  I want to see the real pros taking on mountains.  And if they fail, we’ll learn more from their failure than we’ll ever learn from a course on how to climb a hillock.

How has it ended up like this?  I’d say the seeds of the problem were often sown at the outset.  Many RA jobs went to people who were a long long long way down the telco’s merit list.  Are we surprised with what they’ve done to the job?  And who came up with the job spec that said RA could be done by people so far down the merit list?  That’s right.  It was bigger people, holding bigger budgets, who also like to believe in Santa Claus but don‘t want to admit that they’re relying on Santa to close the gap between their promises and their delivery.

I think people got tired of saying it, but there was a time when a good few — a stout minority — would say the job of RA was to put itself out of business.  That was always the problem.  Those people were right, but putting yourself out of business isn‘t much of a reward, unless there’s a bigger business that can recognize what you’ve done and set you to the task of putting yourself out of business on an even bigger scale.  Are there bigger businesses that need to put themselves out of business?  Of course!  RA is a tiny speck, compared to the huge businesses-within-businesses that you find in telcos.

There’s plenty of execs who need to be put out of business.  How about a service so good that you need a fraction of the Customer Services people?  How about market intelligence so good, that there’s no need for the guesswork and surveying that most people think is synonymous to marketing?  And then there’s even bigger businesses that need to be put out of business, culminating in the biggest business of all — the business of governing! But now I get ahead of myself.

But putting yourself out of business — that’ll only appeal to a peculiar minority... like kids who don‘t want toys from Santa.  You’ve got to really have an appetite for risk, if you’re going to be so devoted to doing a job that you end up eliminating the business case for having someone do that job.

How can RA move to this meritocracy you talk about?

Thinking like Scientists

Above all, we need to think like scientists.  Short term experiments may yield us nothing, but longer term, if we stay faithful and truly trust the scientific method, it will deliver leaps of knowledge that can bring great value to the organizations we work for.

The philosopher, Karl Popper, he had a very interesting view of science.  He thought there was never enough evidence to prove a theory right, but that you could find enough evidence to prove it wrong.  So scientists, when performing experiments, are looking for counter-examples to their hypothesis.  If the results fit the hypothesis, they stick with the hypothesis on a contingent basis — but they’re always willing to get rid of the hypothesis if they start finding counter-examples.  It’s that change of thinking which leads us to talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, even though people used to talk about Newton’s laws of motion.

Now, think about that.  Being a scientist is risky.  You never get positive proof.  And every time you do an experiment, you might undermine your hypothesis.  So why do they keep risking so much, for so little gain?  Because the gain isn’t little.  The gain is huge.  Progressively eliminating flawed ways of thinking is why the scientific method is so incredibly powerful.

Galileo and his Telescope

Scientists get results because they measure.  Because they look at the data.  Because they don‘t cheat.  They use good methods.  Now, they may not be the kinds of methods that make a scientist rich.  But heck, we’re all a lot richer thanks to science.  In fact, scientists are the anti-Santas.  There’s no mystery with them.  If they see a black box, they invent an X-ray machine so they can tell what’s going on inside.  They work out the connections between what goes in and what comes out.

But when you try to apply scientific principles to RA, those techniques are still neglected.  Math?  Logic?  Peer review (a.k.a. transparency)?  I thought if we could better understand the unusual and sometimes unpredictable behaviour of complex systems that serve to charge and bill customers, that would be a good starting point.

Data Analytics or Gut Feelings

We had all the right ingredients — huge volumes of data, sufficient processing power etc etc.  And if we could crack it for that kind of complex system, then we could deal with more complex systems, and even more complex systems, and so forth.  But after a decade of RA, we’re still at the level of talking a load of unscientific hooey.  There’s no transparency, there’s bugger all math and let’s not even pretend we give a damn about logic.

For all the data warehouses, many people still don‘t seem to have any actual data (or else, they don’t know what data is, so can‘t tell if they have).  So what are we doing?  We’re walking around and talking and asking people for their gut feeling.  That is about as useful as going back a few hundred years and asking everyone’s gut feel on whether there are witches or not.  Superstitious nonsense.  Pah.  Humbug.

