Elephant Envy and Other Disorders

datePosted on 08:56, May 27th, 2010 by admin

Having goals is wonderful. That is how set up measures for ourselves and assess our progress. However, goal setting can create problems, especially when it comes to choosing role models. What happened to those who regarded Toyota as the example of how to run a car company? What about those who chose Tiger Woods as a role model for the professional and ethical behaviors of “winners”?  Yes, the business of setting goals and selecting a role model to follow can have some serious backlash.

It can be especially dangerous and difficult to choose a role model within telecommunications and revenue assurance.  For the majority of the people I talk to in telecoms and the people clogging the speaker conferences and producing marketing material, the message is simple and clear: To be the best, emulate the big boys.

Do you want to exercise best practice in billing? Find out how ATT does it. Do you want an example of the best at long distance? Let British Telecom be your guide. Conference after conference, vendor after vendor and speaker after speaker the same song is repeated. Since the big telcos do it this way, you should do it this way too. Since the biggest and richest telcos in the world do things a certain way, then copy them, and you’ll become bigger and richer.

Wait a minute! Let me really think about this. The claim is that since the big, successful people do things a certain way, I should too. Their way is the way to success. I have a real, big problem with that logic. Here is the reason.

Let’s look at the ‘big telco’ style of revenue assurance.

‘They’ say:

  1. Revenue Assurance is about IT Systems – It is about putting in lots of systems and automating controls. The more computer-run controls, the better your revenue assurance.
  2. Revenue Assurance is about doing things the right way, even if it is expensive. In this mode of operation, revenue assurance is like an avenging angel. An agent of change who a) cleans up dirty data b) corrects policy errors c) smoothes out operational problems without regard for the cost. The accomplishment of order is the only goal.
  3. Revenue Assurance is about leakage – it is about finding, monitoring, and being absolutely focused and obsessed with little tiny errors in great big systems. Perfection is the order of the day.

But how are those telcos are doing?

  1. ARPU’s – Dropping like a stone
  2. Market Share – Shrinking
  3. Reputation – Eroding rapidly

It seems to me that those are the last models I want to emulate. I am amazed that anyone still gives these people the time of day.

We need to look at the history of telecoms in the past ten years. Who are the carriers we should be emulating? Should we take direction from the dinosaurs behind this thinking and pay to build these systems and engage in never-ending, mind-numbing and meaningless debates? Should we perpetuate the thinking generated by carriers that are so cumbersome and bureaucracy bound that they cannot do anything without a six month study? Do you, in your telco, have time for that???

Maybe we should look at the new market powerhouses around the world: The Zains, MTNs, Vodafones, TIGOs, Orascoms, Qtels, Movistars and the Digicels. Even China Mobile and Airtel Bharti have huge lessons to teach us about how this business can be run profitably.

I propose that these are the companies to be emulated.  These are the people who don’t have time to be obsessed with IT systems. These people know they cannot afford to stand still long enough to have the silly, bureaucratic, political battles about leakage and triple redundancy and the obsessive pursuit of three cents worth of leakage. In other words, in my opinion, these are the carriers who practice telecommunications in the style that has always driven the winners in telecoms:

  • Innovation.
  • Break neck speed to market
  • Change, change , change

It is the commitment to innovation, change and risk that makes a telecom something to be admired, not the size of their IT budget and certainly not hours logged in theoretical discussions about “drip models”. I would not claim that the big cumbersome carriers out there who are bogged down with massive legacy systems, 25 layers of I/T, and enough political process to govern a country do not need to practice revenue assurance the way they the do. On the contrary, I emphatically agree. They really do need to function that way. It is the only way that they can keep up.

What I am also saying, is that the last thing any smaller, leaner, meaner and more effective telco, or revenue assurance team should be doing, is trying to figure out how to do the same thing. Basically, you would be trying to learn how to do the wrong thing.

There is an amusing television commercial put out by Accenture. The commercial shows an elephant crossing a huge chasm by nimbly dancing on a log that goes across the gap. Their message is, you too can be a giant elephant, but we can teach you how to be nimble despite your size. Maybe teaching elephants how to walk across logs sounds like a good idea to you, but I think the chances are good that an elephant is going to be falling to the bottom of the chasm pretty often.

Even more critical, why do you want to be an elephant? Yes, the real key for the revenue assurance professional is not to seek out the worst examples of revenue assurance, and then try to copy them, but to look at your own company, your own situation and your own capabilities, and create your own image of best.

Well, that is about enough time for this week, so I’ll just leave you with this thought. If you want to fly, don’t take lessons from an elephant.  If you want to fly, start learning how the birds do things instead.

Until next week, this is Rob Mattison saying…. Be Safe.

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