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April 2018

From Byzantine Software Contracts to Simple & Flexible RA Managed Services

From Byzantine Software Contracts to Simple & Flexible RA Managed Services

We use the word “Byzantine” today to describe something that is overly complicated, detailed, or baffling.

The meaning derives, in part, from the complex architecture in buildings of the Byzantine Empire, such as the Hagia Sophia (above) in Istanbul, first built by Roman Emperor Justinian I in 531 AD.

Now reading up on Hagia Sophia, I discovered something ironic.  Rather than being “overly complicated”, the Hagia Sophia design was actually a breakthrough for it simplified the blending of arches, naves, semi-domes, vaults, and pendentives in a beautiful and structurally sound way not seen in prior buildings of ancient times.

So the design of Hagia Sophia can only be considered Byzantine in hindsight, just as many of today’s breakthroughs will one day be labeled Byzantine!

So what’s Byzantine in the world of enterprise/B2B software?  Certainly the software development side is not Byzantine at all, for it’s constantly improving thanks to better languages, interoperability, analytics, and systems design.

But what’s truly Byzantine in today’s B2B software is the way it is sold, contracted, and delivered.

And not surprisingly, the biggest defenders of the status quo are the largest and most successful software firms in the business: Amdocs, Oracle, and IBM, for example.

Just look at the many subtle ways that software companies — of all sizes — protect their fortresses: through multi-year contracts, subtle lock-in schemes, proprietary APIs, and of course, the spread of FUD propaganda — Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

Now, laying siege to these Byzantine practices are challengers — the Amazons, Azures, and SalesForces — who use the more flexible and client-friendly contract practices of the cloud world to batter down the walls and win the business.

Now this same urgency to drive out Byzantine contract practices also lives in the RA software business.  And one RA vendor driving this change is Araxxe.

The company recently emailed me a new white paper of theirs that makes the case for more flexible and simpler billing verification contracts.  I was impressed by how objective the Araxxe paper is: it lays out both the benefits — and risks — of buying billing software on a managed services basis.

So here with us to explain several points in the paper is Araxxe’s Vice President Product Management, Philippe Orsini.

Dan Baker, Editor, Black Swan: Philippe, why is it that in RA and billing verification, most operators don‘t usually consider managed services an option?

Philippe Orsini: Dan, there are many reasons.  And in some ways the situation is a bit odd.  For instance, when it comes to SIM box bypass detection, operators know that to solve that fraud control issue they should hire a managed service to run test calls to identify the fraudulent routes.

Yet it’s funny that in the billing and roaming verification area, the same people don‘t even think about hiring a managed service!  And yet for more than a decade, Araxxe has been in the business of RA managed services and we have many satisfied clients who hire us to continue this work year after year.

I’m sure another key factor is that operators already own a software suite from a Subex or WeDo.

Yes, the mid-sized and large operators can certainly afford the popular software packages.

But let’s say you’re a small operator with a small staff.  Well, you often have only a limited software budget.  In that case, our managed service is very useful because it’s less expensive than owning an RA software suite.

This case is particularly true where the client has good internal solutions based on a data warehouse.  In that case, our billing verification and robot services nicely supplements what they’re doing.

With a WeDo or Subex, even though they offer many options, modules and prices in their packages, there’s still a minimum price you have to pay to own the software.

However, with Araxxe the operator can start at a much smaller price range.  If they want to monitor five rate plans, OK, we can do that.

On the other hand we have big clients where we monitor 20 to 40 billing plans.  And they are happy to hire us for that.

Another issue is people are afraid to lose control of their RA operation.  Maybe some even fear losing their jobs.

Absolutely.  Not all of them, of course, but many of do worry about protecting their jobs.

But here’s the truth: a managed service normally does not outsource 100% of activities.  Usually these are projects of a very specific scope that are outside the core mission of the RA department which is to fix revenue leaks and identify operational errors in the billing/provisioning process.

Consider this question: Is the task of operating test call generation robots a core mission of RA?

I say “No, operating robots it is not an RA core mission”.  Why?  Because there are two very different tasks here.  First there’s billing verification, which is definitely a core RA activity.  But operating test call robots is a technical activity that supports billing verification.

So being a support activity, “test call robot operation” is something you can safely outsource to a competent partner.  And this is exactly what Araxxe does for many clients.  We say, “You don‘t have to bother about making the test call generator robots work.  We’ll manage that task of rolling out robots in Germany or Italy”.  This is not a job that someone working at a telco operator — especially the revenue assurance team — should have to worry about.

So at the end of the day, this is about the wise delegating of support tasks that will enable your own RA team to refocus on their core job.  Araxxe basically increases your team’s productivity by doing the tedious work of making robots work every day — or wider billing verification if required.

Now many operators have purchased their own TCGs over the years.  Will you manage their internally owned robots?

