Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Importance of Follow-Through

I am not sure how many GRAPA members are familiar with the game of golf. As a long time player of the game, I can say it is one of the most challenging and rewarding athletic games I have ever played. For those of you who are not very familiar with it, the golf swing itself can be divided into three components: the backswing, contact (when you hit the ball), and the follow-through.  In studying the game and fundamentals, I have seen many cases where too little attention is paid to the follow-through. To many people (and this certainly might seem logical), once the ball is hit, it should not matter what comes next.

Well, in one sense this is true. Once the ball has been hit, the direction and distance of the shot is set, but that doesn’t mean that the follow-through should be so easily disregarded. For one thing, observing the follow-through is one of the best ways to check that everything prior to that part of the swing happened the right way. Not to mention that without any follow-through you would never be able to gain enough fluidity and momentum to hit the ball as straight and far as possible.

It has been said that “In golf as in life, it is the follow through that makes the difference,” and like most lessons I learned on the course, the importance of follow through can certainly be applied in almost everything I do.

To me, so much of what this blog is about is the building of a common professional community. And as we talk about what it means to be a professional, I feel that we too must acknowledge the necessity of being able to follow-through. This can mean following through on work projects, professional or career-related goals, or simply following through on something you said you would do (see Integrity). 

I was reading my last blog about GRAPA training and the importance of knowledge and information on the path to professional development, and I realized that I had missed an extremely important step. To borrow a phrase from a fortune cookie I opened a few weeks ago, “Knowledge not used is knowledge wasted.” Cliché, yes, but undeniably true.

Coming to a GRAPA event, for example, can be a powerful experience, and from a professional development perspective, can give you the tools you need to tackle revenue assurance issues from politics to systems to interacting with management. However, if after the training, there is no follow-though, then any potential benefit of the training was wasted. Like the golfers who feel that nothing else matters once the ball is hit, individuals who attend training without bringing the lessons back with them and applying them to their environments can never achieve their best results.

Professionals know the value of knowledge; they respect knowledge, and take the time to apply it. At GRAPA, after training we follow up with members to see how they are taking advantage of what they learned, and we are always pleased to hear their success stories.

So as I have in previous blogs, I will always encourage our members to seek knowledge in as many ways as possible. (If you want to see the ways GRAPA can help with this please review our member guide for an explanation of what we are doing to help our members stay informed and connected). However, it cannot stop there. Whether you have been to a training, or are simply perusing our reference library, take a moment to think about what you have learned and how you can follow-through on the knowledge and turn it into results. Professionalism is not a spectator sport; it requires constant dedication and effort.  In short, it requires the follow through.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revenue Assurance: Understanding the Big Picture

I have heard it said (and it has been my experience) that knowledge truly is power. However the road to knowledge is often quite difficult and certainly is not always clear. The acquisition of data and information must be one leg of the journey. However these components must be combined with perspective and sound judgment, as information is only useful when you know how to apply it. And of course understanding is a pivotal step on the way to knowledge as well. After all, being able to perform a procedure is great, but if you understand it, then you know why the process was developed, and how to modify it when something changes.

The reason I bring this up is because in everything GRAPA does we strive to help our members grow in their knowledge of Revenue Assurance. Through our benchmarks and standards book we try to provide data and information, and various perspectives and judgments can be discussed on our blogs and social networking forums, like LinkedIn and Facebook. However, the best way to use GRAPA as a tool to build revenue assurance understanding is through our training events.

Now I am certainly not trying to diminish the value of the other services GRAPA provides. As the 2010 Standards Production Manager, GRAPA’s principles and standards hold a special place in my heart. And, if you have ready some of my earlier blogs, you will know that I think GRAPA’s social network is one the strongest tools we can use to build a professional community. However, after witnessing two GRAPA training events, I feel comfortable saying that this is the most effective and efficient way GRAPA can help members expand their revenue assurance knowledge and understanding.

