“I really believe customer centricity and operation excellence should be the prerequisite of any budgetary decision,” says Madalina Suceveanu, technology director at Vodafone Ireland.
Suceaveanu joined Orange Romania in 1997 as an expert in network planning.
In 2011 she became the first woman to manage the technology department at France Telecom.
As technology director at Vodafone Ireland she oversees the company’s ambitious network rollout that includes a next generation 4G network as well as a major fibre joint venture with ESB.
Vodafone says that almost 90pc of Ireland’s population is now covered by 4G and that mobile data usage among its 2.3m customer base grew 65.4pc in the past year.
The €450m joint venture with ESB is targeting speeds of up to 1Gbps.
Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?
Vodafone embarked on an ambitious network enhancement programme across Ireland about two years ago that is nearing completion this year. The upgrade means that customers across Ireland are experiencing benefits such as significantly improved voice calls and access to data everywhere they currently can make a voice call.
The upgrade work involves swapping out legacy equipment with new hardware to offer an even better voice experience, resulting in an improved ability to make and maintain calls as well as improved outdoor and indoor service too. In addition, we are delivering improved coverage for High Definition Voice, which provides crystal clear voice call quality to customers, a service only currently available on the Vodafone network in Ireland.
The upgrade also involves extending our 3G coverage by activating high-speed data everywhere customers can make voice calls today. We are also accelerating the activation of 4G services across the country. 4G is next-generation technology that provides lightning speeds up to 10 times faster than standard 3G. This investment in our data rollout is delivering on our ambition to bring true broadband speeds to customers on their mobiles right across the country.
For business, this means access to files and emails that can be uploaded and downloaded in seconds, clearer voice calls while on the move and fewer dropped calls than ever before.
However, it’s important to note that upgrading the network causes some disruption to existing services as we transition from old to new equipment. Customers may experience some minor disruption but ultimately they will have a much improved experience overall once the work is completed.
Vodafone has also entered into a joint venture with the ESB, with the specific purpose of rolling out high speed fibre-to-the-home broadband across the country. Using the ESB’s electricity infrastructure, this innovative project will bring broadband with speeds of up to 1GB directly into homes and businesses across the country with a particular focus on the regional areas. This initiative is the first of its kind in Europe as it using electricity infrastructure to connect customer’s homes and businesses with fibre. This will set the standard for the quality and accessibility for broadband services in Ireland. Already we are seeing people on our trial in Cavan experiencing speeds of 940 Mbps upload and download – this is putting towns like Cavan on a digital par with cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Another significant project that we are focused on is around IT transformation and changing the way we serve our customers, enabling simpler and better interactions across our shops, call centre and then online or through our customer care mobile app. We need to ensure that we respond even quicker to our customers. This objective will be reflected in a major transformation of our IT estate across fixed and mobile products and services.
What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?
We are transforming our IT estate, which is at the heart of our strategy. In line with our ethos to be “Always Easiest” for our customer, we are targeting simplification of our products and tariffs, processes and systems and cost optimisation, which is basically doing more for less by leveraging new technologies such as cloud and automation of our internal processes. The focus of our strategy is as follows:
Customer centricity – our customers are at the heart of our processes, particularly in terms of early engagement in the design of our products and services. We review and test our systems on an ongoing basis through both our care channels and customer surveys to ensure that we are getting accurate feedback and that there is a strong customer voice in our decisions around how we bring our services to the market.
Transformation – deployment of a new consolidated system across fixed and mobile to deliver on our customer-centric agenda – we need these systems to be as customer focused as possible.
People and capabilities – we continue to invest in our IT workforce to learn new skills and bring in new capabilities, such as analytics. We want to ensure we have the right skillsets to put in place and run the platforms we need for our business and ultimately to best serve our customers. We are reviewing our systems and the platforms to make sure that they align architecturally. We are looking at the data we have from network analytics to ensure we understand the details of our customers’ experiences on our network. We are also aiming to provide a unique omni-channel experience while maintaining high security standards.
Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?
In Ireland our business has become more diverse, with the growth of our products and services portfolio over the last number of years, which offers extensive mobile services, fixed services, converged services and, more recently, cloud hosting and IP VPN solutions. This has resulted in the need to extend our IT infrastructure over the last number of years. In addition, the local acquisitions of Interfusion and Complete Telecom, and then globally of Cable and Wireless, has added to our IT estate and capabilities.
From an internal perspective, to support employees across the business, one of our biggest investments has been adopting our own technology to enable the New Ways of Working programme (NWOW) within Vodafone.
The NWOW technology enablers included:
Designing and providing secure wireless access for all our people in the Vodafone Ireland headquarters building at Mountainview in Sandyford, meaning that Vodafone people are no longer tethered to a fixed desk space.
Providing our people with laptops and smartphones to be more responsive and to increase collaboration internally and externally.
Enhancing our security for technology assets including smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Providing our people with mobile broadband and secure remote access to the corporate network to all teams and individuals who work remotely.
