Is compliance the next major battleground for automation?

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Almost half of our customers that utilize APIs in their comms use our Compliance API. In telecoms, compliance is a big deal and an even bigger problem. Setting up an international network comes with a mountain of legalese, forms, formatting, and data.

And all of this takes time to process, sort, source, and get approved. It’s a nightmare for telecom providers, regulators, and customers everywhere, who are looking to avoid the myriad of issues that come with non-compliance. Things like:

  • Service downtime if your voice or SMS services are blocked or disconnected
  • Lost revenues if your prospects and customers can’t reach you
  • Negative customer experience (CX) leading to a greater risk of churn
  • Poor brand perception among prospects trying to reach you
  • Increased marketing costs from updating collateral with replacement phone numbers
  • Hefty fines from regulators running into six figures

But there’s hope on the horizon. Like all things in tech, product owners are trying to figure out how all this manual overhead can be replaced by some clean lines of code.

So what’s happening? And why is compliance such a seemingly unsolvable pain point?

More countries equals more problems

When you get a chance, have a quick Google of the list of regulatory bodies governing communication there are around the globe. There are a lot. And each has its own set of regulatory standards that need to be met before you can even consider making a call, or risk getting your numbers turned off or even breaking the law.

In Portugal and Austria, you need to provide an invoice for a telephone or internet connection with a fixed IP address at an address in the area you want a phone number for. (I know, it took me 3 reads to digest that one too.)

On top of all these weird and wonderful rules, contracts and regulations are, as you can imagine, written in many different languages. If you’re not fluent, you’re going to want to have it professionally translated by a lawyer that is. Which takes time and costs money. Basically, it’s a nightmare.

And you can expect to come up against these types of roadblocks in every heavily regulated country. Even if your plan is to go with a bunch of different carriers you’re going to find yourself buried in a stack of contracts before you can say “toll-free”.

On an industry level, if we wanted to solve all this, regulators would need to get on board with automating this process at its core. But they don’t want to do that. I won’t bore you with the terrors of bureaucratic civil-servant-ran telecommunications regulation but it’s safe to say they’re not inclined to help us with this.

So we have to do it on our own. With APIs.

Easy as A-P-I

Using an API for compliance gives you the ability to automate a number of functions that would otherwise require a large manual overhead including:

  • Submission of the required information to regulators
  • Understanding any local service restrictions on use cases around phone numbers
  • Number porting
  • Local access to emergency services
  • Verify end user details

There are some slight hiccups with this. Some countries like using APIs when you automate regulation, but some prefer using CSVs, making automation inconsistent and in some cases near impossible.

But for a good chunk of countries, once you’ve integrated these APIs with your comms, they can ensure you remain compliant in the future where the same info is needed in the same format.

Why bother?

In some of the more legally relaxed parts of the world, you’ll find what’s basically a number free-for-all. People will buy and sell numbers like hotcakes. They’re lucrative number markets that don’t really mind who buys and who sells what.

But when it comes to the majority of countries that people want a presence in, you start to hit the regulations. A lot of the time, if your business is not based there, they’re going to need good reasons for giving you a number, and plenty of information.

This is where dealing with compliance becomes a ‘time sink’.

But by automating compliance, all the data handling is done for you. That way you can get back to what you do best – your business.

Why aren’t more comms companies doing this?

In short? More telecom companies don’t do this because it’s hard.

Getting hold of the knowledge on what makes a service compliant or not is a task in itself. The rules are constantly changing and whenever coverage is added so is, inevitably, more automation.

We’re lucky that we’ve spent years building relationships with local regulators, and we’re experts in the legal requirements of everywhere we operate. But for a lot of other telecoms providers, their focus hasn’t been so heavily invested in compliance. Which makes getting off the ground with this a monumental and expensive task.

Looking forward

So what about the future? What will the realm of compliance look like in years to come? Well, I think there are unrealistic and realistic hopes for all this.

In an ideal world, it would benefit everyone if there was some form of central database for number ownership that all providers and regulators could use to verify compliance.

But realistically we can’t see the huge body of regulators agreeing to this. Realistically, however, we are looking to work towards a way for users to input a business address (and any other relevant information) just once to provide correct info to all the different regulators, automating compliance at an unprecedented scale.