New Telecom information chief Mark Ratcliffe has given further confirmation of an increasing role for Oracle at the telco, and a move away from custom-built systems like the gigantic IBM-developed Integrated Customer Management System (ICMS).
As far as possible, “we will be buying packaged applications and changing our business processes if necessary to fit the applications,” Ratcliffe says. Telecom expects to be using the Oracle 11i applications suite, initially in the customer relationship management (CRM) area. “We have committed to it directionally,” he says, but investigation and negotiation is still in progress “to see whether the numbers stack up.
“We have seen what [11i] has done in Oracle’s own operation, and we are impressed," Ratcliffe says. All 11i applications run across a common database, and have a good interface with SAP, Telecom’s core financial applications suite, he says.
"We will move away from ICMS, not in weeks or months, but over time," he says. A final phasing out could be as much as five years away.
Using package software may sacrifice something in flexibility, he says, but on the other hand, customised software means the complexity of amending downstream programs anew for each new change. “Flexibility is only useful if you can do it in a timely fashion, and nowadays that means in web time rather than telco time."
Telecom will be rationalising a set of applications which has grown piecemeal over many years, and this will include rationalisation over the New Zealand operations and AAPT in Australia.
“We will work towards common processes across the business units, and single instances of databases and platforms, using fewer suppliers.” For example, there will eventually be one customer database across Australia and New Zealand. “New Zealand customers are already held on a single database, but in Australia, the internet and mobile businesses are not as tightly integrated yet.
“We will see some of the rationalisation this year,” Ratcliffe says. “We will be building new CRM systems. Until now, ICMS has been doing part of that function and Vantive has been doing part. We’ll be moving to the Oracle 11i CRM.”
AAPT still has a mainframe-based suite, “and it is billing, not really a customer management system. AAPT is already looking at Oracle CRM, initially for its corporate and government sales.”
Other Ratcliffe priorities include making sure Telecom and its IT outsourcer, EDS, “get the maximum value out of the relationship”. Collaboration is not optimal yet, he says; outsourcing was a very complex exercise and takes time to tune.
“We entered the arrangement at a global level,” hoping to get benefits out of EDS’s global presence, he says. “It's done a good job of the local operational side, but we need to draw on some of its international ideas; to think about what it can offer as a business partner, not just as a key supplier.”
There are consequences for the IT industry in New Zealand when an organisation the size of Telecom makes a shift in IT strategy and tactics, but Ratcliffe foresees no major negatives. “Our spend used to be overwhelmingly with IBM. That’s no longer so, but I don’t see it withdrawing from the country.”
Nor does he see Telecom’s own IT function relocating across the Tasman. The in-house operations are relatively small – about 100 people here and 80 with AAPT. “They’re all in-house.
“I don’t see our sending a team over there as the answer. We’ll work with the AAPT team.”
AAPT is in a major transition from long-distance voice business to involvement with data communications. It is building its own data delivery networks, where it previously used Telstra’s. “That’s a big change and involves a whole new set of IS infrastructure, for the managing of assets and so forth.
“Our other big priority is to improve our online presence; to give customers the opportunity to order from us and interface with us online; to do self-provisioning, turning services on and off themselves, where it doesn’t need the services of a technician.”
Billing will also go online, through the service planned by its Microsoft/EDS joint-venture esolutions.