Telstra’s investment in digitisation paying off, CIO says

Cloud and a shift to agile are helping Telstra respond to changing customer needs, CIO John Romano says

A year ago an agent in Telstra’s service centre may have had to access nine systems in order to help a customer deal with a fixed-line NBN fault. Today, the same task can be done from a single interface.

It may seem like a small change, but the new system has shaved off six minutes per call on average and helped cut unnecessary field technician visits by 55 per cent. For Telstra chief information officer John Romano, it’s an example of how a massive investment in digitisation is helping the company deliver improved customer experience, making life easier for employees and increasing productivity.

Other initiatives have included replacing multiple customer notification systems with a single notification engine and the rollout of a revamped service status page that offers more granular detail about service outages and expected recovery times.

Telstra has also launched a business focused mobile app — Telstra Connect — that offers tools for enterprise customers, such as incident management, that were previously split across 50 different portals. Another business-focused initiative is Expert Finder, which helps customers directly contact a relevant Telstra expert.

Telstra in 2016 first revealed its plan to invest an additional $3 billion on network improvements, digitisation of its business, and improving customer experience.

“The incremental $3 billion is fundamentally focused on transforming the experience that we deliver our customers through investment in networks and the digitisation of our business,” CEO Andy Penn said in August 2017 during a briefing on Telstra’s full-year results.

The digitisation program has four key pillars, as outlined by Penn: Delivering digital experiences to customers as well as employees, the roll out of digital platforms, and “digital ways of working”.

“It’s all about how do we deliver that customer experience uplift — and how we enable our people to deliver that uplift to customers,” Romano told Computerworld.

Increased reliance on cloud-based platforms and a shift to agile are the key IT-driven enablers for the program. Underpinning the program is ongoing cultural transformation at Telstra, the CIO said. Romano said that the push for continuous delivery and improvement means there is less of an emphasis on discrete projects.

It also means there is a heightened need to bridge divides between business, product and technology teams, which in some cases has meant co-locating them. In addition, he said, from a leadership perspective it has meant there is a need to trust teams and an emphasis on autonomy.

“If you look at the history of companies that have tried to digitise their business, some succeed and some fail,” the CIO said. “It doesn’t work if you don’t have the business and technology teams together, so it’s really a cultural shift.”

Romano said Telstra has learned both from its history as well as the experience of other large enterprises around the world.

“It can’t be technology-driven – it has to be business- and customer-led but coming together with the technology,” the CIO said. “Everything we do when we set up our teams on these digital platforms is targeted towards the customer – what they receive, how they interact.”

“Digitising an organisation is not a project – it becomes the way you work forever, and you continue to improve,” the CIO added.

“The teams themselves work though, ‘What’s the next thing I’m going to do for the customer? What’s the next benefit I’m going to bring to our people that’s going to help our customers?’ It just continues and it becomes a behavioural method.”

The CIO already oversees more than 100 agile teams and has a goal of scaling that to around 400 by the end of 2020, incorporating around 70-80 per cent of Telstra’s software engineering practice.

Currently a waterfall approach is used by around 60 per cent of development teams at the telco. Romano said he expects Telstra will always have around 20 per cent of engineering teams using waterfall-style methodologies.

The digitisation program has seen the rollout of new cloud-based systems alongside the ongoing process of decommissioning legacy systems and applications.

Two of the key platforms enabling the program have been Salesforce and ServiceNow. The telco has shifted large chunks of its business away from its aging Siebel CRM system to Salesforce, the CIO said.

“Those sort of systems were put in 30 years ago and we’ve continued to develop them,” he said. However, Telstra is a vastly different business to three decades ago, Romano noted.

“When they were built 30 years ago, we really had just a phone service. Now we have mobile services, data services, cloud services. So those systems to serve customers have become quite complex and hard to interact with.”

“Then we move to today, and we’ve got more cloud-based environments like Salesforce and ServiceNow,” the CIO said. A change that used to take six months and a lot of work can now be done in three days — or even faster, he said.

“Let’s say we’re delivering a new product. Instead of planning for it, packaging it up, loading it up, testing it, scheduling change windows and implementing in six to nine months – we can actually now do it in days. It’s about the ability to respond much quicker.

“And from customer perspective, when they interact online the interfaces and the workflows in there are just so much simpler.”

Romano said he hasn’t put a date for switching off Telstra’s legacy CRM. Although an increasing number of Telstra’s applications are running in cloud environments — private and public — in some cases the CIO will allow a natural process of attrition take place.

“You’ve got to make a business decision: You’ve got to say ‘this application won’t be needed in four or five years so why am I going to rewrite it to put on cloud.’ You let it run its course.” For customer-facing systems, however, there has been an emphasis on speedy cloud migration, the CIO said.

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