At TM Forum Live! in Nice in May, KPN’s Laura van Beers will deliver a presentation on customer centric-design in implementing NFV/SDN. We caught up with her to get her insight into the challenges and rewards of people-centric design.
Unsurprisingly, Laura van Beers, Program Lead Digital Transformation, KPN, is passionate about technology. But there’s a caveat to that.
She says, “I am passionate about the possibilities that new technologies bring for people.”
Laura’s background isn’t in technology – she has a Master’s in Public International Law, with a focus on international human rights. This gives a clue as to how she approaches her role at KPN, where she plays a key role within the central digital transformation team.
She explains, “We are responsible for looking at the whole spectrum of digital transformation – the people axis as well as the technology axis — to see what is happening in the world, what new technologies and trends are upcoming and how they going to impact our company and our industry, including the way people work, how they want to work and how they are most effective at work.”
NFV: Where is the customer?
Laura is particularly focused on a digital operating model – including NFV (network functions virtualization) and SDN (software-defined networking) — one of KPN’s five transformation pillars. This is perhaps a classic ‘techy’ area, full of acronyms and industry jargon.
It’s “so abstract and complex”, it can seem like there is no link to a customer.
However, Laura says, “Not being technical, I don’t know how it all works exactly but I think that helps a little bit too. Sometimes, technologists and companies are really excited to implement new technology for its own sake. For them it’s less natural to stop and think about the impact for the customers.”
The business case for NFV has often been around cost reduction and agility/time to market. Laura wanted to get beyond that and put people back in the picture.
She says, “Because of that lack of technical knowledge, I just keep asking questions. And then I ask some more.”
The discussion with the technical team went a bit like this: What does it mean that you can program your network? If you can also program it remotely, can’t anyone basically do it? Doesn’t this mean our customers can do it for themselves? And doesn’t that in turn mean we need a beautiful, intuitive customer interface?
Laura comments, “We realized, actually, this means our customers could be touching our network and we started thinking about brand new possibilities.”
‘Oh my God’ moments
When the pressure’s on to develop new tools and fast, Laura also does something else which is perhaps somewhat unorthodox. Every now and then, she asks the technical team to take a full week out of their day jobs and to get together with colleagues from across the organization, including sales, user experience and more. No emails, no other meetings – a clear focus.
She explains, “It’s not like the business people say this is what I need and the IT department build it anymore. Digital transformation is across industries, across boundaries and disciplines. It’s not fixed in one part of an organization.”
She admits, “It’s a little bit scary because you don’t know what will come out of it. I have done it twice now and each time I thought, ‘Oh my god; what am I starting?’ but by Friday I was really proud. You have to trust that at the end of the week you will get a good outcome.”
Following their discussions about the possibilities of NFV, a cross-functional KPN team got together to develop a prototype of an elegant customer portal. They took one example as a focus – a software-defined VPN – and one user persona, a large enterprise IT manager whose job is about managing a large amount of VPNs and access to them etc.
“We dived into his persona,” Laura explains, “To see what it is he actually does and how can we help him do his job?”
The team took two starting points: How to save the IT manager time on “firefighting” by sending proactive information about the network, and also using data and analytics to suggest next best actions.
Laura says, “In fact we saw that when we implemented it like that, his job actually became very different. Someone with less knowledge than him could do maybe 80 percent of his work now, freeing him up for other things. It is really interesting to see how technology also changes roles in customers’ organizations, not just our own.”
Changing the roadmap
The team also got feedback from a real customer. “He was really excited,” Laura says. “He made some suggestions for improvement, pointed out some features he didn’t really need. The technical team were enthusiastic about this input from the customer. They saw customer value in something they hadn’t foreseen and then they were willing to put it first on the roadmap. The roadmap changed from technological to customer focus.”
She notes how working together in this way gets to an “outcome that no staff member or team could have created individually.”
As well as virtualization, Laura says she is also interested, on a personal as well as professional level, in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the growth of the platform industry. Of platforms, she says, “It’s like we are starting with a clean slate and everyone has the potential to become a platform if you have a good approach to it.”
She adds, “If you bring data together, there’s so much more insight that can help humanity as a whole – if we all take the right approach. Healthcare, for example: I hope that getting more open about the data (as long as it is anonymized, abides by privacy rules etc.) could be valuable in finding cures and patterns and better ways to treat people.”
Again, the key is a collaborative approach: “We need to find the sweet spot in customer pull and technology push and you can only do that by putting lots of disciplines together.”