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Revenue Assurance Jargon Buster
There are a large number of terms which are frequently used in our revenue assurance work. Ideally, when we talk of “usage”, “billing assurance” or “revenue loss” the definitions should be the same across the industry. But unfortunately this is not always the case.
Cartesian have decided to publish the terminology which we use, in the form of a jargon buster. All Revenue Assurance professionals are invited to comment, via email to email@example.com. Alternative versions and enhancements suggested by others via email will be added over time.
- Definitions of Common Terminology for Revenue Assurance
- 21ST Century Networks – BT’s programme to migrate their UK PSTN infrastructure to IP based systems. See also NGN.
- The extent to which all items have been measured, calculated or transformed correctly, and in accordance with any published rules or data.
- Once a valid command has been originated from a customer care environment (manually or automatically), the activation process commences. Activation involves the successful transmission and actioning of instructions about customers and their services on network elements and the systems that support them such as Voice Mail. Activation does not include “de-activation” but does include service changes.
Comments: Errors in the activation process are a significant source of RA problems. Typical problems include the activation process only being partially completed such that the customer is active on the network but not yet active on the billing system.
- Auditable changes to one of the components of revenue, such as usage charges, for two main reasons - wrong financial posting or customer goodwill credits. Note adjustments are best kept distinct from corrections though this is not always the practice.
Comments: Adjustments are usually categorised by Adjustment Type (such as ), and analysed as Gross Revenue. Any changes to a customer account carried out with customer agreement (such as change of tariff) are not adjustments. If applied retrospectively, they would however be adjustments for those past periods.
- Demonstrated levels of completeness, validity, accuracy and timeliness.
- Benchmarking is the process of continually measuring and comparing to improve performance.
The process reveals and quantifies areas of strength and weakness, and enables companies to take proactive steps toward improvement.
Comments: There are different types of benchmarking, including functional or noncompetitive; industry or competitive; and best-practice benchmarking. Obtaining comparable benchmarking data is one of the common challenges.
A good benchmark should be:
- clearly defined
- The term Billing is being used in its narrow sense to mean specifically the billing process that happens after rating. However the term the Billing System will usually embrace other processes such as rating, payment handling and collections, and in some cases aspects of customer care.
In a mobile pre-pay situation, rating occurs in real-time and billing does not in practice take place as it does in a post-pay environment. Instead the customer’s account balance is reduced in a process known as charging. Revenue Assurance professionals would however seek to assure pre-pay charging and post-pay billing with equal concern.
- Billing Assurance
- Demonstrated levels of completeness, validity, accuracy and timeliness in the billing and discounting of all subscriptions, usage and one-off charges and adjustments.
Comments: It is important to differentiate Revenue Assurance and Billing Assurance. The former refers to the assurance activities over the end to end revenue stream,
including order management, activation through to billing. The latter term refers only to the processes that take place within the specific billing process. Whilst there are many opportunities for revenue leakage within the billing system itself, there are many more opportunities in the other processes that surround it.
- Business Support Systems – computer systems on a telecommunications network concerned with business functions, including billing, rating, and interconnect. See also OSS.
- A discount proposition which prices together a number of different activities which if taken separately would attract a higher charge.
Typically the price is fixed, based on a certain level of usage.
Comments: A bundle may comprise voice call minutes, sent and received Short Messages and downloaded data.
- Business Service
- A facility offered to the market that comprises a network service plus customer care, billing and other complementary activities.
Comments: Examples: Cable TV, Broadband Internet Service, Pre-Pay Telephony
- Call Detail Record – this is a record which contains information about a call handled by a network element (such as a switch). Amongst other items, it contains the data necessary to facilitate billing of the customer for the call.
CDRs usually contain some standard fields such as the calling and called number, date and time of call, duration etc.
Comments: CDRs are encoded in a number of (often proprietary) formats. Decoding CDRs may be complex and incorrect decoding or translation (usually done in mediation) is often a cause of revenue leakage.
There are many variants on the term CDR, as some feel that CDR should only be
used for voice calls:
EDR = Event Detail Record
IPDR = IP Detail Record – a specific standard for IP events (see www.ipdr.org for information on standards)
UDR = Usage Detail Record
xDR = all encompassing, that is x stands for any of the above
- CDR Generator
- A tool for creating records for testing that are identical to live CDRs. These would typically be batched and presented to mediation in an identical way to CDRs collected from network elements.
Comments: See also Test Call Generator.
