Helpdesk staff at Xtra told: reapply for your jobs

Xtra helpdesk staff will have to re-apply for their jobs under a plan to oursource the ISP's helpdesk services to another company. Telecom Internet Services general manager Bob Smith says the staff have a proposal in front of them, but the outsourcing deal seems certain to go through. The move is the most significant part of what insiders are describing as a "culture shock" at Xtra under its new leadership.

Xtra helpdesk staff will have to re-apply for their jobs under a plan to oursource the ISP’s helpdesk services to another company.

Telecom Internet Services general manager Bob Smith says the staff have a proposal in front of them, but the outsourcing deal seems certain to go through.

The move is the most significant part of what insiders are describing as a “culture shock” at Xtra under its new leadership. A stream of staff, including marketing manager Bryan Rowe, IT manager Tony Reeves and senior journalist Nigel Horrocks have left Xtra in recent weeks.

Smith says he has been discussing a helpdesk contract with a company “who we feel can really add value to working with our Internet Services group, because they’re experts in managing helpdesk facilities within the Internet area”.

“That external party will be looking to recruit as many of our people as possible. We’ve gone through an evaluation process and we do have a company that we’re specifically looking at.

“What this really has been is a process of looking at how best to achieve some clearly defined customer service objectives. How do we best go about that, and what does that do in terms of our focus on delivering innovative Internet products?” Smith asks.

“But at the end of the day we are accountable for our customer service. If we do outsource there would certainly be Internet services staff who were focused on maintaining that relationship and ensuring that out customer service was what we expected it to be.”

The shrinking of the payroll is a sign that the era of former chief Chris Tyler is over at Xtra. Smith also makes clear that the idea of developing Xtra into a package which could be onsold to other telcos considering entering the Internet market is no longer being pursued.

The plan saw Tyler make extensive sales trips to plug his “media engine” concept while his ISP struck tricky times at home last year, but his successor says “we’re not a software developer. That’s not the business we’re in.”

Tyler gloried in a “blue jeans”, no-tie atmosphere at the ISP, but now some staff are privately complaining that the organisation is being pulled back into the Telecom culture.

“We’ve always been part of Telecom,” Smith says. “And I think it’s trying to get the right balance between us as a separate organisation but at the same time being part of Telecom, but also looking at what it is that we need to deliver from a customer perspective going forward, and a key part of that is making sure we are disciplined in the way we go about doing things.

“We’re only 12 months old and, yes, we’re reviewing our processes and practices, and making sure they are the best suited to the environment we’re dealing in.”

Those reviews seem to have cut deep in some areas. Staff are complaining, for instance, that the company no longer provides biscuits along with coffee.

“I wish we really could substantially cut our operating costs by reducing biscuits,” sighs Smith.

He says “one always has to be concerned” about a possible skills drain due to changes at the company, “but you have to set your direction and you have to be consistent about that direction and you have to have the team playing in the same direction. “So that’s what we’re trying to do — make sure there is consistency of direction and that we are a separate unit. But at the same time we have to make sure that we are integrated with Telecom. So that’s the tricky balance we have to manage.”

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