One reason for this, I believe, is because GRAPA’s training (whether it is a two day crash course, one week Core certification curriculum, or a two week advanced program) is dedicated to presenting the whole revenue assurance picture. While many might automatically connect RA to control implementation, we recognize that that is only a small part of the job, and that most of the revenue assurance role revolves around performing forensics. GRAPA training goes in-depth on each facet of the RA Lifecycle (forensics, controls, compliance, and corrections) and makes sure that professionals understand the complete revenue assurance process (and why that is so valuable to their telco).

Moreover, GRAPA recognizes that it is difficult assure a domain or line of business without having the end-to-end picture of how the systems and processes work at a fundamental level. In that sense, RA professionals need to have a solid grasp on how almost everything works, from network to mediation systems to convergent billing systems, to interconnect and roaming. That being said, one of the reasons I appreciated GRAPA training, was that it made each of these topics accessible. It presented a full picture of each of them, but still approached them from a truly RA (and at times fraud) perspective.

This is what knowledge is all about. While having a list of the GRAPA standard controls for (as an example) the prepaid line of business is great, and certainly useful for a Revenue Assurance professional, once one fully appreciates how the LOB functions, where the greatest risks are, and the concepts behind it, a more complete knowledge can be attained. As a line of business changes or a new product becomes available, students can figure out for themselves what controls should be in place because they have the background knowledge to do so with integrity.

 As I watched students in training combine their increased understanding of domains/lines of business with a fuller appreciation of the RA function and lifecycle, an amazing thing began to happen. The combination of information, data, and perspective grew into understanding and knowledge. It almost seemed that they were able to predict methods of assurance and controls before they were presented, because they were more quickly able to see where the greatest risk opportunities would be.

When I first started, GRAPA's president, Rob Mattison explained to me that our training is about more than just teaching students how to perform forensics and implement controls for specific areas (Interconnect, CAMEL, MBanking, etc).It’s about providing a methodology for RA professionals that can help them to do their job regardless of what gets thrown at them in the future.

After being a part of these trainings I think this is an accurate appraisal of what GRAPA events are all about. While students certainly walked away with standard controls for a plethora of domains and lines of business, and with a few other tips and tricks for many of the newer technologies and products, it seemed they achieved something more valuable. The knowledge and the confidence that they understand Telco Revenue Assurance, and that as new products/technologies continue to develop, they have the approach and methods to be ready to assure them successfully.

Friday, June 25, 2010

This is Us

About a week ago, I went to a Backstreet Boys (BSB) concert. If you know the group I am talking about, then I am betting that right about now you are rolling your eyes and wondering if I should ever be taken seriously again. For those of you who do not know BSB, then we will just leave it at pop-singing boy band that used to cater to teenage fans about eight to ten years ago (and in case anyone is wondering they are still making new albums, and touring worldwide).

As a lifelong fan, I will say this concert was absolutely amazing. This was my (eh hem) fourth BSB concert in my lifetime, but it is really hard for me to embarrassed; the Boys have never let me down. However, besides screaming at the top of my lungs, boppin’ along to all my favorite tunes from 7th grade, and just generally behaving like a silly teen, I did make an interesting observation. When I had gone to my first concert I was 12 years old, and like me, most of the fans had been preteen-teenage girls. Some of them came with parents, but most of them were at the age where they could go to the concert with other friends. I am pretty sure we saw less than ten boys/men.

The one I went to last week featured a completely different demographic, the girls who had once been younger were now in their 20s, and instead of going with girlfriends many brought a significant other or a young family. While there were certainly more women, there were also plenty of boyfriends, husbands, and sons in the crowd as well. There were many situations where I would see a group of people and wonder who from there is the BSB fan - the 4 year old boy, the 9 year old girl, the middle aged parents, or the older still grandmother. None of these people would have been at this concert 10 years ago!

But then something magical happened, the show started and it was as if all of us had been transported back to our younger selves. Despite a much more diverse and different crowd then they had back in their prime, the Backstreet Boys still performed a darn good show for everyone there. They were able to instill the same feelings and excitement in the crowd, and after just a few songs, even the boyfriends and the grandma (referenced before) were singing and dancing along.