- The process of reducing the customer’s credit balance in real-time to reflect the usage made, in line with the appropriate tariff package and bundling. (See billing.)
While this is currently applied almost solely in a pre-pay environment, convergent billing may in due course lead to this being applied to post-pay customers, in which case the words “reducing the customer’s credit balance” would be read as “increasing the customer’s unbilled balance”.
- Churn ratio
- Number of subscribers disconnecting whilst receiving service in the period as % of average number of subscribers in period.
Comments: NB Some Operators use start of period number of subscribers rather than average number in period.
- The extent to which all chargeable items input to a step have been processed into all the required outputs from that step.
Comments: Proving completeness is a significant challenge as there are many different reasons why events may fail to reach their destination. Some example may help to illustrate this:
in telephony, the switch may not generate the record in the first place (due to outages, incorrect switch configuration, fraud, etc.)
in the mediation process, there may be many inputs and outputs, with records being filtered out, amalgamated or created according to various business rules – this may make simple reconciliations between input and output impossible
CDRs that make it into the billing system, may not get picked up in the bill cycle process due to changes in customer account information
- Control Framework
- A mechanism for documenting information gathered as part of a top-down review of controls, both in the applications - including the interfaces between them - and in the surrounding business processes.
Effectively this is a gap analysis that reveals the missing processes and/or controls that prevent an operator meeting its Control Objectives.
Most deployments of the Control Framework technique are in the form of a matrix where Control Objectives form one axis and a summary of the processes and controls form the other axis.
- Control Objectives
- Objectives that an Operator needs to achieve if it is to build an environment in which revenues are assured and risks pro-actively mitigated.
Control Objectives can be nested, where a higher level form of words can be decomposed into more precise objectives.
Comments: An example of a “higher level” Control Objective might be:
All valid calls generate valid CDRs as required
The “more precise” Control Objectives might be:
Occasional audits, or reconciliation to SS7 data, prove that rateable CDRs are created for each call, in the correct format.
Test calls confirm that all routes are producing CDRs correctly.
Test calls confirm that all call scenarios are producing CDRs correctly.
CDR collected volumes are consistent with expectations.
- A form of adjustment that is made where errors have been identified after Billing which have caused revenues to have been over- or under-stated.
Comments: Corrections are usually categorised by Correction Type (such as retrospective termination), and analysed as Gross Revenue.
Another example would arise with the withdrawal of any printed bills because of error; here, revenues (and other values) would need to be corrected before or after being posted to the Ledgers.
- CPE, or Customer Premises Equipment, covers any equipment loaned, leased or sold for use by customers on their own site. This may range from telephone handsets, through routers to PABX.
- A broad term that covers a wide variety of marketing incentives that reduce the cost to the subscriber of a service.
Some discounts are price-related, perhaps at a given time or on a holiday, while others are volume (i.e. scale of usage) -related. Crossproduct discounts are usually referred to as bundling.
Comments: Validation of discounts applied is an important element of revenue assurance.
Adjustments in the form of goodwill credits should not be classed as discounts.
- Two identical records, typically caused by a software or operational error. This is normally found with usage data such as CDRs but can also occur with other transactions such as orders, activations etc. Note: reference data cannot normally be duplicated due to the way in it is accessed by key.
Comments: A true duplicate would have all relevant fields identical in each instance, certainly start and end time, A and B number.
However Long Duration Records consist of several CDRs representing a single call and should not be mistaken as duplicates. Also, a Service Activation such as RBWF (Ring Back When Free) request can generate a CDR that looks identical to the subsequent billable CDR. Finally CDRs for ISDN calls may look like duplicates unless timeslot information is taken into account.
- The chargeable period of a call/event, starting only when the called party answers.
This is not necessarily the same as an engineer’s definition which may take into account the whole time a circuit is seized.
The accurate measurement of duration is critical for accurate billing – see metering.
- Event Detail Record. See CDR.
- IP Detail Record. See CDR.
- EDR Generator
- Like CDR generator but for a full range of event records.
- Key Performance Indicators
- See KPI
- Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are measurements taken to demonstrate the effectiveness of departments, teams, individuals.
They require targets to have been set, so that performance can be measured within tolerances.
Comments: While KPIs are best framed in the context of a particular Operator’s business priorities, some KPIs are in standard use such as churn and ARPU. Other examples might be:
- value of suspense records written off each month compared to target
- average value of credits per customer each month compared to target
- Local Loop Unbundling – the provision, to other operators, of shared access to the local connections between the exchange and end customer by the incumbent carrier.
