Willie Stegmann, Director IT Strategy & Architecture & CIO Corporate Systems/VOIS at Vodafone, discusses how the company's IT teams are deploying new skills, processes and tools to improve performance.
Vodafone adopts new processes and technologies to underpin growth
When Margherita Della Valle took on the role of Vodafone’s Group Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer in April this year, she made it clear where the company’s focus has to lie.
“Our performance has not been good enough. To consistently deliver, Vodafone must change. My priorities are customers, simplicity and growth.”
Vodafone’s IT teams will not only support these priorities, they will have to adapt to them. Willie Stegmann, Director and CIO Corporate IT, Vodafone, discussed with Inform how he intends to deliver on the company’s strategy, aided by digitization programs, as well as TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA).
An immediate focus for both Vodafone and IT is on “really making sure that we get our customer service up to scratch and get down to basics, especially in our mobile, consumer-focused side,” says Stegmann. This comes on the back of recent investment in digitization.
The pursuit of simplicity is “in the broadest sense. Not only how we serve customers in terms of products, but also our support processes, technology, leadership and decision-making,” explains Stegmann. As for growth, the expectation is that Vodafone Business will be the primary engine.
To continue to extract value from scale, Vodafone sees an opportunity to create a Commercial Shared Services entity. Currently. Vodafone Intelligent Solutions (VOIS) already provide shared IT services; including HR and finance systems; customer care services for voice, chat, back-office, complaints, and IoT; business insights; fraud management and supply chain management.
Today approximately 27,000 people work across seven VOIS centers and Stegmann wants them to build on their strengths, aided by a range of tools, processes and technologies. “The model is one of accelerating ongoing continuous improvement and digitization through VIOS’ Digital 2.0 program,” explains Stegmann. supports Vodafone's Tech2025 strategy
Unlocking value faster
“There's an inherent culture of driving efficiency. We have decided to take that efficiency to the next level [and] move much faster to unlock value for Vodafone though the Digital 2.0 program.”
New processes are already helping. “We've been very successful in terms of robotics to either remove processes or to digitize processes locally, at scale.” As is the transfer of systems to the cloud.
“Look at where we were five years ago with the cloud, dabbling with AWS on a few workloads. Now we are one of the largest partners of Google, AWS and Microsoft in terms of tenants in their cloud environments,” states Stegmann. And he believes the transition has paid off: “Where we moved our support platforms into the cloud, it's faster, organic, and more cost effective. And we've seen opportunities for reuse.”
One of VOIS’ current Digital 2.0 projects is a multi-year program to create a cloud-based, unified contact center, starting with the Czech Republic and Greece. Its aim is to enable the group to use technologies such as AI “to serve our customers much better at scale,” explains Stegmann. His division is also overseeing the migration of Vodafone’s SAP systems to Google Cloud, announced last year.
Its other major partnership with Google concerns the creation of a data ocean to provide real-time data insights based on different kinds of analytics. “It has been a challenging journey the last few years, but we've got a very substantive capability to move our critical data elements into a data ocean.”
Generative AI and ODA
The process of creating the data ocean is currently serving Vodafone as it experiments with Generative AI (GenAI). Vodafone has run 56 GenAI experiments over the last three months including in the fields of customer care and software development. For example, as the company doubles the number of software engineers it employs “we see those engineers using generative AI to drive much higher productivity levels,” says Stegmann.
In addition, Vodafone’s exploration of GenAI is further facilitated by its early and heavy involvement in developing TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA).
“ODA has really helped us to be more agile, more responsive,” points out Stegmann, in part by making it easier to use the data analytics of its data ocean to harness the new capabilities of generative AI. “If there weren’t open digital, standardized APIs … [GenAI] would have made much harder to leverage.”
Vodafone is running its GenAI large language models on Microsoft Azure’s OpenAI, integrated closely with its existing Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure infrastructure, explains Stegmann, and will customize large language models to specific domains. “SCM is very different from HR, which is different from the supply chain, which is different from networks.”
In addition, Vodafone intends to put strong guardrails in place to protect security and data privacy before deploying GenAI commercially. Nonetheless, “the technology works,” says Stegmann, adding that GenAI adoption “will happen quite quickly and will be ubiquitous.”
Developing inhouse skills
Vodafone’s use of the cloud also extends into teaching employees without an IT background how to use the Microsoft Power platform to build applications. “We've trained 500 people and want to get to 2000,” says Stegmann, who says it gives employees “more control … new skills, new insights and unlocks a lot of positive energy.”
The company’s partnerships with different cloud vendors, however, have illustrated that the ability to manage multi-cloud infrastructure “is a critical skill to have.” Without it, says Stegmann, companies risk paying a penalty to move workloads between cloud vendors. “We realize we need to be really good at managing a multi-cloud environment in an economically viable way.”
At the same time, adopting cloud-native technologies has the benefit of “forcing you to operate in a more incremental and agile way,” explains Stegmann, who adds that moving from a waterfall approach to “being able to think, operate and scale in an agile way is the hardest part [of digital transformation]. It's not the technology.”
Indeed, despite the speed at which technology advances, Stegmann maintains the success of digitization programs still comes down to people and leadership. “It starts with the individuals and the team and how we collectively work towards bigger objectives and outcomes.” The ability to motivate and guide people is particularly important during periods of change.
“It’s critical to help teams with uncertainty,” he says. “The biggest impact we make is when we can rally people who understand the personal purpose, and the organizational purpose, and realize that even the most junior person can make a difference, not just for the organization but also for society.”
Wednesday, 20 September 2023
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
INTERVIEW: Vodafone’s strategy for collaboration across markets
Willie Stegmann, Director IT Strategy & Architecture & CIO Corporate Systems/VOIS, Vodafone
Link to session: https://dtw.tmforum.org/session/oda-for-growth/