Although, few may take BSB seriously enough to consider them professionals of any sort, I think this situation actually proves just the opposite. In their case, they are entertainers, and they have lived up to their objective of entertaining a crowd, no matter what types of people might be included. They adjusted to the changes in their audience without sacrificing integrity in the image, sound, or personality loyal fans have come to expect since their beginning.

Revenue assurance, in many ways, is in the same place as BSB, their “audience” is shifting. Some RA departments are finding their scope expanding into more operational departments. Other revenue assurance teams are taking on a more strategic role and getting involved with new product development and marketing. And even the RA team who is most unchanging still needs to work with others in a telco atmosphere that is never constant.

That is why, in my opinion, revenue assurance is similar to BSB, as they seem to constantly handle their new “audiences” and react to new situations and roles without losing the integrity of the value that they bring to Telecoms. I certainly can’t predict how the RA role will shift in the next five or even ten years, or who their new “audiences” will be. But I do believe that the core principles and objectives that revenue assurance has today – consensus, rationality, integrity, consistency, etc– will be just as critical in the future.

Ultimately, this is why I keep putting principles up for discussion on this blog, as a community matter. Maybe I am over-exaggerating their importance, but to me they are the foundation for revenue assurance professionalism and identity.
When I left the BSB concert with my ears ringing, voice sore from shouting, and legs exhausted from dancing, it was as though I was the same person walking out of one of their concerts ten years ago. The concert had been based on their new album called “This is Us,” and I felt they stayed true to that theme.

So, especially now, as RA finds themselves changing into new roles (as I imagine they always will), we, as a community need to make sure we have a solid grasp on those things that help us to say “This is Us” and here is what it means to be an revenue assurance professional.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Removing Cinderella from Revenue Assurance

I wonder if many of our members have seen Disney’s version of Cinderella. There is a scene at the beginning of this movie that comes to my head whenever I hear stories about revenue assurance departments that are demanded to be everywhere and must clean up as much leakage/mitigate as much risk as possible. Early in the movie Cinderella is stuck at the beck and call of her demanding step-mother and spoiled step-sisters. In the image that comes to my mind she is carrying three breakfast plates (one in each hand and one on her head), feeding the pets, and cleaning the house on the way up to deliver her step-mother’s and step-sisters’ breakfasts. All the while viewers hear shrill “CIN-DER-ELLA’s” being called out with even more (somewhat ridiculous) requests.

Unfortunately, it seems that revenue assurance departments often can be treated the same way. Since they have few well defined boundaries, and it is not really clear on what they do, they get asked to do everything. They balance the assurance of many domains, lines of business, and in all of them they must find/stop as much risk as possible. Not to mention, that if something goes wrong, Revenue Assurance tends to find themselves to blame.

Now to me, this seems quite unreasonable. Depending on the size and depth of a revenue assurance department, there must be a limit to what they are asked to do and where they are asked to go. As mentioned before, the revenue assurance professional must bring integrity to every task and relationship, which is difficult when there is too much to do.

This leads me to the next three GRAPA Principles proposed for 2011: Scope Management, Management’s Appetite for Risk, and Departmental Sovereignty. Together these three Principles help revenue assurance to prioritize, set boundaries, and figure out (and explain) their role in their Telco.

According to Scope Management,

“Revenue assurance is only responsible for the risks to revenues in those domains that have been defined as ‘in scope.’”

And when is an area in scope? According to the proposal for 2011, five things must occur before an area can be considered as “in scope” for revenue assurance, and only then is RA accountable for that area.