- Master Tariff Source
- Because tariffs and their descriptions are used in a number of different and independent systems, Operators may designate one particular system as the Master Tariff Source and ensure all changes to that system are well-controlled. Reconciliation of tariffs in other systems can then be made against the Master Tariff Source.
Comments: Unfortunately Operators do not always identify which system is the master; and indeed different departments may often believe different sources to be the master.
- Billing mediation is the process of converting usage records (CDRs or EDRs) from systems upstream to the mediation platform (e.g. network elements, such as switches) for use by downstream systems that perform accounting, auditing, archiving, or bill-generation functions. In other words, a mediation system collects, transforms, collates and delivers upstream data for downstream consumption by systems that often accept data in a limited set of formats.
Typical mediation involves collecting and validating CDRs, filtering out non billing-relevant CDRs, collating, correlating CDRs from different input sources, aggregating partial CDRs related to the same call, changing the format of, and normalizing, CDRs, and transforming data for use by business / management information systems.
- This is the process of measuring the extent of usage of a particular service (usually one that is billable on a usage basis).
It is often used to just mean the measurement of the duration of a voice or data call. However, it can be applied to many other measurements, such as bytes of data sent or received.
- Metering and Billing Direction
- The UK Regulator Ofcom requires Operators to reach and maintain a prescribed level of accuracy and completeness in the recording of usage (in the form of CDRs) and in the billing of customers. This applies to Operators with annual revenues above a certain level (currently £40 million).
Comments: While compliance with the Metering and Billing Direction is not necessarily a responsibility of the RA Manager, the required activities are often run under the remit of the RA department. Certain tools such as Test Call Generators are of particular value in both compliance and revenue assurance and the results of their operation may be shared.
- A generic term for a repeatable measurement, typically of volume or flow or rate of change.
- MOU (Minutes of Usage)
- Duration of charged usage of networks. This metric can be reconciled to billed usage.
The call mix may be distinguished between:
inbound (minutes generated by our subscribers in the home network)
outbound (minutes generated when our subscribers are roaming), and between:
active (outgoing originated calls and calls forward)
passive (incoming calls)
- Net adds
- Difference between the number of subscribers at the end of the period and the number of subscribers at the end of the previous period.
- Network Service
- The technical delivery of various complementary facilities that together provide a form of telecommunication.
Comments: Examples: voice service, Short Message Service, Multimedia service
- Next Generation Networking – the delivery of telephony and related services over a packet-based network infrastructure. BT’s 21CN programme is an example of the deployment of a Next Generation Network.
- Operational Performance Indicator
- See OPI.
- An Operational Performance Indicator, or OPI, is a metric or series of metrics used to present operational data objectively. These are typically captured at a low level and often as part of the daily management of a system or process.
Comments: Examples of OPIs might be:
- % of CDRs entering suspense on a daily basis
- value of bill run analysed by customer type
- disk space available for the Billing System, plotted daily
- Operational Support Systems – computer systems on a telecommunications network concerned with operational functions, including provisioning, mediation, and network management. See also BSS.
- The creation of an instance of a network service. Depending on the service, this may range in scope from making a handset known to the HLR to allocating capacity in circuits and network elements and configuring the associated reference data (or datafill).
The term &lqt;provisioning&rqt; is also used to describe the software used to automate the process.
The provisioning process is followed by the activation process, typically when the customer is allowed to commence use of a circuit or purchases a handset.
- Rating Assurance
- Demonstrated levels of accuracy in the rating of usage, applying tariffs that agree with those published.
This may be demonstrated proactively using a comprehensive sample of records where a judicious choice of sample is important. Alternatively a re-rating of Billing System output can be used to diagnose problems retrospectively.
Comments: If a Master Tariff Source has not been designated, a key challenge is in identifying an independent tariff source to be used for any re-rating.
- Recurring Charges
- See Subscription.
- Reference data
- Any standing data used within any step to help process data.
Typically this is to calculate the value of a customer transaction, typically usage.
Comments: Examples: retail tariffs, destinations, VAT rates
- Revenue Assurance
- Any activity an organisation performs to ensure that processes and systems result in complete, accurate, valid and timely billing and collection.
Largely synonymous with activities that in different organisations may be called cost and revenue assurance, margin assurance, contribution assurance, etc.
