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.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sense and Sensibility: A Story of RA-tionality

In a previous post, I suggested that Consensus must be the political platform for Revenue Assurance. While this is certainly true, and an excellent guiding principle for managing relationships with other Telco players, the revenue assurance professional should also have a principle-based approach as he/she performs his/her primary job functions.

The 2011 GRAPA Principles provide a few guidelines to assist RA Professionals in this regard, but in my opinion (and I will admit that I am biased) none is as important as rationalization. It has been a fundamental component of the 2009 Standards and Principles, and thus far GRAPA members have said that it should stay as one of the core three for 2011.

I love when things make sense. When I am sure that a problem is being solved through the most logical means, I sleep more easily and am much less concerned that something will go wrong. I am betting that this is also one reason why I love working with RA professionals so much – they bring the common sense, the hard data, a logical sensibility and outlook to the Telco environment. For that reason, GRAPA supports a principle that encapsulates RA professionals, both in their good sense and down-to-earth sensibility – Rationality.

The Principle of Rationality (both for 2009 and so far for 2011) is, as you might expect, very simple. It states:

All expenditures and investments should not ever exceed the expected returns.

So simple, so powerful. There is almost no way to embellish on it, or explain it any better - it is just common sense. Why put more money, time, resources, etc into something then you expect to get out?

Especially for RA, whose job it is to maximize revenues to the Telco, how can their activities be based on anything else? And if revenue assurance isn’t practicing rationality, who else can the Telco count on to make sure risk reduction activities (or any other activities for that matter) are cost justified?

However, given that this blog is for the GRAPA community, I am not anticipating a great deal of negative responses to this principle. From everything I have seen it already mirrors the RA mindset. They have a fundamental understanding of the fact that every revenue assurance decision requires that a balance be struck between the degree of risk mitigated and the cost of accomplishing that degree.

So in this case, I am interested in a different sort of feedback. (Unless of course you think I am totally incorrect, in which case I am very curious as to why). However, assuming that most RA professionals will agree with this principle, I am most interested in hearing about how you, in your RA role, have exemplified rationality, and why that has been powerful for you. Perhaps you have found a good way of documenting cost justifications that your team, other teams, or management really appreciate. Or maybe, you have found that other people look to you to bring the rational sensibility to the problems they face. Also, I am curious, have there been any times when practicing rationality has been extremely difficult, either for practical or political reasons? What are the challenges of rationality, and can it fail?

As usual, I am looking forward to the conversation!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The GRAPA Community Matters

If you have been eagerly awaiting the next blog on rationalization, then I am afraid I will have to disappoint you for one more day. Last night (those of you from the U.S may know what I am talking about) I found reruns of a television series called Cheers. As I was watching, the opening song especially caught my attention. The lyrics “You want to be, where you can see/Our troubles are all the same/You want to be where everybody knows your name” started me thinking about what it means to have a place where everyone can relate to each other through a commonality – a community, in the truest sense of the word.

If you couldn’t tell from my first two posts, I find the idea of a cohesive community, as place to identify, relate, and interact with others who are like you to be a truly AWE-some concept and a powerful resource. Especially for revenue related professionals who (I have heard) may not always view the telecoms universe from the same perspective as other Telco players, a space to learn about, share with, and bounce ideas off of similar people can make life a heck of a lot less overwhelming. So for that reason, I want to dedicate this post to the Members of GRAPA, and the impressive community network they have provided for each other.

As a part of the GRAPA team, I spend some of my time following GRAPA’s LinkedIn page, and following the discussions between members. For starters in the past few months alone, there have been over 25 separate discussions started, where multiple members have provided feedback or assistance to an issue raised by another community member. But more important than a number, is the camaraderie that radiates from each of the threads. There is an intangible, but obvious sense of “yes, I understand, and I have been there too,” that stems from most of the member-to-member communication. This speaks volumes about the atmosphere of the revenue community GRAPA members have created for each other, and the inspiring way members have stood up for each other and what it means to be a Telco Revenue Professional.