People are now free to use hot-desks, coffee areas or meeting rooms to work without needing cables or connections. We now see more than 700 remote access log-ons each day and use of the in-building WiFi has increased by more than 700pc.
As our workforce has become increasingly mobile, we have enhanced security measures to protect information and devices outside the office. We have expanded our firewalls and introduced services like mobile device management to be able to lock and wipe smartphones or tablets, if they are lost or stolen, providing peace of mind that our information is safe and secure.
By increasing our usage of video conferencing and collaboration tools, we have reduced our annual travel budget by 20pc, with video conferencing replacing a significant amount of road, rail and air travel.
Where our colleagues choose to work remotely, we’ve created and rolled out a ‘smart feedback’ app that lets our people and customers highlight any network issues they are experiencing, so our engineers can resolve these as quickly as possible.
Our internal IT infrastructure leverages the scale and skillsets of the Vodafone group entity, using connectivity and productivity by integrating mobile and fixed services.
In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?
I really believe customer centricity and operation excellence should be the prerequisite of any budgetary decision, even if it’s about forecasting or spending the budget. More specifically, I expect CIOs to prioritise the investment around tangible customer benefit and then to make sure that the implementation is done in an optimal way, the simplest possible approach and a proper vendor evaluation and management.
At the same time, I strongly believe that you don’t need a lot of money to make a big impact. CIOs really need to have mindful cost management and deliver projects in a cost effective way. I like to think that this builds credibility with the rest of the business so that when they are looking for support for the next big project, they’ll have a better chance to secure the funds.
How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?
Simplification is a key objective of our IT strategy. The simplification of the IT strategy is strongly connected with the simplification of our entire business processes. We are taking huge steps and, as I have previously mentioned, we have embarked on an IT transformation programme.
This is a gradual process that will take time and it’s going to impact our way of working across the business and how we relate to our customers.
The way we are going to measure the success of this transformation and simplification will be based on positive feedback from our customers.
Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?
We have an appropriate IT team, given the size of our business, which is comprised of both in-house employees and contractors. We are always looking to acquire new skills and capabilities that will support us to go through the ambitious transformation and deliver on our convergence proposition.
What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?
I would say it’s a good even mix. My role is to build and lead the team responsible for the strategy, delivery and operation of our fixed and mobile networks and IT systems.
Another important area to mention is that I also ensure that we benefit from the innovations and best practices coming from Vodafone Group for the support and best interest of our customers in Ireland.
I have a great team that allows me to focus on the aspects of the business that directly impact on our customers in the shorter and longer term.
What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?
Developing technological trends, such as the use of smartphones and social media, and increasing data demand have forced businesses to become more flexible, more adaptable and, most importantly, more connected across multiple levels. This has given many companies the scope to serve the needs of both their employees and their customers better.
Research, recently commissioned by Vodafone, showed 70pc of Irish businesses are freely embracing new technology where it can add value.
In order to facilitate mobility strategies effectively, businesses must ensure that they have the appropriate management systems in place to ensure that information is shared between employees and the office securely.
Mobile devices are becoming pivotal to the way we run our personal and social lives and BYOD, and now CYOD, blurs the lines between our working and personal worlds.
Businesses are leveraging this trend by enabling employees to use devices of their choice, turning them into tools for greater productivity.
However, the latest smartphones or tablets are not going to deliver any benefit to the business if you don’t have the network capability to give employees access to the information that they require, in a timely and reliable manner, no matter where they are.
Recent research commissioned by Vodafone indicates that 75pc of businesses feel that they are not prepared to handle future challenges and trends when they arise.
These businesses highlighted key areas of concern, including, digital interactions with customers, flexible working environments and security and risk management.
Young people are growing up with technology and automatically bringing their usage habits into the workplace and businesses need to be aware of the risks associated with this.
The challenge in recent years has been access to capital to employ mobility strategies so it’s more important now to look at what’s being paid for maintenance contracts and see how quickly the return on investment will be achieved.
By partnering with companies, Vodafone helps identify specific business challenges and provides the intelligent interaction needed to solve these challenges.
Mobile devices and smartphones
Mobile broadband — freedom and flexibility to access the internet and work from anywhere.
Secure remote working — staff can work anywhere and on any device without compromising company security.
4G network — keeps employees connected wherever they are with office-like speeds on our 4G network.
Mobile device management — Vodafone Secure Device Manager lets businesses control and manage the company’s smart devices from one central place.
Business apps — bespoke business apps to help employees work smarter and better, as well as business apps to drive customer engagement.
What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?
Our key metric is customer satisfaction, which we monitor continuously.
Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?
Having a consistent omni-channel experience is one of my main areas of focus because I think that customers need to be able to reach us through a variety of different ways and I want to ensure that they always have the same experience no matter how they want to contact us.
What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?
My biggest projects this year are:
The completion of the mobile network modernisation
The launch of our fibre-to-the-home and business services through our joint venture with the ESB this year
The major business processes and IT transformation programme.