Comments: Depending on the maturity of a particular Operator, revenue assurance there can be scoped differently. Indeed some aspects may be addressed effectively elsewhere in the organisation, for example within the Billing Department. Similarly some data sources and techniques can be shared with other departments such as SS7 probes used jointly with the Networks Department.
While most practitioners agree that revenue assurance comprises service assurance, usage assurance, rating assurance and billing assurance, there is much debate about the inclusion of activities such as fraud, collections, interconnect billing and the monitoring of other cost items such as network build, top-up sales and distribution, CPE stores, etc.
- (Revenue) Leakage
- Synonymous with Revenue Loss. May be expressed as a % of the total revenue stream.
- (Revenue) Loss
- The difference between the actual revenue billed to valid customers and the total billable revenue, assessed at a given moment of time.
Comments: Note: revenue loss for a given period will be larger after 3 months once the extent of fraud has been identified and the number of “valid customers” reduced.
- (Revenue) Loss Rate
- The rate at which revenue loss occurs at a point within the process, measured typically by period or month.
Comments: The value may be calculated by the percentage loss / measured flow rate.
- As appropriate:
Reduction in loss rate x value of revenue stream
reduction in suspense rate x average CDR value for type, etc.
- (Potentially ambiguous – context will determine whether it is a business service or a network service or a support service).
- Service Assurance
- Demonstrated levels of completeness, validity, accuracy and timeliness of the delivery of all required aspects of services ordered.
- A version of (typically) reference data at a moment in time.
- SS7 probe
- Equipment that inspects signalling data as recorded by the SCP, effectively allowing all network activity to be traced.
While SS7 probes are often deployed for use by network engineers, this data may also be converted into a CDR-like format which in turn can be reconciled individually to CDRs.
- Standing Charges
- See Subscription.
- Standing Data
- Any data that changes infrequently and (typically) applies to many customers and over several periods.
- Subscriber Acquisition Costs
- Total cost elements that are relevant to acquisition (commissions, SIM cards, subsidies&ellipsis;)
- Subscriber Retention Costs
- Total cost elements that are relevant to retention (hardware replacement, discounts&ellipsis;)
- Regular payment for a service.
Comments: Synonyms: standing charges, recurring charges.
- Subscription Assurance
- Demonstrated levels of completeness, validity, accuracy and timeliness of all subscriptions billed.
- Support Service
- Any chargeable or non-chargeable facility provided to the subscriber that does not involve a network service.
Comments: Examples: Support & Maintenance, leased CPE, Directory Enquiries
- The retention of usage data at a step according to agreed business rules, either pending completion of missing reference data (consequently unrated or unlocated) or because of incorrect usage data contents such as duplicates.
Comments: Usage items which cannot be passed onto the next step due to a problem, are placed into suspense.
Suspense may happen at many stages of the end to end billing process, including at mediation, rating and billing.
When measuring suspense, it is important to ensure that suspense at all stages are taken into account.
- Suspense rate
- The rate at which usage falls into suspense, calculated as % new suspense / billable events.
Comments: Value may be calculated through applying an average value for event type
- Test Call Generator
- A tool for creating records for testing by simulating subscriber activity and thereby causing live CDRs to be generated.
The term Test Call Generator normally describes those testing the voice service.
Supporting software is needed to hold the test programme, i.e. calls to be made, and to output records reflecting the actual call placed. The latter may then be matched (using other software) to the CDRs arriving in the live OSS and BSS environment.
Comments: It is important to distinguish between this and a CDR Generator which creates pseudo-CDRs rather than live ones.
- Test Event Generator
- As Test Call Generator, but able to handle test scenarios for wider network services such video calling, MMS, etc.
- The extent to which all chargeable inputs to a step have been processed within the time normally allowed for its processing.
- Usage Detail Record. See CDR.
- Unallocated /Unlocated
- Event records which may or may not have been rated, but which cannot be associated with an active customer’s account record within the Billing System.
Comments: One of the most common reasons for suspense. Delays in activating the account on the Billing System may mean that usage comes through which pre-dates the activation date and cannot be assigned.
- Event records which have not been rated, and therefore do not have a value attached, because an appropriate tariff could not be found.
- Metered events recording network service consumption by a subscriber.
- Usage Assurance
- Demonstrated levels of completeness, validity, accuracy and timeliness of all usage billed.
- Usage Monitoring
- Facilities for following the progress of usage data through an Operator’s systems.
- The extent to which all chargeable inputs to a step should indeed be inputs.
- Undiscounted charge for usage item(s).