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January 6, 2016updated 22 Sep 2016 12:00pm

Internal collaboration in telecoms: moving beyond legacy systems

Analysis: Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone explain how they revamped their IT operations.

By Alexander Sword

While we generally think of telecoms companies as the providers of communications rather than the buyers, their internal collaboration needs are just the same as any other enterprise and are seeing greater investment.

As well as their shared area of business, telecoms operators have several other things in common. They often have a large workforce dispersed across a range of different locations, and as well-established companies they often have a lot of legacy IT.

The dispersed workforce is not the only result of the different locations; it also means that different locations have often built up their own IT resources.

Moving to a digital collaboration platform will help the employees work together, but might seem like an uphill struggle due to the legacy IT issues.

Stefan Schloter, CIO at Deutsche Telekom, explains:

"Like many other multinational companies, Deutsche Telekom has had to cope with a variety of heterogeneous and historically grown IT landscapes across international business units."

Deutsche Telekom is represented in over 50 countries worldwide, on all continents except Oceania (and Antarctica, of course), with 228,000 employees globally. But new advances in technology mean that this workforce can be more connected than ever before.

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"Fostering substantial global collaboration requires rigorous streamlining and standardisation of the IT toolset, to cater to both employee and council demands," says Schloter.

"One way to solve this problem is to provide a company-wide, easy-to-use collaboration platform which allows direct communication between employees, executives and team experts. "

Deutsche Telekom now works with the communications and collaboration company Jive for its internal communications.

"One of Deutsche Telekom’s strategic directions is to ‘win with partners’, so we are always looking for the best ways to move forward when it comes to our IT systems.

"The internal use cases are mostly standard and adopting an off-the-shelf solution was the best option for us."

The global roll-out required an extensive support project, involving training and central planning.

"Due to our heterogeneous IT landscape it took some time to establish global accessibility as we wanted to ensure all markets were provided with localised training resources.

"We set up a global project team and integrated international representatives to manage the roadmap planning process, with application management overseen by the Hungarian subsidiary, and operations by Slovakia. The project itself acted as a role model for global collaboration."

The telco formerly had no central platform for its employees, but all Deutsche Telekom employees can now connect through it. Management in the companies can also use the platform to engage the workforce, with CEO Timotheus Höttges winning an award for a blog published through the platform.

Deutsche Telekom was also able to simplify its IT structure and retire several legacy IT systems.

The results? Schloter claims that the company has seen a considerable increase in collaboration between staff. Take-up has been strong, with the Jive-powered intranet attracting 100,000 registered users since its roll-out in February 2012.

"With Telekom Social Network we now have a global tool that anybody within the company can access and use. Deutsche Telekom moved its intranet from a conventional static content management software to a dialogue-orientated social intranet.

"The complexity was substantially reduced and we saw an increase in the amount of cross team communication.

"Knowledge-sharing is now seen as a huge benefit across the company and we have seen steady growth across our internal wiki pages and topic-related communities of practice. The way we work together has changed and will continue to change.

Jive’s other telecommunications providers include Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, EMC, Globe Telecom, Singtel and T-Mobile. The T-Mobile project was similar to that implemented for Deutsche Telekom.

The T-Community provides a hub for customer support information, collaboration and sharing. Multiple platforms were replaced, allowing a more streamlined workflow.

One measurable result of this was that staff hours required to publish content were cut by nearly 70 percent, which is saving an estimated $8 million over three years. Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s call-handling costs were cut since call centre staff were provided with better information, saving $3 million a year.

"It’s the engine that drives customer knowledge and awareness inside our organization," said Scott Tweedy, VP of Customer Service and Sales.

"It’s really our social knowledge management solution for anyone interacting with customers."

Another telecoms company that has invested in collaboration software is Telstra, based in Australia. The product development team was finding it difficult to collaborate and ensure product innovation.

"Email can be too slow and doesn’t provide the context for discussions," said Akash Jattan, senior product manager for Telstra. "When information moves slowly, so do decisions."

The collaboration software in this case was Cisco Spark. The American networking giant’s software allows employees to set up virtual ‘rooms’, which can be used to discuss specific features and communicate securely with vendors.