Yes, we can and do welcome that work — and our value proposition there is exactly the same as it is with clients who own no robots at all.

The key question becomes: Are you operating your in-house robots properly and efficiently?  If not, Araxxe can handle the low level activity that makes the hardware work, etc.

At most of our clients, we offer either a new capability because they do not have their own TCGs or an extended capability of billing verification services beyond what they already have.  For example, we know many of the European operators have robots, but for sure, not many of them have robots in Japan, so extending their service to Japan is something valuable to them.

In any case, clients scope our services to fit their needs.  Maybe they don‘t need to test roaming in the US or Australia, but they do need to fill in gaps by supplementing their internal solution with service in other countries.

But you’re also in the business of managing entire billing verification campaigns, right?

Very much so, Dan.  We are true billing and revenue assurance experts: we can design the full call campaign, deciding which specific test cases should be run to detect billing errors.  Araxxe has executed tons of RA campaigns for years all around the world, so our clients benefit from his wide experience.

We’re also known for adding extra value.  For instance, we often help RA managers answer the key question: “How do our billing error rates compare to those of other operators in my country / region / worldwide?”.

Besides providing such benchmarking data, another report of ours helps the operator estimate the financial impact of the detected billing errors.  So, as you can see, our managed service expertise goes way behind managing the robots alone.  Our expertise is quite wide and includes: pricing, rating, rate plans, bundles, roaming zones, international zones, rating steps, discounts, and promotions.

In fact, back in 2009 ETSI selected Araxxe to help them define the TS 102 845 billing verification standard for the European Commission.

Philippe, “flexibility” is a much sought-after virtue in today’s telecom business.  How do you deliver that through RA services?

Dan, I continue to be surprised how much clients appreciate our ability to delver flexible contracts and other adaptable ways of working with them.

For instance, they can start small.  Later they can increase the scope, or even reduce the scope.  Do whatever you want.  It’s a service.  Just tell us what you need and we can probably deliver by simply scoping our offer to meet your special situation.

Flexibility also means you can stop the service if you are not happy with Araxxe.  You can just stop the service — and just as easily restart it later on.

Think about that.  When you buy from WeDo, Subex, and all those guys, once you have the software package installed in your organization, I’m not sure you can tell your management, “Hey, Boss.  I no longer want to keep using the WeDo solution.”

But with us, you can stop or restart the service immediately or whenever you want to.  You can stop today but 6 months later pick it up again.

You can put testing in two new countries and add 10 rate plans.  Whatever.  This flexibility is very powerful in RA.

What are the risks of using a managed service in RA?

Well, Dan, nothing is perfect in this world.  Even though using managed services is a very good idea, you still need to be careful and choose wisely.  So here’s a short list to guide selecting your managed service provider:

  • Be alert to security issues — In a managed service, part of your business — maybe critical data — are outsourced to external parties.
  • Maintain control — Only delegate the tasks you feel comfortable outsourcing.  The rest of the tasks should remain under the team’s full control.
  • Think billing expertise, not just price — When you select a vendor, getting a good price is important, but not if that means working with a company who lacks expertise.  In RA and billing verification, the service provider should not only have technical expertise in managing robots, but also know the business of telco billing.
  • Savvy in international business — When possible, it’s easier if you can find a billing managed service provider in your own country.  But in choosing a firm from another country, you should select a firm who has a track record in international business — a firm with experience working with people from many different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Experience in the managed service business is another factor to consider.  Just because a company manufactures test call robots doesn‘t necessarily mean they are the best choice when it comes to operating a service based on robots.  With our 12 years of experience, Araxxe has been a dedicated provider of billing verification services for a long time.
  • Insist on a service trial — Finally, no matter how diligently you write your contract, you are never quite sure of what you’re buying until you try the service out, free of charge.  It’s the same principle as buying a car and doing a test drive.  The good vendors are used to that requirement and are not afraid to be compared to a rival.
This is great advice, Philippe.  Thank you for it.  And the white paper provides greater detail on the benefits and risks of RA managed services.


Copyright 2018 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Experts

Philippe Orsini

Philippe Orsini

Philippe Orsini is Vice President Product Management of Araxxe, a global provider of managed services specialized in revenue assurance and interconnect fraud detection.

Philippe is in charge of Araxxe’s product portfolio covering Subscribers Billing Verification (for Mobile / Fixed / Pay TV Services, Outbound Roaming and Data Bundles), Wholesale Partners Billing Verification and Interconnect Fraud Detection (such as SIM Box, OTT Bypass and A2P SMS Termination Abuse).

Before joining Araxxe in 2007, Philippe worked for 10+ years as a consultant in the telecom industry for Accenture and IBM Global Services.  During this period, he managed billing and revenue assurance programs for some of the major telecom operators in Europe.   Contact Philippe via

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