Telecom Retail transforms with $30 million CRM build

Project aims to transform the way Telecom's retail unit serves and understands its customers

If you’ve ever had to phone Telecom and provide the same information twice or even thrice in one phone call, you’ll understand what Telecom Retail is trying to achieve with its major customer relationship management project.

The project, based on Siebel CRM software from Oracle and being delivered by outsourcing partner Tech Mahindra, aims to transform the way Telecom’s retail unit serves and understands its customers.

Telecom Retail’s newly appointed CIO, Shane Ohlin, says like many telecommunications companies, Telecom is on a transformation journey.

“We’re no different to any telco having a huge legacy of systems and networks driving costs into the business,” he says.

Like the others, Telecom has ambitions to create a leaner stack of systems and processes and during the journey to be mindful of the impact of change on the customers, he says.

Ohlin explains that those legacy systems arrived in Telecom as networks were built.

“Back in the day, networks came with their own billing, provisioning and customer systems, vertically connected to products,” he says.

And that’s why when you buy multiple services from a telco, your information may have to be entered into multiple systems, perhaps even on multiple screens in the customer service centre.

Telecom aims to move to a “horizontal” customer systems that can offer customers multiple products and services from the same core. That, in turn, creates a single — or “collective” as Ohlin calls it — view of the customer.

The Siebel project is Telecom Retail’s portion of Telecom’s Next Generation Telecom (NGT) programme, and is valued at between $20 million and $30 million. Tech Mahindra was contracted for the project in June, before Ohlin took on the CIO role.

Tech Mahindra had done other work for Telecom before June’s announcement, but that was through service provider Gen-i. In June it was engaged directly for the CRM project, which, Ohlin says, is now in the build stage.

The development is using conference room development to “expose what NGT will mean for customers and stakeholders”, he say. Unlike traditional waterfall development, the approach makes the application more readily available for user testing. The approach also triggers innovative thinking, he says.

“We’re taking a fresh look right through the end-to-end stack. Rather than be constrained, we start with what the customer would expect from us,” Ohlin says. He was not, however, prepared to put a date on the rollout of the CRM system, saying it would happen when it was “fit for purpose”.

Ohlin says that, unlike Vodafone which has replaced its billing system in the last few years, Telecom already has its target billing system, called eView, in place and products are being progressively moved onto it.

“Systems in NGT will work into that environment,” he says. “Some older legacy products still bill off older systems.”

The retail system will interface with Telecom Wholesale’s systems through a set of interfaces that will also be available to Telecom Retail’s competitors as part of the operational separation of the broader business, he says.

In June, Pawel Grochowicz, Telecom’s GM of retail transformation, said that over the years complexity has grown in the business as new products and capabilities arrived.

“It’s time to rewire the business to be customer centric and competitive,” he said.

Grochowicz said telcos around the world have been investing in billing capability to deliver flexibility and innovative bundling of products, both internally and from third parties.

At the same time, Telecom’s CEO, Paul Reynolds, described the deal as a “significant step forward in the transformation of Telecom”.

“We are taking on an unprecedented amount of change that is attracting interest from industry observers around the world, and we are bringing in world class partners, such as Tech Mahindra, to ensure we deliver’” Reynolds said.

Customers were expected to see new products and services delivered under the programme within two years.

The server platform for the CRM system right now is Sun (Ultrasparc 64-bit), but the final platform is undecided, with Sun and Linux being favoured, depending on virtualisation options.

The database platform is Oracle, while Sun’s Java Composite Application Platform Suite (Java CAPS) is being used for development. Ohlin says he has found Sun easy to deal with and the company has a business model that plays well in the telco environment.

Telecom Retail provided Computerworld with a preview of its Siebel system. Access is provided through the web browser to staff and, further out, elements of the system will be exposed to customer so they can undertake self-service, Ohlin says.

The early build captures customer information, allows sales completion and checks for product availability, including broadband by area, among other functions. Best of all, it does it all on one screen.

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