An area is in scope when:
• The RA team has been formally assigned responsibility for the area by management
• The RA team has performed a forensic analysis of the domain, and delivered an assessment of the risks discovered and the recommended levels of risk to be considered
• The RA Team has recommended a series of corrections and controls in alignment with management’s appetite for risk
• Management has approved the costs and changes defined by the recommended corrections and controls
• The corrections and controls have been implemented

As you can see, this principle gets at the heart of the role of revenue assurance. As a profession, RA should have a standard way for approaching the functions they will perform for Telco’s – where they will go, and what needs to happen before they can have responsibility for the revenues of a certain domain. When I look at each of the five steps, each seems so important because if revenue assurance is going to be asked to do something, the only way they can do it right (and with integrity) is if they have been heavily involved in the process from the beginning.

So while this revenue assurance story does not end with a glass slipper or prince charming, I imagine it can provide RA professionals with something much more valuable. With scope management, an RA team can establish boundaries for where they should be and when they can be held accountable for revenues and risk. This principle provides revenue assurance with a process for managing the torrential amount of demands that can be asked of them, and reverses the image of Cinderella I explained earlier. With Scope Management (along with Departmental Sovereignty and Management’s Appetite for Risk) the picture of Revenue Assurance is now one of a balanced professional. He/she does not respond to a Telco’s every revenue-related whim, but knows where his/her role and function within the Telco universe.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Revenue Assurance: Verifying Integrity with Integrity

This is a hard post to begin. I feel very comfortable suggesting that Consensus is the political platform of RA, and that Rationality is the mindset of RA (a sensibility of sense, if you will), but as I think about how integrity relates to the revenue assurance professional, I find myself perplexed. Integrity is about being trustworthy, accurate, and dependable. It means doing what you say you are going to do, and being honest in all actions and relationships.

This is not simply another component of the RA heart, mind, or soul, it isn’t just another piece of the revenue assurance personality. It is bigger and yet at the same time more elemental. To me, it is difficult to classify this principle because it is fundamentally built into every aspect of revenue assurance. Both in character and in their role, the RA practitioner’s main function is to assure integrity (of systems, of revenues received, through lines of business), and do that with integrity. So it’s no wonder that this concept is hard to describe, it is so interwoven into the heart of all things Revenue Assurance, that to try to separate it into its own compartment is near impossible.

The wording of the Principle of Integrity for 2011 is:

“All revenue assurance activities are to be performed with a primary focus on the integrity of the activities performed.”

Unlike the first two (consensus and rationality), this principle does not provide clear directions. Consensus explains itself – use cooperation to solve problems, as does rationality – make sure you will recover more risk/leakage then the amount of resources you spend doing the recovery. But all Integrity says is behave with integrity….what does that mean?

The 2011 GRAPA Principles offer the following suggestions:

Integrity – Organizational: manage all relationships with management and operational teams with integrity. This means that all communication will be as accurate, clear and dependable as possible.

Integrity - Identification and Quantification of Risk: deliver estimates of risk and leakage that are as accurate, fair and realistic as possible.

Integrity - Assessment of Domains as “In Scope”: any domain declared to be “in scope” will be assured based upon a comprehensive forensic assessment of the area and an accurate appraisal of the actual risks discovered.

Integrity - Reporting of Compliance: provide management with accurate reporting of how well implemented controls, corrections, and forensics are being managed.

Integrity - Technical Knowledge: understand the technology and be able to make informed appraisals of capabilities and risk (or have resources available to draw these conclusions).

I certainly agree with all of these as methods of maintaining professional integrity in the Revenue Assurance role. Especially since at the core, the Revenue Assurance job is all about identifying, quantifying, and reporting risk, there needs to be an ethical standard of integrity that guides all three of these processes in order for RA to have any meaning.

However, I think there is still more to it. There is still something being missed about the importance or pervasiveness of integrity that is not being captured by the current wording of Principle. So of course, I will turn this discussion to the community for comments. What does integrity mean to you in your current role? Does it describe how you do your job? How you interact with others? Where else do you act with integrity that is not already included in the GRAPA principle?

This is a community standard about what it means to do and to be Revenue Assurance, and I think this is one of the principles that will be most enhanced by a group discussion. I am, as always, curious to hear your feedback.