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Howard Watson: Business assurance is now at the top of the
agenda of the COO and increasingly on the agenda of CEO
The term ‘business assurance’ is still relatively new in the telecoms operator sector and to an extent suffers from the hype cycle that often afflicts the emergence of new terminology. It’s important to understand that this is not a new name for revenue assurance or service assurance but a mature concept designed to describe the effort to gain greater insight into actual business performance across an operator’s environment “This is an assurance activity that sits at an executive level within the organisation,” says Howard Watson, managing director of Cartesian, a TMNG Global company. “While as a company we have a rich heritage in revenue assurance, process re-engineering and customer satisfaction, business assurance extends into the areas of cashflow, cost containment and into the financial operations of the business. Business assurance is now at the top of the agenda of the COO and increasingly on the agenda of the CEO.”
That advance into the boardroom underscores the importance of a disciplined approach to business assurance to the modern operator. However, adopting the business assurance mindset effectively requires operators to also transform their processes and operations from both organisational and cultural perspectives. “If you consider some of the business improvement methodologies that have been used, like Six Sigma, adoption requires a culture where everyone buys into the technology being used,” explains Watson. “In our experience, business assurance needs a similar level of corporate-wide commitment. We have found that this approach must be sponsored by the highest levels of executive management and embraced by the entire enterprise. Every new service introduction, technology change, process improvement and system development effort should be viewed through the prism of business assurance. Once business assurance is embraced by the enterprise it will facilitate that all of your key performance metrics are optimized – not the least of which is ensuring the highest level of service for your customers. For example, our QSA tool ensures when you finish migration and transformation, you leave behind a culture that solves the root cause of a problem.”
Watson certainly knows about the challenges operators face in ensuring lasting success in transformation and migration. Prior to joining TMNG he spent 16 years working in the UK cable industry, which became Virgin Media. Watson led the cable operator’s technology initiatives as its chief of Transformation and Technology. Under his leadership, the technology division of Virgin Media saw revolutionary change as Watson introduced new key and strategic positions, including CTIO and executive director of change, and implemented new strategies to earn the banner “most cost efficient division”. In addition, as the chief technology and information officer of Telewest, which later merged with rival provider NTL to form Virgin Media, Watson was instrumental in the establishment of Telewest as one of the best performing cable operators according to industry analysts.
“I spent 16 years in the UK cable industry and that was characterised by continuous acquisition and merger activity which meant a lot of transformational activity took place all the time,” says Watson. “What I learned, sometimes through bitter experience and sometimes more easily, is that successful transformation is about engaging the entire operation. Business assurance does pull all that together, bringing financial, technical and customer experience organisations together with a shared goal. At Virgin Media, the transformation was sticky, so it continues, that’s because everyone was engaged.”
“People want a partner who can help facilitate the various parts of the organization to pull together,” he adds. “These challenges cannot be addressed in a vacuum or from one vendor’s point of view. A best-in-class business assurance program must be holistic, addressing revenue, costs, margin, cash flow, service, customer satisfaction and operational efficiency, include all the vendors in the value chain, be highly automated, and include experts who fully understand the transformation that is taking place in the communications, media and technology industries.
Much of TMNG’s proposition appears to resemble the management practice applied to other industry verticals but Watson acknowledges that telecoms operators face an array of challenges that are unique to their industry in addition to other challenges faced by other verticals. “Obviously, each vertical has its own challenges,” he says. “The important characteristics of a telecoms operator are that essentially they have a lot of customers that are paying an annuity revenue stream. As an operator your revenue is about lifetime value of your customers which you try to increase. The utility and financial services sectors are similar in that respect.”
Given that, are telecoms operators as savvy as those similar sectors when it comes to business assurance? Watson says the message is getting through. “We need to continue to stimulate the market and ensure business assurance continues to stay in the front of operators’ minds,” he says. “The sector is very customer-centric so for that reason it becomes a top table consideration and is on the c-level agenda.”
TMNG Global has assembled both the technical expertise and the experience to aid operators throughout their transformations. “One of our core areas of expertise is in working with customer to transform their business,” says Watson. “That really applies across the entire lifecycle to what processes are required and what is the impact of specific changes. We can work with the operator to prioritise where transformation is required.”
TMNG Global’s Business Assurance assessments and solutions combine its expert business assurance consulting services with its award-winning business assurance software suite, Ascertain, their internationally-recognised, proprietary Quality Business Controls (QBC), eLexicon, and Quality Systems Audit (QSA) methodologies. For example, TMNG’s eLexicon is a web-enabled toolset and accompanying methodologies that contains user requirements gathered from numerous projects with more than 250 operators, both domestic and international. “We have methodologies for transformation and how to undertake transformation in a repeatable way,” says Watson. “We also provide our Ascertain Business Assurance Suite, which we deliver and leave in place, essentially providing the business with a business assurance dashboard and heartbeat.”
This type of integrated and comprehensive approach is increasingly required across the c-level suites at operators. “Business assurance is at the CEO, CIO, CFO, COO level,” confirms Watson. “Those functions all have this need in common and the underlying driver is the complexity that continues to increase within a telecoms operator, within its IT operations and, more and more, in the sales channels. Process and systems complexity increases quite dramatically at times and our operator customers are focusing increasingly on outsourcing and using third parties which means a framework is also required to simplify and manage those relationships.”
The business assurance market is certainly geared to address that complexity. “What was revenue assurance and resided in the CFO domain involved taking that information and focusing on the lost revenue,” adds Watson. “Now instead of focusing on loss, assurance might be about gaining insight into the 99.99% of revenue that has been assured. Operators might want to know how their high value customers have performed from a revenue point of view and that becomes relevant as a CEO dashboard – whether a CEO looks daily or weekly is an ongoing issue.”
The Ascertain Business Assurance Suite, mentioned earlier, is TMNG Global’s centralised business assurance portal that monitors, reports and analyses the many revenue streams and costs within a company. With a common interface that effortlessly collects and reconciles data while providing constant monitoring of activities and trends, Ascertain ensures users can focus on the results ensuring revenue is recovered, operating costs are reduced and permanent corrective actions are taken. “The key is to have that holistic approach and work from start to finish on a programme of corrective actions,” explains Watson. “Delivering the Ascertain platform enables operators to define symptoms and ensure issues have been corrected. The ultimate objective is to ensure that customer satisfaction has been increased.”
Watson says that while the holistic approach of business assurance delivers a wider set of benefits, there is still value in operators targeting specific aspects of their businesses. “You can and we still do target specific requirements with revenue assurance, for example,” he says. “Operators are looking at reducing the number of suppliers they have and the CIO wants to have integrated solutions so the holistic approach is becoming more the norm. Even with a single supplier, there tends to be a componentised architecture. We can provide a fully integrated architecture and that helps you find the cracks in the underlying architecture.”
For Watson, both schools of thought exist. The first thought is that a pre-integrated solution will have a lower total cost of ownership for the IT infrastructure, while the second thought centres on specifying best of breed solutions with integration done in-house. “There are pros and cons to both approaches,” says Watson. “From a business assurance perspective, we are ensuring we can work with both.”
The TMNG Global approach fits either preference and that, coupled with the market experience the company brings to its engagements, is the key differentiator. “We’re not just a mainstream enterprise software provider,” points out Watson. “Many of our staff have previously worked within operators and been involved in real engagements with real operators delivering added value. We know what it is like to get our hands dirty and we can bring that to bear in our engagements.” GTB