The five-minute CIO: Shaun O’Shea, Pure Telecom

27 Jan 2017

Pure Telecom CIO Shaun O’Shea. Image: Pure Telecom

“How we communicate with each other is constantly changing and becoming more complex,” said Shaun O’Shea, CIO of Pure Telecom.

Operating since 2002, Pure Telecom is a Dublin-headquartered fixed line, broadband and cloud telecoms service provider that employs 100 people across Ireland.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the company is to create 32 new jobs on the foot of a €1.8m investment targeted at expanding Pure Telecom’s customer base to 100,000 by year-end 2019.

The company is targeting growth on the appetite for fibre among Irish consumers, which ought to have accelerated by 2019, if the wholesale aspect of the National Broadband Plan does its work.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology roll-out across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

As one of Ireland’s leading telecoms providers, Pure Telecom has a very large voice and broadband customer base in the residential, corporate and reseller segments. We currently have more than 42,000 residential customers and that figure is growing rapidly. By the end of 2019, we expect to have more than doubled our residential customer base to 100,000.

It is a complex business that is constantly scaling, and technology is at the core of that. We need to be confident that our technology doesn’t just answer the needs of the here and now – it must also have the capacity to support and drive aggressive and relentless growth.

Customer service is absolutely paramount to our business and increasingly, predictive analytics is playing a large part in helping us to grow and better understand our customer needs. Our unique B2B, CRM and billing systems produce a huge volume of valuable customer data and information, which we can then use to quickly identify trends, changes in the market and new revenue streams. We can query this data to profile customer trends across voice and broadband, which can help drive new product creation.

This information, combined with intelligent systems that help us to provide a highly responsive level of customer service, ensures that we are always working to improve the customer experience – and that is at the very heart of our business.

What are the main points of your company’s IT strategy?

Data is not just central to our IT strategy, but also Pure Telecom’s overall business strategy – we treat it as an asset class. We are constantly working with senior management, examining how our data can drive business growth. We are lucky that the company directors understand and value the business significance of data.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

We are predominately a Microsoft-based operation, with staff using off-the-shelf productivity software along with bespoke in-house developed applications. These operate in a Windows-based environment and are supported by SQL Server back-end database systems, which do most of the grunt work. We also have an external presence via our website and an in-house developed customer portal, which is LAMP-based.

Our core IT infrastructure is currently based on premises but we are in the early stages of migrating some components to the cloud. However, our mission critical data and systems are currently fully backed up to the cloud, as well as locally.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

Our IT budgeting typically falls into two categories, the short-term day-to-day budget and then the longer-term infrastructural budget. The short-term budget tends to be the more predictable one and doesn’t tend to throw up any surprises.

The long-range budget, however, requires more detailed planning and management. We have to be able to put forward a solid business case to justify the budgetary spend for each item, ensuring that it aligns with the overall company growth plans and can deliver efficiencies and productivity gains. As these items usually require significant financial outlay, you can’t afford to get these wrong.

How complex is the infrastructure, and are you taking steps to simplify it?

We currently support a number of internal legacy systems, which are the result of both organic growth and acquisition. We are working to migrate these systems to a centralised technology base, which will allow us to streamline our operations and ultimately ensure we continue to offer the best customer service possible. We have a lot of work done in this area but there is still more to complete.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

Relatively speaking, we probably have a small in-house IT department. Having said that, though, there are many years of experience and many different skill sets shared amongst the team, and we are always keen to spread that knowledge around. As a result, we can look after most things we need to do internally. We do have some other trusted partners that we defer to on occasion if there are gaps in our knowledge/experience, or if resourcing dictates.

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?

My time is generally split down the middle between strategic planning and the more practical side of IT management. Like a lot of organisations these days, we are constantly assessing how we can use IT to help us achieve and surpass our overall business goals. That involves a lot of senior management meetings and requirement gathering sessions, ensuring that our objectives are consistently in line with those of the business, combined with meeting potential new suppliers to iron out any requirements with regard to B2B integration projects. Because we are a relatively small team, I am also then involved in the actual implementation of these requirements.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

How we communicate with each other is constantly changing and becoming more complex. We’re using landlines, instant messaging, video multi-chat … the options are almost endless. Because of that and the opportunities presented by the ongoing roll-out of broadband across the country, people now want to tailor their solutions to suit their unique needs.

Meeting those demands has become even more crucial because of the increased availability of broadband and the advent of the National Broadband Plan. We are in an extremely competitive space at the moment and in response, we provide an extensive range of packages for customers – from international landline bundles to 1GB fibre broadband and everything in between.

Analysis of customer data allows us to customise marketing communications and analysis of customer usage data – including millions of call records per month and broadband data consumption statistics – allows us to design new products that meet the needs of our customers. So while we already offer the best value packages on the market, we are striving to add further IT-driven customer experience enhancements to help our service really stand out from the competition.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well IT is performing?

Managing the flow of data and analysing it is crucial to our business. We have custom-built analysis reports that reconcile the data we collect, such as billing information, trends and so on. As well as identifying opportunities, it also allows us to pinpoint compliance issues and rectify them.

We also have out-of-compliance reports for processes that, for example, can identify and highlight if a customer order is stalling unexpectedly for any reason.

Are there any areas you’ve identified where IT can improve, and what are they?

As more and more of our legacy internal tools are moved to a more centralised technology base, we have the opportunity to more tightly interconnect our CRM systems directly with our suppliers, which will help to increase efficiencies and reduce the potential for out-of-compliance issues, and help improve process quality in general.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We have some infrastructure expansionary projects in the pipeline for the first half of this year, which will have positive impact on the overall performance of our internal systems and processes. We are also looking at moving certain components of our operation to a cloud-based environment.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years