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All posts by Ashwin Menon

Boost your Campaign ROI through Promotion Assurance

“Why do you love your service provider?”

At the end of the day, this is the billion-dollar question which drives the entire telecom industry. When one ponders the answers, quite a few would emerge – flawless connectivity which helps my business flourish, a well-priced model which keeps families closer than ever, providing a backbone that keeps a country productive, etc. But in most surveys (and in my personal experience), it is the attempt at focused engagement that keeps most of us linked to the same Telco. Giving me freebies on my birthday, suggesting I change my plan to one which suits my business travel (even though the rental might be lesser) or even the act of proactively passing me some benefit during a network downtime adds that human element which tends to create brand loyalty.

From the above, it is clear that successful promotional campaigns can do wonders in terms of customer retention as well as acquisition. With the plethora of analytics tools powering the marketing departments across most Telcos, differentiated, qualified, and value-driven campaigns are a reality. Of course, some have gone farther than others in this regard. But the question which I will explore in this blog is whether this practice creates risks and brings in more issues than it solves.

Now, I look at Promotions and Campaigns from a more general perspective. It’s like eating at Dominos. While Dominos makes some decent pizzas and has a large customer base, it faces the same issue as all other eateries – consumer fatigue. This is not just caused by the limited choices (assuming a market where you could only eat Dominos pizzas), but also the sheer banality of the process. In this environment, if one offers a package deal (drink + pizza + lava cake) at 50% of its list price pursuant to a customer also purchasing a premium feast pizza, the break from the monotony of the pizza ordering process itself drives a sense of “anticipatory need.” Now, this is the easiest level. Going beyond, if Dominos were to use analytics to understand and anticipate my ordering behaviour and suggests a ready cart with one click check-out, I would be delighted. Too much to ask? Well, the reality is, this is what subscribers expect from their service providers today.

The Inside-Out of Promotions

With promotions emerging as a major business strategy in today’s competitive telecom environment, targeted campaigns can help Telcos increase revenue, margin, customer retention, customer satisfaction, and overall brand stickiness. However, the differentiation comes with its own challenges, and so does the ROI. The returns from the campaign greatly depend on how the Telco addresses each one of the challenges. Globally Telcos have allocated a significant portion (around 8%) of their budget for promotions and advertisements, but the results, in terms of campaign ROI, are not as expected. The ineffectiveness of campaigns could occur due to several reasons including lack of planning, improper budget allocation, incorrect metric measurement, wrong promotion qualifiers, incorrect target list, and many more.

Let’s examine some of the challenges associated with driving successful campaigns and see how Telcos can mitigate them to gain maximum return from their campaign investments. I will broadly classify them as:

  1. Data Access and Integrity – Each stage in the promotion launch process is critically dependent on the accuracy of the facts from the previous stage. It is of paramount importance to ensure that the raw datasets are accurate, complete, and integral. Unfortunately, most marketing teams do not have access to a comprehensive data integrity engine.
  2. Promotion Complexity – Promotions can widely vary in nature (i.e. the device, vouchers, services, etc.), and most operators do not have a ready-to-use promotion risk matrix or checklist. This leaves assurance teams at a disadvantage to deal with the volume and velocity of new promotions.
  3. Time to Market – Competitor pressure in most regions leads to a very short release/launch time for new promotions. In the absence of automation, this means pre-launch testing is usually sample based, and the test results are contaminated by confirmation bias.
  4. Lack of Automation – Many of the checks required to ensure high ROI on promotions require a high level of automation as manual interventions usually introduce errors.
  5. Regulatory Hurdles: Regulators may apply a cap on certain promotional offers announced by Telcos. For example, In India, there is a 90-day cap on such offers, so the Telcos find it difficult to optimize the market spend and achieve the target within the short span of time.

So, why invest in a Promotion Assurance program?

Having the right product does not always guarantee revenue. Telcos may be losing out to competition due to lack of visibility into how efficiently promotions are rolled out. Promotion assurance programs, which build around modern analytics and intelligent automation techniques, emerge as a winning solution in this context because it helps the Telcos define the campaign KPIs and measure ROI from each on a near real-time basis, so they can take corrective measures appropriately.

Challenges inherent in the current approaches and the evolving marketing conditions pose higher risks to campaign ROIs, and more importantly, might impact the customer experience. It is the need of the hour for Telcos to implement a promotion assurance strategy that focuses on the business, system, process and customer aspects of the campaign.

