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Patience is key to lasting solutions

Patience is key to lasting solutions

The challenges of introducing big changes within a large company.

Vodafone's chief technology officer, Andy Reeves, has been looking forward to this Christmas for a long time. Early in 2005 he set out to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the company's billing, financial, provisioning and mediation systems. Having been through similar projects previously, Reeves was keen to set a realistic deadline, and Christmas 2007 was locked in as the date by which everything would be done.

"The reason these things take so long is that they touch every part of the organisation," he says. "The product selection, the integration and the testing are absolutely critical."

Keenly aware that early mistakes can snowball, Reeves' first task was to conduct an audit of the technology already in place, and clearly map out business requirements.

"We wanted to gather the top-level requirements, and figure out what it would all look like in terms of functionality, and then work down into designing something that can actually be built," he says.

"It's too easy to design a mammoth that will send you broke and not do what you need."

Keeping this balance in mind, Reeves identified several software packages based on functionality, as well as the reassurance they would be supported in the long run.

"Strategically, the company wanted to create a highly configurable core system, based on a series of best of breed technologies, tied together with IBM Websphere," he says. "Product selection was a pretty important exercise, because we wanted solutions with some longevity, and a sustainable road map."

Ultimately the vote came down in favour of Siebel customer management Portal for the billing system and Metasolve to take care of provisioning. In an odd twist, Oracle bought all three companies before the project was finished.

"We didn't plan it like that, but now that most of the software is available through a single vendor, it just means we have [fewer] issues to deal with and [fewer] relationships to manage," Reeves says.

After a competitive tender, IBM was picked for the integration work, and an internal team selected from different areas in the business was appointed to keep the project tracking to business requirements.

Greg McCann took on the role of internal project manager, charged with keeping IBM's integration team in close contact with business outcomes.

"Because these projects work over such a large time frame, it is easy for these things to get delivered and for the business to turn around and say, actually we want something different," Reeves says.

"It was clear all the way along that this was a business project, not a technical project, and it had to deliver huge outcomes to the business."

It was a full 18 months before the integration team was ready to deliver the first phase of the project, and another year before the company could prepare for the final roll-out.

However, by September 2007, with the fully integrated system already installed in New Zealand and Fiji, it was Australia's turn to warn customers to brace themselves for the changeover.

For seven nervous days in early October, all hands were on deck to implement the switch.

Although the integrated software had been comprehensively tested on a fully replicated environment, Reeves was conscious that a production environment often throws up unforeseen challenges.

"The guts of the organisation were basically ripped out and replaced, and had to be fully operational in a very short time frame," he says.

"That's why we'd taken so long on the testing phase. It was absolutely critical that everything was operational before it went live."

Reeves says the new systems delivered on four key areas, providing a single customer view, enhancing customer service, allowing new products to be rapidly configured and rolled out, and delivering a common platform across the Australasian market.

Although the software has been sourced from different vendors, the intellectual property related to the integration remains with Vodafone, and is being scrutinised by the company in other regions.

"If I was in charge of IT in other countries, I'd also want to see the system live before considering it seriously," Reeves says.

"But now that we've been through a billing cycle, we're quite comfortable that it's all working well and they should become more interested."

With the system live in three countries, Reeves is ready to relax and spend Christmas planning for how the new infrastructure might be used in 2008 and beyond.

"There's been a lot of night work and a lot of weekend work to put this project up without a lot of disruption to the customer base," he says.

"It now offers a lot of future-proofing in terms of our product set, and gives us the ability to design far more selective, targeted campaigns."

© Fairfax Business Media

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