RA's future is in smaller apps

One of the key issues for the RA industry is the dominance of the RA field by people selling systems and tools.

I have long campaigned for quick, easy-to-deploy tools that a competent RA professional can deploy across any particular revenue stream. The best RA tool is the professional’s mindset. My preferred tools are MS Access, Excel spreadsheets and CSV files, or the OpenOffice equivalent.

Tools have their place, but they need to be seen as just that. Any tool would give a great ROI when initially deployed, and the cheaper the tool the better the ROI - provided the strategy for utilization has been thought through. It will have a potential future if there is a roadmap of how the system will be used in the future, and it can be adapted to cater to the technological changes that are happening in this industry.

For example, with the growth of inclusive minutes, free calls at weekends and so on, the actual value protected has reduced significantly, but the operational costs remain high and possibly have increased. Unless you can find alternative means of using the tool, it quickly becomes quite an overhead – sadly, one that people are then reluctant to remove because of the fear factor; everyone remembers the first year when it saved so much money. Simplistically, the first year a tool is deployed it captures the historical errors up to the point of deployment. After deployment, once the root causes of the errors have been understood and corrected, the rate at which errors are introduced diminishes significantly.

RA teams are under threat because it is no longer seen as adding the benefits that it once did. The low-hanging fruit has been harvested; now the real graft starts, smaller leakages, more widely distributed and harder to find. Those teams that used to rely solely on the bought-in system will find themselves looking down a slippery slope of cost reductions unless they can find something else to do with that system. And that is where the difficulty arises, because the capital to purchase a new system will not be made available. The costs and time taken to modify an existing system (time taken from preparing the capital expenditure budget to getting approval, never mind deployment) is likely to mean that new revenue leakage threats will have emerged, so you are always playing catch-up.

So what is going to drive RA in the future? It will be unpopular with the large system vendors, but I suspect we are looking at the equivalent of small apps that can be used to assess data. For example, we developed a matching algorithm to match CDRs from two sources that was far more accurate and flexible than that provided by some equipment manufacturers. We could cope with mismatched times, duration anomalies, incorrectly formatted numbers and alphanumerics within either or both number streams. By importing CSV files from both sources into Access and mapping the field, we had a quick and dirty reconciliation.

There are other apps out there, developed independently or by RA teams to turn VoIP messages on an IP stream into VoIP calls (or use Wireshark). The new breed of RA professional will know these apps, will know how to use them and will have them sitting on their laptop - just waiting for the IT department to give them the DVD with the data on. Mine has...

Mark Yelland is a Consultant at RAAIIM Ltd. and former Head of RA at THUS plc and Director of RA at Cable & Wireless.