Importantly for a company that differentiates itself through intellectual property, Cisco Spark is more secure than standard email.

"Encrypting room conversations keeps intellectual property off the Internet and eliminates some security concerns about business-to-business communications," said Jattan.

Telstra found that the time spent in meetings fell dramatically with Cisco Spark, while the quality of the ideas shared increased in relation to email.

On a similar theme, Vodafone decided that it needed to provide a central platform for employees to manage IT. Like Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone has a large workforce, in this case, 150,000, based across a number of locations globally.

The mobile operator’s roll out of BMC MyIT aimed to bring together employees onto one platform to serve its customers.

"We have very good collaboration platforms in Vodafone," says Karine Brunet, head of IS Transformation and Shared Services at Vodafone.

"It was complex to move the collaboration technology…but through our transformation it became obvious that we had to move to a digital platform."

MyIT is a self-service app, using location, role and preferences to connect employees with the information and tools that they require. The service is available through a desktop or laptop browser, or through a mobile app.

"Speaking for Vodafone, we believe that the internal IT you provide to your employees is key to employee satisfaction," says Brunet. "We believe that work is moving to be an activity and not a place anymore."

So what do these examples tell us about telecoms companies’ IT innovation in a broader sense? One of the most important seems to be the sheer quantity of tools available now.

"I think the technology we are able to use today in IT operations is enabling transformation that was probably difficult and tedious before," says Brunet. "IT directors should look at these technologies because they are providing opportunities.

"I have been running IT for 25 years and I think I have more tools available right now to transform my operation than I did in the past."

Nick Goff, Director, Customer Success Executive at BMC Software, adds that organisations need to be able to "undertake the digital journey without having to undertake a huge rip-and-replace in the back-end."

The key is that while telecoms companies can be large and unwieldy, dispersed as they are across a number of occasions and carrying a fair amount of legacy baggage with them, the tools that they need are not.

Another telecoms company that has invested in collaboration software is Telstra, based in Australia. The product development team was finding it difficult to collaborate and ensure product innovation.

"Email can be too slow and doesn’t provide the context for discussions," said Akash Jattan, senior product manager for Telstra. "When information moves slowly, so do decisions."

The collaboration software in this case was Cisco Spark. The American networking giant’s software allows employees to set up virtual ‘rooms’, which can be used to discuss specific features and communicate securely with vendors.

Importantly for a company that differentiates itself through intellectual property, Cisco Spark is more secure than standard email.

"Encrypting room conversations keeps intellectual property off the Internet and eliminates some security concerns about business-to-business communications," said Jattan.

Telstra found that the time spent in meetings fell dramatically with Cisco Spark, while the quality of the ideas shared increased in relation to email.

On a similar theme, Vodafone decided that it needed to provide a central platform for employees to manage IT. Like Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone has a large workforce, in this case, 150,000, based across a number of locations globally.

The mobile operator’s roll out of BMC MyIT aimed to bring together employees onto one platform to serve its customers.

"We have very good collaboration platforms in Vodafone," says Karine Brunet, head of IS Transformation and Shared Services at Vodafone.

"It was complex to move the collaboration technology…but through our transformation it became obvious that we had to move to a digital platform."

MyIT is a self-service app, using location, role and preferences to connect employees with the information and tools that they require. The service is available through a desktop or laptop browser, or through a mobile app.

"Speaking for Vodafone, we believe that the internal IT you provide to your employees is key to employee satisfaction," says Brunet. "We believe that work is moving to be an activity and not a place anymore."

So what do these examples tell us about telecoms companies’ IT innovation in a broader sense? One of the most important seems to be the sheer quantity of tools available now.

"I think the technology we are able to use today in IT operations is enabling transformation that was probably difficult and tedious before," says Brunet. "IT directors should look at these technologies because they are providing opportunities.

"I have been running IT for 25 years and I think I have more tools available right now to transform my operation than I did in the past."

Nick Goff, Director, Customer Success Executive at BMC Software, adds that organisations need to be able to "undertake the digital journey without having to undertake a huge rip-and-replace in the back-end."

The key is that while telecoms companies can be large and unwieldy, dispersed as they are across a number of occasions and carrying a fair amount of legacy baggage with them, the tools that they need are not.

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