Making history in Prague

One of the most commonly used greeting, Dobrý den, means “Good Day” in Czech. Coincidentally, we at Subex believe this to be an apt indicator of things to come at the 12th Subex Annual User conference, happening in the magical city of Prague. In a city famous for its spectacular architecture and scenic beauty, we at Subex feel excited about the ground-breaking sessions planned for our esteemed guests.

In the past year we, both operators and partners, have seen the rise of new threats and hidden opportunities. We have seen margins getting further squeezed by the nimble tactics of OTT players, and conversely we have also seen some operators take bold new steps to capitalize new technologies. We have seen the magic of LTE establish the foundation of our collective next steps in the telecommunications industry, both in terms of defining the new business ecosystems which would evolve, as well as how and what services we would deliver. In a way, we are going back to basics – observe, study, understand and compete.

Following up on the success of the 2014 User conference, this year Subex is pulling out all the stops in terms of pushing the boundaries of innovation in business optimization. This time around, it’s going to be about looking to the future and preparing for agile transformation today. The day and age of “built to last” solutions might be seeing it’s official sunset. A new era is upon is – The era of “built to change” solutions. When operators are grappling with the vast product possibilities now open to them, it becomes of paramount importance that associated risks can be handled at the pace of business. To help us gaze into the crystal ball, we’ve reached out to industry stalwarts like

Simon Torrance – Futurist & Senior Advisor on Digital Innovation, Analysys Mason
Mark Zmigrodski – Manager Fraud Investigations at AT&T & Director – CFCA
Mike Willet – Executive Director at Ernst & Young
Paul Fedarb – Head of GTM UK Billing & Collection at BT Group

My good friend Eric Priezkalns, Co-founder at Commsrisk returns this year as the event’s chairman . Last year his ability to bring the speaker and the audience closer together in meaningful discussion (and debate) ensured that all of us took away the best from all the sessions. Beyond the speaking participants, we have a full roster of industry leaders and active voices in the risk & assurance community like Amit Agrawal (Group Director, RAFM at Etisalat), Edward Granillo (Director, TeliaSonera Group-wide RAFM), Pedro Bravo (Revenue Assurance and Credit Scoring Manager at NOS), Ahmed Saleh Benatif (Director of RA at STC) and the list just goes on. In such a rich gathering of domain experts, I for one would expect something fantastic to emerge from the planned sessions. The sessions themselves are keyed towards focused discussions around emerging technologies, evolving risk frameworks and a little bit of magic (by yours truly).

In keeping with the theme of Prague, Subex also plans to spring a few pleasant surprises for our esteemed customers. Rest assured, we are confident that this would be a User Conference that won’t be soon forgotten. We are looking forward to breaking new ground, and jointly going where no risk management expert has gone before!

“A cup of coffee commits one to 40 years of friendship” – Turkish Proverb

Istanbul is a city of seeming contradictions, a confluence of the old and the new.  Scratch slightly beyond the surface and one would be awed by the profound depth of culture and the warmth and hospitality of the Turkish people.  Istanbul has been described as a magical bridge between the east and the west and we can see the diversity to this day in this beautiful city. This is a city which has ingrained the best of all, and became more prosperous for it. I cannot imagine a better place for Subex to host its annual User Conference.

When we think of user conferences, we think of warm, open spaces. We think of sharing, collaboration and evolution. We think of inclusive growth. All of these are feelings and thoughts I associate with Istanbul. The roster of industry leaders who have so graciously decided to share their time, knowledge and wisdom with all of us is truly humbling. The number of operator registrations this year has been a record high (over 150), and in this we as Subex feel the weight of responsibility to deliver value to our customers.

Of course, delivering value becomes a significantly easier task when you have esteemed guests like:

Gerd Leonhard (Futurist, Author, Keynote Speaker, Think-Tank Leader & Strategist)
Alex Leslie (Publisher & Editor – BillingViews)
Eric Priezkalns (Co-founder – TalkRA.com)
Michael Rimkus (Vice President, Internal Audit & Risk Management at T-Mobile US, Inc)
Dave Huras (President – CFCA and Manager Toll Fraud and Voice Operations – MTS Allstream)

The best part being that the above is a small part of the overall roster. I for one am very excited to hear from old friends like Amit Agrawal (Group Director – RAFM Etisalat) and Sanjay Batham (GM – Design & Implementation Reliance Jio) about highly relevant topics like the challenges around group RAFM design, advent of 4G and associated challenges, social network analytics, demystifying asset assurance and various other topics.

