Telecom's IT taskmaster

CTO David Havercroft on outsourcing, operational separation and mobile upgrades

It’s not often that a vendor pays a call on a client and comes away with a new job, a new country of residence, and a new life. But that’s effectively what happened to Telecom Group CTO David Havercroft.

After seven years in Singapore working for IBM and with his daughter moving back to the UK, he and his wife were looking for a change of scene. Havercroft happened to be visiting Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds to discuss IBM’s business when the CTO role at the telco became vacant.

“I’d love to say it was New Zealand I wanted to come to and all that, but really I was just taken with some of the things that Paul (Reynolds) needed to be done and the exec needed to be done and what T&SS (Technology and Shared Services — the division that straddles all three of Telecom’s business units) was tasked with and it’s come up well.”

His role expanded earlier this year when chief transformation officer Frank Mount fell on his sword over the series of XT outages and Havercroft became the company’s Group CTO. The mobile network outages were a kind of baptism by fire which the telco has not shied away from discussing both publically and internally — a profile of Havercroft in the Telecom staff magazine features a series of photos of him taken during the height of the crisis, clutching his glasses and looking, well, worried.

But the XT outages were just one of the challenges that Havercroft has dealt with. There have been emergency 111 call outages, which after an investigation led Havercroft to publically announce that the service should come under government guidance.

There was the uber outsourcing deal that didn’t happen, despite political and media speculation that first Tech Mahindra, and then IBM, were set to carry away the $1.5 billion contract from HP (formerly EDS).

According to his bio on Telecom website, prior to taking up the CIO role Haverscroft was “responsible for the development and delivery of strategic outsourcing for telecommunications clients for IBM in Asia Pacific.” So it’s perhaps not surprising that one of his first tasks was to reassess the massive HP deal, and that the first place he looked to was India.

“The purpose of the Tech Mahindra process that we were running was to look at whether there was any value in further offshoring of jobs. Was there political pressure — do it or don’t do it — no there wasn’t,” he says.

“There was real focus on could it bring additional value to Telecom and customers. Could we get access to the latest thinking and technology and skills. That’s my experience of India, it’s the heart of where everything’s at at the moment, in IT in particular.

“The conclusion we’ve come to is there still a case for looking at particular areas of certain bits of technology to say we just haven’t got the skills in New Zealand and we never will have.”

So, no uber deal, but maybe some pieces of work going offshore over time. In the meantime Telecom continues to work with a number of third party vendors including HP, IBM, Tech Mahindra, Infosys and Datacraft.

Telecom was an early adopter of outsourcing and the arrival of Havercroft has also put other relationships under the magnifying glass. He says they’ve just signed a heads of agreement deal with NEC around longer-term commitments to maintaining the PSTN.

Havercroft has also been forced to make employees redundant in the T&SS. Of the 200 management positions Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds indicated would be culled in April, 50 have come from his division.

Havercroft says telcos around the world are facing the issue of dealing with the complexity that has built up over time and trying to rationalise and simplify their operations. This involves taking cost out and often that translates as job losses. “It’s never easy or particularly pleasant,” he says referring to the recent redundancies. “But the teams did it with a lot of professionalism.”

This has left him with a team of 1500 staff to deal with the challenges around operational separation, the possible move to structural separation under the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) intiative, and the future upgrade of XT to Long Term Evolution or 4G services.

At the time of meeting Havercroft, submissions on the latest variation request to operational separation requirements had not closed. His view is that the undertakings are incompatible with the government’s move to the UFB scheme.

“They don’t make sense to us, and we think to the industry, to continue doing these sorts of activities. Because they put cost not just on us but also on the industry when the industry’s moving to a fibre world and the government wants us to move to a fibre world. And we do support that, we’re absolutely on the page that that’s the right way to go,” he says.

As for the move to LTE, Havercroft says Telecom will be making decisions with regards to “technology trials and choices” at the backend of this year.

“That won’t be a commitment to sign big contracts with people, we will start looking at what’s a good process for us, that might segue neatly into where the industry is going in New Zealand,” he explains.

He’s not ruling out platform sharing with other telocs in order to build a 4G network, but one of the first things to be sorted is spectrum allocation, which isn’t likely to become available until at least 2013.

When the telco does progress to LTE, Havercroft expects it will done in the main cities first. Computerworld asked if the new network would cost as much as XT (publicly claimed to be $524 million at launch). “I don’t think you could afford that kind of investment immediately, it’s got to be done gradually,” he says.

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