So, I admit it, I’m asking RA people to take risks with their career.  But what is their alternative?  To become a professional blacksmith, hoping they have a long career not interrupted by the unanticipated arrival of Henry Ford, a negative black swan?  I’m not going to predict what telecoms will be like in 10 years, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envisage scenarios where you need a lot less traditional RA people, or where there’s a lot fewer traditional telcos.

Should RA people look for safety in numbers?  That’s the oldest miscalculation of risk that man has ever known.  Should RA people start looking at their data and start coming up with new hypotheses, even though they’re not paid to do that?  Yes, absolutely.  That’s the safest and best thing they can do.  Don’t wait for someone else to find value.  They should look into the data and form their ideas about how to increase the value of their companies.  And they should be unconstrained in where they look.  If they have the data, they should be prepared to look for anything.  Maybe they can find a way to cut costs that nobody thought of.  Maybe they can find patterns of network usage that nobody ever looked for.  And when they look, they should come up with ideas, and then be serious enough to shoot them down if they’re wrong.  Put the data in charge, like a scientist does.

I honestly believe that, if most RA people do as I suggest, they will fail, and fail, and fail again.  But that isn’t the point.  Like I said to RAG, when I started using social networking to try to achieve some of my RA goals, I wasn’t an instant success.  I had failure after failure after failure before the relative success of the blog.  And like you said about anti-fragility, entrepreneurs suffer failure after failure after failure, before they succeed.  What’s so good about failure?  We learn from it.  And that’s what I think RA people have the chance to do — perhaps a unique chance.  They have a chance to learn from their company’s data.  They have a chance to develop new ways of making decisions.  And because they’ll get things wrong, but they’ll be good at measuring the results, the cost of failure is reduced.

That’s the way forward for decision-making in telcos, and I still believe it.  Understanding the data doesn’t just make us robust, it makes us anti-fragile, because it empowers transformation.  And RA people should be looking for career paths where their understanding of the real story — the story in the data — turns them into leaders of transformation.  How’s that for a different career path?  How’s that for jumping from a straightjacket view of microscopically small risks, and upskilling yourself with a 21st century conceptual toolset that is fit to solve far more problems?  It’s possible, though hard.  But given the possible gains, I think it’s well worth the risk.

Thanks, Eric.  In your last comments, I detect an almost religious dedication to the principles of data analytics and scientific investigation.  Well done.

Your advice echoes a favorite inspirational passage from 19th century philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Most men gamble with Fortune, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls.

But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God.  In the Will work and acquire, and you shall chain the wheel of Chance, and no longer sit in fear from her rotations.

A political victory, a rise in stocks, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you.  Do not believe it.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Self-Reliance, Essays: First Series (1841)

Copyright 2012 Black Swan Telecom Journal

Eric Priezkalns

Eric Priezkalns

Eric Priezkalns is one of the editors and founders of talkRA, the revenue assurance blogging site.  He is the lead author of ‘Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers’.

Eric splits his time between freelance consulting and his various passions, which include creative writing.  Eric has specialized in the field of risk and assurance for communications firms since he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1999.

During that time, he has served as Director of Risk Management at Qatar Telecom, Head of Controls for Cable & Wireless Group, Best Practice Manager for Revenue Assurance, Billing and Carrier Services for T-Mobile UK and Billing Integrity Manager for Worldcom UK.   Contact Eric via