It is always a wonderful thing when we get an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. When I look at the list of topics for this event, I’m glad to note that there is a welcome balance between the lessons of the past as well as a peek into the future. Given that these views are being given by our friends and colleagues in the Telecom world, I am sure that the level of meaningful interaction would be at an all-time high as well. The number of case studies this time around tells me that our telecom friends have been busy at work innovating solutions and are eager to share practical experiences with a larger audience. Much like Istanbul itself, the overall agenda is a rich amalgamation of practical knowledge, challenges and solutions from across the world.

So here’s to old friends, respected colleagues and industry leaders. If you’ve registered for the meet, let’s catch up for a glass of Türk kahvesi in beautiful Istanbul – and cheer to 40 more years of friendship!

Zen and the art of Root Cause Analysis

Our story begins with Farmer Joe who has a beautiful daughter Janet. Farmer Joe decides to bequeath the family decorative pin to Janet on her 20th birthday. Now Janet, in a fit of unbridled joy decides to run around a haystack holding the pin towards the heavens. Suddenly,in a scene far too clichéd to be coincidence, she trips and the pin falls into the haystack…

Now begins the daunting task of “finding the pin in the haystack”. Janet is faced with a dilemma which would be quite familiar to RA analysts the world over – how do we find the pattern which highlights the root cause (or the pin, if you are a farmer’s daughter who goes by the name of Janet) within a world of millions of CDRs.

Of course, the solution is to cut the haystack into smaller cubes and search smaller segments for the pin. Does this sound familiar to you, my RA analyst friend? It should – because this is the way we attempt to find the root cause today. When your system presents you with millions of CDRs (or, God forbid, meaningless summaries), we tend to break them into smaller sets which have seemingly similar patterns. Then begins the back-breaking task of finding the elusive pattern that indicates the root cause – an endeavor that involves quite a few cups of strong coffee, pointless mails and shattered dreams regarding deadlines and analyst efficiencies.

But hey, this is how we do Root Cause Analysis the world over right? We would reduce our effort by managing the problem size right? Well, it gives me great pleasure to say that the winds of change are blowing. Today, I would like to introduce to you to a fundamental paradigm shift in Root Cause analysis which would effectively transform the way we do RA.

Let’s imagine for a second that Janet decides to find the pin by placing a powerful magnet over the haystack. Consider how much time and effort she saves, as compared to breaking the large haystack into smaller stacks. Consider how sure this solution is, as compared to the possibility of not finding the pin even after breaking the haystack into smaller segments.

Now imagine such a magnet for RA. A magnet that presents the analyst with all the hidden patterns in a problem set (discrepant CDRs). Imagine how this would change your day in terms of boosting analyst efficiency, achieving cost efficiencies as a department, being prepared to handle new and upcoming technologies and always staying one step ahead of the curve.

That magnet has a name, and its name is “Zen”. Subex recently launched ROC Revenue Assurance 5, and along-with RevenuePad (which my colleague Moinak would write about), Zen is one of the fundamental pillars of this ground-breaking solution.

Zen is an automated Root Cause Advisory engine which provides, for the first time ever, machine intelligence for pattern identification and presentment. What makes it revolutionary is that the engine is programmed to sniff out patterns with minimal involvement from the analyst. Give Zen two data sets, and it will tell you exactly why some CDRs in data set 1 are not present in data set 2. This also involves telling the analyst what percentage of the total data set can be linked to any particular pattern. Since pictures speak louder than words, here is a sample illustration:

Zen is essentially a data analytics engine for ROC Revenue Assurance 5. Based on the discrepant sets identified as the result of an audit, Zen automatically fires up the pattern analytics engine. As Zen works on identifying the patterns, it also works on linking the patterns to specific CDRs (to ensure that an audit trail would be maintained). Finally, Zen presents the analyst with a comprehensive view of:

  • All identified patterns in the discrepant data set
  • Distribution of how many CDRs are linked to which pattern
  • Historic event indicators to further guide the analyst towards the root cause

Zen is keyed towards two “Intelligent” actions:

  • Pattern Analytics
  • Analyst Feedback integration

We refer to Patterns as “Areas” and the learning from past investigations as “Reasons”. Why do we need both, you ask? The answer is fairly simple – the same pattern (or Area) might have presented itself for very different “Reasons”. A simple example of Subscriber profile between HLR and Billing might clarify this point.