So, for today, I want to recognize just how special the GRAPA community has become, and acknowledge all of our members who have done so much to make this such a valuable space for Telco revenue professionals.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Consensus: The Political Platform of Revenue Assurance

In my family, I am the oldest of my generation. As a result, I often found myself the leader (aka, babysitter) of my younger siblings and cousins. At this point, I think I may need to rephrase. Adults (my parents, aunts, grandparents) expected me to be the leader, but in truth my younger family members really had little regard for me in this role. I can’t tell you how often they took great joy in disregarding any request I made of them, or took advantage of situations where I had no real authority.

Unfortunately, my lack of power did nothing to stop my family’s expectation of me to ensure their safety and bring them home in one piece at the end of the day. As you can imagine, this ended up presenting quite a predicament. How in the world could I convince my younger family members to listen to me? Especially since I knew that my directions were truly what was best for them. How could I make them want to hear what I was suggesting and, more importantly, see the value in it?

It is my understanding that Revenue Assurance Professionals today are often put in the same difficult situation, especially when it comes to the relationships they develop with operational managers. Management will hold RA accountable for risk and leakage, but operational managers want little to do with them, and in fact may even avoid working with them if possible. I have heard from various RA professionals how difficult it is to “convince” other department mangers to input their controls, or even let them in enough to figure out what controls are necessary.

Now, in some cases, this is because operational managers believe that the sole purpose of RA is to find leakage, which can only make them look bad. I have actually heard of a story where a Telco gave RA a percentage of all leakage they find. At face value this might not seem like such a bad idea, (especially if you are RA) but when you consider the logical ramifications, it puts RA into an absolutely horrible political position. It makes operational mangers feel that revenue assurance is making money by making them look bad. I can’t imagine too many operational managers who would be willing to work with RA in this scenario.
This is why I believe in a consensus based approach between RA and operation managers. As the GRAPA principle, Consensus states:

It is the primary objective of revenue assurance to promote cooperation between the operational teams involved in each of the different aspects of revenue management. The goal of revenue assurance is to create a solution that involves the consensus of all parties involved. RA is NOT a policing function, it is a problem solving function, and most problem solving requires the willful cooperation of all parties involved. 

Willful cooperation, there it is - the key that I missed when trying to manage my younger siblings/cousins, and the essential component to constructive relationships between RA and department heads. And the best way to build this type of relationship is through a consensus based approach to RA issues.

What makes consensus such a powerful principle, is that at its core it is about a role shift for the RA team, it opens the opportunity for operational managers to utilize RA before the risks get out of hand, rather than just bringing RA in to clean up the mess. It gives the message that the best revenue assurance solutions are created proactively, and that RA is there to assist, not point fingers. Consensus, in many ways, makes revenue assurance every department’s responsibility, but positions the RA team as the “go to” guys for establishing solutions. Now maybe I am wrong, but I would guess that operational managers would be much more likely to go to an RA team that is ready work with them and may offer unique solutions to problems, as opposed to the RA team who is dedicated to uncovering leakage which can only make them look bad.

Now I must say that there are other GRAPA principles that dictate this situation, including Departmental Sovereignty, Scope Management, and Integrity in Relationships. Today, however, is about Consensus, and how it can be a powerful tool for the RA professional in earning the respect and trust of operational teams.
I can go on and on about why consensus is so fundamental to the successful career of an RA professional, but that means very little without verification from the GRAPA community. As a professional principle, it is most certainly a community matter, and I look forward to hearing feedback.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Principles and Standards – The Foundation

As one of the newest members of the GRAPA team, I find myself constantly discovering more things that confuse me and test my understanding of how things should work. Prior to working at GRAPA, I had a naïve perception that businesses (at least any that would keep going) were logically structured, highly organized, efficient entities. They knew how to keep the machine running with few hitches, and any potential backfires had at least three contingency plans.