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  • Subex’s COO: Machine Learning, Disruption & Adaptive Biz Models to Impact Telecoms in 2020 interview with Shankar Roddam — In our dynamic and digital-driven world, telecoms and enterprises face many business risks.  So what can you do to plot a successful future?  Hear 5 prophecies on 2020 telecom trends from the Chief Operating Officer of Subex.
  • TELUS Analytics Users Get Productivity Boost from Internal Team of Data Access & Showcasing Experts-for-Hire interview with Mange Kumarasamy — How a large organization with hundreds of analytics users gets help from an  internal Big Data team who sources multiple back-end databases; builds tailored reports; and drives campaigns that answer strategic questions for users.
  • Non-Verbal Speech Analytics: Monitoring Voice Calls in Real-Time for Customer Care, Sales, Retention & Onboarding interview with Yoav Degani — Non-verbal speech analysis studies the emotional context of voice qualities like intonation, tone, emphasis and rhythm.  A pioneer in voice analytics explains how its technology benefits customer care, sales, retention and onboarding.
  • Telecom CVM: From Scattered Campaigns to Unified & Consistent Communication with Customers interview with Cretièn Brandsma — Despite the many failures Customer Value Management has faced in telecom, CVM’s future is very hopeful.  A carrier expert explains why telecoms have faltered, how customer experience programs can be revitalized, and where telecoms should invest in better tactics and technology.
  • The Key to Driving 4G Profit: Sell Value, Not Bandwidth by Miri Duenias — Are you struggling to earn a profit on your 4G investments?  Many operators are failing today on the marketing side.  But aligning 4G products with a customer’s personal preferences and desires provides the necessary sizzle to boost sales and earn a handsome ROI.
  • Will Real-Time Decisioning Save Big Data Analytics from Overblown Hype? interview with Tom Erskine — Telecom analytics is more than just collecting and analyzing data.  It’s also about taking action — correct action — often in real-time and across a complex provisioning environment.  In this interview you’ll hear how next best actions are creating value in retention and upselling through a more flexible, business-process driven approach.
  • A Big Data Starter Kit in the Cloud: How Smaller Operators Can Get Rolling with Advanced Analytics interview with Ryan Guthrie — Medium to small operators know “big data” is out there alright, but technical staffing and cost issues have held them back from implementing it.  This interview discusses the advantages of moving advanced analytics to the cloud where operators can get up and running faster and at lower cost.
  • The Customer Engagement Era: How Personalization & Backend Integration Leads to a Richer Mobile Biz interview with Rita Tochner — How does a mobile operator move its subscribers to higher levels of spending and profit?  Fierce competition, social media scrutiny, and the high cost of new networks all conspire against these goals.  In this interview, however, you’ll learn how engaging better with customers, getting more personal, and being more sensitive to their individual needs is the path forward.
  • Telecoms Failing Badly in CAPEX: The Desperate Need for Asset Management & Financial Visibility interview with Ashwin Chalapathy — A 2012 PwC report put the telecom industry on the operating table, opened the patient up, and discovered a malignant cancer: poor network CAPEX management, a problem that puts telecoms in grave financial risk.  In this interview, a supplier of network analytics solutions provides greater detail on the problem and lays out its prescription for deeper asset management, capacity planning and data integrity checks.
  • Batting for More Churn Reduction and Revenue Assurance Home Runs interview with Peter Mueller — What’s it like to transform an IT shop to big data and cloud?  In this interview, the CTO of a boutique revenue assurance explains how his firm made the leap.  He shows how project-oriented programs and working with carrier customers to explore RA and churn reduction “hunches” is where much of the action is.
  • History Repeats: The Big Data Revolution in Telecom Service Assurance interview with Olav Tjelflaat — The lessons of telecom software history teach that new networks and unforeseen industry developments have an uncanny knack for disrupting business plans.  A service assurance incumbent reveals its strategy for becoming a leader in the emerging network analytics and assurance market.
  • From Alarms to Analytics: The Paradigm Shift in Service Assurance interview with Kelvin Hall — In a telecom world with millions of smart devices, the service assurance solutions of yesteryear are not getting the job done.  So alarm-heavy assurance is now shifting to big data solutions that deliver visual, multi-layered, and fine-grained views of network issues.  A data architect who works at large carriers provides an inside view of the key service provider problems driving this analytics shift.
  • The Shrink-Wrapped Search Engine: Why It’s Becoming a Vital Tool in Telecom Analytics interview with Tapan Bhatt — Google invented low cost, big data computing with its distributed search engine that lives in mammoth data centers populated with thousands of commodity CPUs and disks.  Now search engine technology is available as “shrink wrapped” enterprise software.  This article explains how this new technology is solving telecom analytics problems large and small.
  • Sharing Intelligence, Services, and Infrastructure across the Telecom Galaxy interview with Gary Zimmerman — The telecom industry is an industry of sharing.  In fact, the rise of mobile broadband is driving a greater reliance on real-time intelligence, services trading, and infrastructure exchange.  In this article, a leading info exchange provider explains the value of its services portfolio and points to other interoperability and sharing ideas under development.
  • Data Monetization: Why Selling Intelligence is a Hot New Revenue Stream for Mobile Carriers interview with Joe Levy — Data monetization is a revenue dream come true for mobile carriers: a highly profitable sideshow where the carrier analyzes and sells data it already collects for other purposes.  In this article you’ll learn how operators monetize their data through use cases in corporate advertising and media branding.
  • Harvesting Big Data Riches in Retailer Partnering, Actionable CEM & Network Optimization interview with Oded Ringer — In the analytics market there’s plenty of room for small solution firms to add value through a turnkey service or cloud/licensed solution.  But what about large services firms: where do they play?  In this article you’ll learn how a global services giant leverages data of different types to help telcos: monetize retail partnerships, optimize networks, and make CEM actionable.
  • Raising a Telco’s Value in the Digital Ecosystem: One Use Case at a Time interview with Jonathon Gordon — The speed of telecom innovation is forcing software vendors to radically adapt and transform their business models.  This article shows how a deep packet inspection company has  expanded into revenue generation, particularly  for mobile operators.  It offers a broad palette of value-adding use cases from video caching and parental controls to application-charging and DDoS security protection.
  • Radio Access Network Data: Why It’s Become An Immensely Useful Analytics Source interview with Neil Coleman — It’s hard to overstate the importance of Radio Access Network (RAN) analytics to a mobile operator’s business these days.  This article explains why the RAN data, which lives in the air interface between the base station and the handset --  can be used for a business benefit in network optimization and customer experience.
  • Back Office Streamlining to Enterprise Support: The Many Flavors of Wireline Analytics interview with Tom Nolting — Mobile analytics gets plenty of press coverage, but analytics is just as crucial for wireline operators.  In this article, a billing VP at a leading wireline operator discusses several diverse uses of analytics in billing, enterprise sales/retention, and network partner margin assurance.
  • Analytics Biology: The Power of Evolving to New Data Sources and Intelligence Gathering Methods interview with Paul Morrissey — Data warehouses create great value, yet it’s now time to let loose non-traditional big data platforms that create value in countless pockets of operational efficiency that have yet to be fully explored.  This article explains why telecoms must expand their analytics horizons and bring on all sorts of new data sources and novel intelligence gathering techniques.
  • B/OSS Mathematics: The Quest to Analyze Business Problems & Drive Operating Decisions interview with Matti Aksela — Analytics is the glory of mathematics brought to practical use.  And in telecom, analytics has merely stratched the surface of its full potential.  In this article, you’ll learn how machine learning is being combined with the power of CDR number crunching to optimize mobile top-ups, control churn — and in the future, help telecoms make critical network and operating decisions.
  • Leveraging the RA/FM Platform to Deliver Business Insights to Finance & Marketing by Amit Daniel — Carrier professionals using RA and fraud management tools are getting requests from internal customers who want the role of RA/FM platforms expanded to deliver up-to-date analytics data for finance and marketing purposes.  This article advocates a cross-product layer to serve such broader use cases.  The effect would be to transform the existing RA/FM platform into a combined business protection and business growth analytics engine.
  • A Mobile Marketer Service: Bridging Personalization & B/OSS Flowthrough interview with Efrat Nakibly — Marketing analytics is a prescriptive program for driving  actions such as sending a timely promotion to a mobile subscriber.  But completeness demands that you also be able to provision that treatment, qualify the promotion, and keep billing fully in the loop.  This article shows how a managed services program can deliver such an end-to-end process and manage customer life cycles on a one-to-one basis.
