Ron Rout remembers with great clarity how the project was outlined to him — and why he just couldn’t move forward.
Speaking on a panel about “agile IT and business transformation” at last month’s TM Forum Live 2014 conference in Nice, France, Allstream’s vice-president of customer operations told the crowd about a presentation that included a detailed product roadmap, the amount of IT investment that would be required and some of the expected outcomes, like a reduced error rate. He didn’t sound impressed.
“I actually stopped the project. I said, ‘I’m not convinced we know what we’re spending our millions of dollars on, because not a single person here has mentioned a single thing about a customer,’” he said. “‘No one here has talked about the real enablers of the business.’”
In fact, the business transformation was put on hold for close to year, Rout said. This wasn’t a knock against Allstream’s IT team, he added — “Clever, brilliant people, no question about it” — but IT and operations had to have a clear common goal that included not only cost reductions but improved value to customers.
“You can deliver a fantastic system, but if it hasn’t enabled them to deliver something better, something better to the customer, you have to question if you’ve found success,” he said. “What we started with was culture. Business transformation occurs between culture and process. The systems are critical for scale and volume (but) . . . the system comes to enable your culture and your process.”
As an example, Rout discussed a business transformation initiative that led to a high degree of processes being automated, but the organization hadn’t addressed the culture to actually change everyday behaviours. “Even though they could just do it all with the push of a button, they were still doing things the old way,” he said.
What enterprise customers need
Once the internal culture has been addressed, organizations need to be very mindful of what matters most to enterprise customers, Rout added. In many cases, that doesn’t mean merely providing products and services.
“What I see is business is fundamentally about data transactions,” he said. The network and other pieces of IT infrastructure are there to support those transactions. “We technologists like to live in the conceptual world but often there’s always a physical aspect, and those physical pieces — the switches, the fibre, the cell towers, they will fail. You must have redundancy, the diversity must be true, (and) the services must always be on.”
Obviously, vendors like Allstream would like to standardize what they offer enterprise customers and thereby become more efficient, but Rout said that’s not always realistic.
“When the enterprise is your customer base, and an important one, there will absolutely always be a need to deliver unique solutions, to have exceptions,” he said. “You have to go into business transformation understanding that not everything is going to flow through the path.”
Rout admitted this isn’t easy, which is why he suggested great leaders focus on the bigger picture, even when everyone else is struggling with the shorter-term transition.
“If you’re getting back pain from people, you’re probably transforming,” he said. “If people are unhappy, you’re probably transforming.
Click here to watch the full 40-minute session at TM World Live with Rout and other telecom experts.