Then I was introduced to telecommunications. From all I have heard and learned about the telecoms industry, logic and planning may happen by accident, but new ideas, creativity, and innovation are the orders of the day. Products, plans, technologies, and business models change by the week, and in this complexity, chaos can take over. In this environment, mistakes are bound to happen, additional risks can be everywhere, and any concept of stability is non-existent.

Which brings me to the telco revenue professional - here’s the individual who can bring common sense and financial concerns into the dynamic environment of the telco and harnesses the chaos. These professionals keep their eyes squarely on the bottom line (and often times top line), and find ways to mitigate and manage risk. In a way, they enable technology professionals to stay passionate about making things work, and they enable marketing teams to test their ingenuity, and they provide security around the creative process of new product development. These professionals not only make chaos functional, they make it profitable.

This is so cool. As I heard story after story of how valuable these professionals are to the telco, I can’t begin to describe how proud I was to be working at GRAPA, and working to aide these individuals in their complicated and multi-faceted jobs.

But as I said at the beginning, being a part of the GRAPA team has constantly tested my understanding of the discrepancy between how things should work, and how things happen in real life. I had the chance to attend a GRAPA training last year in Las Vegas, and quite possibly the biggest shock I received was that many of the revenue professionals I met were treated as the clean-up crew, they were asked to step up whenever telco chaos spun out of control. It seemed that there was little appreciation for the advantages they could bring to the telco environment. If I was running a business, the first things I would want to know are a. that my product/service is generating revenue, b. that the revenue I think I should be earning is being realized, and c. where my biggest revenue risks exist. So needless to say, I was quite confused as to why at times, the value of revenue professionals was not appreciated, and why (as I also heard) telecoms politics often made it so difficult for them to get involved in those projects where they could have the most use.

Although I have come to accept that life does not always work the way it should, it really bothers me to hear when the role of revenue professionals is misunderstood in a telco - especially, since I have heard such powerful success stories. I feel that GRAPA has a duty to its members to ensure that all of them have the tools they need to achieve such professional growth and appreciation.

This is the primary reason I am so passionate about GRAPA standards and principles – they serve as guidelines for turning the RA job into a profession. When applied to the telco environment and the revenue assurance job, these standards and principles help RA professionals define the pivotal role they play, how and where this role adds value, and improve relationships between RA and operational departments and RA and management.

Since GRAPA is in the process of reviewing and updating its standards and principles for 2011, we are looking for as much member feedback as possible. For that reason I want to use this blog to highlight the various components of the standards and principles, and build a discussion around the usefulness of them. After all if something is no longer useful to the members, then it should no longer be a standard. Not to mention much has changed for RA since 2009 (when the standards were last reviewed by the membership), and new standards and principles may need to be added.

GRAPA, as a professional association, is fundamentally dedicated to the concept of building a community of professionals, a group of people who find themselves in the same situations, faced with the same issues, and who need to accomplish the same goals. This is why discussion of these principles/standards –members of GRAPA sharing stories, learning experiences and successes with other people like them - is the only way to make the principles and standards have any impact.

A community of like-minded people striving to accomplish something is a powerful concept. It is a place where revenue professionals can define their space, and determine what makes them professionally successful. It can provide a forum for discussion, or just a place to come for moral support. Like any community, the GRAPA community needs a foundation, a basic structure that everyone can use to say “yes this is who I am, and I belong here.” To me, that foundation must include standards and principles that are universally accepted. So that is why this blog starts here, and why I encourage as many revenue professionals to share their opinions and stories related to the principles and standards with the rest of the community.

In the next post I will lead off with what seems to be three of the most fundamental principles of Revenue Assurance – Consensus, Rationality, and Integrity. I am hoping people will share feedback and help build the special community they are a part of. This is an exciting time to contribute, and be a part of the 2011 effort to review new standards and principles. And it begins and ends with the community.