The five-minute CIO: Paul Walsh, Dixons Carphone and iD

20 Nov 2015

Paul Walsh, head of operations (MVNO), Dixons Carphone and iD

“One of the benefits of being the new kid on the block is that you can learn from what has happened previously before your arrival,” says Paul Walsh, head of operations (MVNO) at Dixons Carphone and Ireland’s newest mobile operator iD.

Dixon Carphone’s new mobile operator went live in August 2015 as part of a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) pact with Three, which acquired O2 last year.

The new mobile operator will be selling its services across the entire Carphone Warehouse and Dixons chain of stores in Ireland.

The new operator is aiming to differentiate itself in the market by letting consumers build their own mobile plan, increasing or decreasing the amounts of minutes, texts and data, with the ability to adjust this every month.

Prior to joining Dixons Carphone, Walsh was head of operations at Tesco Mobile Ireland and prior to that he was senior project manager at O2 Ireland.

As a new entrant in the mobile market, what makes iD different to its competitors from a technology perspective?

iD has invested heavily in technology to support  an ambitious plan to offer Irish customers a very innovative and flexible mobile service. We are the only MVNO with 4G in Ireland at present and this, combined with our very flexible plans, makes us really stand out from the competition.

To enable this, we have built a brand new network based on the very latest network and IT technology. We built the network in less than 12 months through no small amount of hard work and by partnering with the market leaders in mobile technology. iD is also the first MVNO in Ireland to launch a pre-pay and bill-pay solution from launch day, which is an impressive achievement. With our own advanced technology platform, we will continue to innovate and drive change in the market for the benefit of Irish customers.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation?

iD is a brand new full core mobile telecoms network with voice, text and 4G data capabilities. We have also built out CRM and billing IT solutions and integrated with our sales channels. At iD, we have our own full-service web channel covering sales, account management and marketing. We recently won the Eir Spider Award for Best eRetail Website 2015. We also have a best-of-breed data analytics solution that allows us to understand what works best for our customers in terms of our products. I love technology, and getting to play with the latest phones and gadgets is one of the perks of the job.

In terms of managing technology budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CTOs should achieve their goals? 

There are so many options now on how to manage budgets and costs. Partnering, outsourcing and platform-as-a-service options are a key way to maximise return. The case for continually investing in hardware is getting harder to make now that there are so many high-quality cloud partners and solutions out there.

By using platform-as-a-service-type solutions, we are essentially sharing costs with many other organisations that, in another scenario, we may have had to invest in ourselves. We have also found some great open source options on internal toolsets that help us manage costs – the surprise for us was that when we investigated this, we found many very large organisations are also using these same open source products. Each organisation is different, but it is clear that the technology landscape is changing at a much faster pace now and CTOs need to take the opportunity to get the most from investments off the back of this constant innovation.

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

A mobile telecoms network can be very complex but our approach is to partner with the experts and focus on what is important to us, which is the customer and our brand. This works really well for us as we can manage our service for customers and our relationships with our partners, rather than actually managing the technology.

Some elements of our IT stock is managed in-house, but in general our major elements are supported through partnerships. We work really hard not to use technology jargon in iD as we find that if we use jargon with each other it inevitably will be used with customers. It can be hard to keep things simple, but it is really important to us.

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

One of the benefits of being the new kid on the block is that you can learn from what has happened previously before your arrival. We have made a conscious decision to partner with best-in-class partners in most technology areas and only develop in-house solutions for very specific areas.

We have a core technology team in-house that is focused on service management and designing the next big thing for our customers. It is very exciting as there is so much to do and we get involved in so many different areas. There is never a dull moment at iD!

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

Data is really where it’s at in the mobile sector. As smartphones get smarter and data speeds get faster, more and more data is being consumed and people are generally using less texts and making less calls. iD is the only Irish network to acknowledge this and offer customers the flexibility to choose the amount of minutes, texts and data they want based on their needs and usage. We also realised that having a strong 4G offering was a must for customers, so we prioritised timing our launch around having a 4G solution.

Another big challenge is how to allow customers to service their account in a way that suits them best. We have a clear focus on customer service and we offer a strong multichannel service approach with our own Irish contact centre in Waterford, through Facebook, Twitter and My iD online. We have big plans in self-service solutions, details of which we will announce very soon.

What metrics or measurement tools do you use to gauge how well your technology service is performing?

We have SLAs with all of our partners that are measured daily and reviewed weekly. We tend to focus on end-to-end services that affect our customers rather than specific boxes or connections. This allows us to measure what’s important and our partners track the underlying measures that make up these end-to-end metrics. Our data analytics solution gives us an extra view into activities on the network and from here we can identify other trends or underlying issues that may not jump out in normal indicators or SLAs.

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 am responsible for all our technology and customer services’ functions. I am a bit of geek so I get stuck into lots of technical stuff by choice (probably too much my team might say!) but my role is mainly management and strategic in terms of driving the very best solutions and service for our customers. I have a very broad understanding of lots of technologies in network and IT and this can be helpful when working with our technology partners on issues or design challenges where you need to get deeper than a business or service level.

What do you enjoy most about working in the mobile technology sector?

It is the most exciting business and things change so quickly that you never get bored. For someone who is into technology like I am, the mobile business is the best place to work as you get to use so many cool technologies and products. When I look at the capability of devices now compared to 20 years ago when I got my first GSM phone it blows my mind. I love my job and the hardest part can actually be switching off in the evening after a busy day. Roisin, my wife, and my four kids make sure that I put down the phone and leave technology behind for the evening!

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