An analyst, on performing the HLR vs Billing subscriber reconciliation, finds that 20 subscribers on the HLR are not present on the Billing platform. Now, in the absence of provisioning logs, he/she might surmise that this is a simple case of provisioning error and forward the information to the relevant teams.

However, if the same discrepancy is seen next week for the same set of subscribers, it might be prudent to address the possibility of internal fraud as well. Here we see an example where the same pattern (20 subscribers are missing repeatedly in billing but are provisioned on the network) might be due to two distinct “Reasons” – Provisioning Error or Internal Fraud.

Zen helps you tie it together. Reasons are incorporated into the Zen engine based on “Acknowledgments” received from various teams. This helps to ensure that “False Reasons” are minimized. In this manner, Zen becomes a repository of Analyst intelligence to address the world-over issue of Knowledge Management in RA.

Zen is a virtual analyst who never sleeps, eats or goes on vacations. For sure he will never leave the team (taking his accumulated knowledge with him).

In conclusion, I want all of us to take a moment to step into Janet’s shoes. The pin is in the haystack, and the stack is getting bigger and bigger all the time (due to burgeoning volumes and technology/product complexity). The timelines to find that pin are ever-shrinking, and cost reduction is the call of the hour globally.

How is your team planning on finding that pin?

Black Swan Ahoy!!!

Whoever thought that the above picture would give flutters of fear to senior management one day?

But thanks to Mr. Nassim Taleb who brought the concept of the “Black Swan” event to the forefront, it’s what sleepless nights are born of. Of course, the Natalie Portman movie comes a close second…

Let’s start off with what Enterprise Risk Management is all about. As per Wikipedia:

Enterprise risk management (ERM) in business includes the methods and processes used by organizations to manage risks and seize opportunities related to the achievement of their objectives.”

I came across another definition by Jim Deloach, which I felt was equally (if not more) clear:

Enterprise Risk Management is the discipline, culture and control structure an organization has in place to continuously improve its risk management capabilities in a changing business environment.”

Essentially, my distillation of ERM is a framework which helps an organization to manage risk. Now, in a similar manner, I’m going to try and distill the Who, What, Where, When and Why of ERM. Please feel free to correct me, as I think I’m going to be a student of ERM till my dying day (not because of any misplaced sense of passion, but because ERM is an ocean).

Who

ERM is a complex, complex bit. Let’s begin by trying to understand who is the owner of the ERM framework.

ERM is kind of like voting – it’s everyone’s responsibility, but ultimately tends to get forgotten in a world of everyday complexities. However the buck should and will stop at the CEO. Under the CEO, we might see specialist roles like the Chief Risk Officer or Risk Managers or Auditors.

What

Hmmm…didn’t we define what ERM is? If we assume we know ERM because we know it’s definition, I would say that we are making the same mistake as the crew of the Titanic – what you see is a small part of a large thing.

ERM incorporates, as per COSO, 8 odd elements from Internal Environment to Monitoring. If I attempt to simplify, ERM constitutes all the elements of Universe measurement, Goal alignment, Risk & Mitigation and Measured Monitoring.

Where

Okay – so there’s  a huge laundry list of ERM related activities. Now where do we apply these…

As with everything else about ERM, my answer would be everywhere. ERM figures in all your day-to-day operational activities all the way to your 10 year strategic goal. In my experience, the space where ERM is given due importance today is primarily in Compliance. It’s been pointed out in various findings that ERM, as a complete practice, is quite immature.

When

Ah, this question. To be honest, I do not have a complete and convincing answer for this one. I would encourage you, the reader of this post, to provide your perspective.

In my view, the earlier the better. ERM is a vast area. It would be useful to start your ERM practice when the internal processes and universe is still manageable.

Why

Why you ask? In the words of George Mallory, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest – Because it’s there.

To expand on this, ERM enables the business to safeguard itself against a potential cascade of risks which would threaten its existence. ERM enables large organization to be nimble and respond to opportunity. ERM aligns the organizational goal across all its functions not only from an operations perspective, but all the way into the strategic horizon. ERM would, though indirectly, improve customer and share-holder perception of the organization. I would say that the real question here is, why wouldn’t you implement an ERM framework. Here again, I invite the reader to give your perspective.

After reading this post, the obvious question you might have on your mind is – where do the swans come in. I think I’ll leave that for another post for now. The intent of this post was to provide a base on which we can build.

Authors note: I wish I knew who to credit for the wonderful picture I have used in this post.

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