  • Science of Analytics: Bringing Prepaid Top Ups & Revenue Maximization under the Microscope interview with Derek Edwards — Prepaid subscribers are the customers that carriers know the least about.  The operator is not interacting with prepaid customers on a monthly basis.  You’re not sending a bill, nor do you have detailed profiles on these customers, especially in the developing world where customers are buying SIMs at a grocery store.  This interview explains how contextual marketing meets the unique analytics challenge of prepaid customers.
  • Connecting B/OSS Silos and Linking Revenue Analytics with the Customer Experience by Anssi Tauriainen — Customer experience analytics is a complex task that flexes B/OSS data to link the customer’s network experience and actions to improve it and drive greater revenue.  In this article, you’ll gain an understanding of how anayltics data needs to be managed across various customer life cycle stages and why it’s tailored for six specific user groups at the operator.
  • Profitable 3G: China’s Mobile Operators Monetize Networks with Retailers & Partners interview with Kevin Xu — Mobile operators are at the center of explosive growth in wireless services.  But to exploit this opportunity requires IT ingenuity and a broader view on how the mobile user can be served.  In this article you’ll learn the innovative techniques Chinese operators use to monetize 3G networks via analytics and partnerships with retailers, social networks, and advertisers.
  • Customer Analytics: Making the Strategic Leap From Hindsight to Foresight interview with Frank Bernhard — Are your company’s analytics programs scattered?  Is there a strategy in place for customer analytics?  This interview with a leading telecom analytics consultant explains why strategy and planning around the analytics function is crucial to getting your money’s worth.  Topics discussed include: hindsight vs. foresight; an advanced analytics program; and the interface sophistication required to support high end vs. low end analytics users.
  • Meeting the OTT Video Challenge: Real-Time, Fine-Grain Bandwidth Monitoring for Cable Operators interview with Mark Trudeau — Cable operators in North America are being overwhelmed by the surge in video and audio traffic.  In this article you’ll learn how Multi Service Operators (MSOs) are now monitoring their traffic to make critical decisions to protect QoS service and monetize bandwidth.  Also featured is expert perspective on trends in: network policy; bandwidth caps; and  customer care issues.
  • Analytics Meditations: The Power of Low-Cost Hardware and the Social Network Within interview with Ken King — Analytics didn‘t arrive yesterday.  Data warehousing and BI have been in the telecom vocabulary for twenty-five or more years.  In this interview, you’ll gain a perspective on why “big data” changes the game and why social network (or social circles) analysis promises the next level of insights.  Other interesting topics include: segmenting the analytics market, engaging with carrier clients, and upgrading from older- to newer-style methodologies.
  • LTE Analytics:  Learning New Rules in Real-Time Network Intelligence, Roaming and Customer Assurance interview with Martin Guilfoyle — LTE is telecom’s latest technology darling, and this article goes beyond the network jargon, to explain the momentous changes LTE brings.  The interview delves into the marriage of IMS, high QoS service delivery via IPX, real-time intelligence and roaming services, plus the new customer assurance hooks that LTE enables.
  • Shared Data Plans: The Challenge of Managing a Family of Pricing, Revenue Assurance, Fraud, and Network Policy Issues by Amit Daniel — Verizon Wireless‘ recent announcement of its move to shared data plans for families shook the mobile industry.  In this column, cVidya’s Amit Daniel shines a spotlight on the knowhow and analytics tools that operators now deperately need to offer the right  shared data price plans, ensure bandwidth throttling is handled correctly, and address new fraud concerns.
  • Analytics Guru: Are Telecoms Ready for the Biz Intelligence Explosion? interview with John Meyers — Business intelligence is evolving from the creation of dashboards and reports to taking action based on a deep knowledge of the environmental context.  The article explores the implications of “big data” in terms of IPTV, storage requirements, hardware, event collection, and deep packet inspection.
  • Social Networking for Telecoms: How To Enlist Friends and Family as Mobile Marketers interview with Simon Rees — Social Network Analysis (SNA) is about exploiting data on “friends and family” connections to combat churn and win new CSP business.  The article explores how an analysis of the ebb and flow of CDRs, phone calls, and messages, can identify key influencers and drive powerful marketing campaigns.
  • Making the Strategic Leap From Billing to Merchandising interview with Humera Malik — Today billing/charging technology has progressed to the point where the usage intelligence, the charges, the user behaviors, and the analytics can all come together in near real-time.  This article discusses the organizational and marketing strategies that enable a operator to create a true “merchandising” system that can revolutionize a CSP’s business.