The five minute CIO: Fergal Kelly

11 Jan 2013

Fegal Kelly, CTO of Vodafone Ireland

Vodafone Ireland’s CTO Fergal Kelly says a mobility strategy that takes account of risks can be a success – and boost productivity.

Can you describe the scale of Vodafone Ireland from an IT perspective: how many users are there and what are some of the main applications the company uses?

We’re 1,000 people, and all of them would use our systems extensively. We use all of the usual enterprise stuff, like email and internet access. We provide service to customers, so we need a customer service and billing capability – the big bespoke stuff for our business. Behind that, there’s literally a couple of hundred different applications from big players like Oracle. It’s an extensive portfolio.

What does your own role involve?

My responsibility is all aspects of technology. I’m CTO and the CIO reports to me. Anything we do by way of developing, planning, or operating our technology – whether on the network side or the IT side, that’s what my remit is.

We spend on the order of €120m per annum. That covers the full breadth of building our network, as well as on IT systems.

Is your IT budget the same, reduced, or increased on 2012 and how will that affect your priorities?

We tend to end up trading off our local business requirements. Vodafone was involved in recent spectrum auctions … This year, we’ll spend slightly more on our network and proportionately less on IT, but IT still needs nurturing to stay fresh.

You’re speaking at the upcoming Inaugural Enterprise Mobility Summit. Can you tell us about Vodafone’s approach to smart mobile devices and trends like bring your own device?

Our approach, like any other big enterprise, is to be quite cognisant of the risk of bring your own device and therefore a bit reticent. On the upside, where somebody chooses his or her own device at a certain level, and can configure and maintain it himself or herself, it becomes a far lower-cost proposition. They don’t tend to come in and look for the company to replace it when they crack the screen.

But that’s only one dimension of it. The challenge is where they don’t support it themselves. The other challenge that invariably gets airtime is what data goes onto these devices and how secure are they – and that’s the big worry for any enterprise: do people who are on the bring your own device approach end up moving the data on their own devices and carry it in an insecure way?

How did you address that?

We realised we had to embrace it so one of the controls we built up was, we look on our LAN on our use of sensitive data – what devices are taking that data and why. We’re continually looking for devices that we wouldn’t support or tolerate. If somebody was moving customer data to a smartphone that didn’t have an encrypted drive, we would know that and act on that.

The other thing we’ve built is the ability to remotely manage mobile devices. If you’ve got it, life gets an awful lot easier because you can find and wipe a device that is in the wrong hands or outside your control. That’s a solution we provide to our customers and one we use ourselves.

What have you learned from your work in the area so far, and what advice would you give to other CIOs who have to grasp this nettle in 2013?

I’ve seen very few businesses that have managed to push back against it effectively. There are still some who are pushing back in the belief they can’t manage the risk. My experience is, when they dig into it, they see people are still using the devices. I would say, you are going to have to live with it and grab the solutions. The issue with all these things is, you’ve got to embrace them rather than stick your head in the sand.

We would say that one of the big things we’ve invested in at Vodafone Ireland is in the new way of working. We shifted our entire offices to hot-desking, and shifted everyone onto laptops, wireless and paperless.

Our print volumes have gone way below where we were, and you get a greater productivity from people … We’d estimate that has put at least 10pc productivity into our business. It’s a significant lift.

Apart from mobility, are there other technology trends or services that interest you, either from a purely personal viewpoint or with an eye to launching them for customers?

I think the big one from our point of view, of course, is the spectrum auction and the fact that we secured the largest amount of spectrum for 4G. You can expect to see the levels of mobile data services, in the next year, going to spread to pretty much the entire geography. Everywhere you have mobile voice on the phone, you will have internet connectivity.

Where do you stand on cloud computing: is it still at the hype stage or can it deliver value to the business – and if so, how?

To my mind, it’s absolutely mainstream at this stage. We effectively run a private cloud for some of our technology. It’s not one size fits all. For us we’re looking at typically a development environment, a test environment and a live environment, so it’s no kind of challenge to move development and even test environments into the cloud. In some cases, we put the live environment in the cloud, too.

And we’ve been offering cloud services onward to our customers in terms of storage. We’ve a small number of applications there, mostly around consumer light-touch stuff, like Office 365, or backing up the content of your mobile phone.

It’s driven off pure economics, by the way. I cannot buy infrastructure on a once-off basis as cheaply as the people who are building cloud environments. If I’m happy with the risk, I can’t touch it on cost.

Overall, what’s your view of technology: just a tool to lower operational costs, or a strategic contributor to the business and a competitive differentiator?

I’d have to say a bit of both. Specifically, in our business, the technology is everything, and it allows people to do things they weren’t able to previously do.

I certainly believe that technology has both a supporting role to play and an enabling role to play: supporting where business demand is there, finding ways to do it more efficiently, and enabling in terms of doing things more effectively.

For example, you could have loss adjusters – they used to spend the morning surveying some accident or risk and spend the afternoon writing it up. Now they do double productivity: they take photos of a crash or a site on their smartphones, then write up the report on a tablet. Then in afternoon they do a second job.

Fergal Kelly will be speaking at the Inaugural Enterprise Mobility Summit on Wednesday, 23 January, at the Croke Park Conference Centre. 

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic