CIO100 2017 #7: Dr Claire Barber, Spark New Zealand

  • Name Dr Claire Barber
  • Title Chief digital officer
  • Company Spark New Zealand
  • Commenced Role July 2016
  • Reporting Line CEO Simon Moutter
  • Technology Function 2000 IT staff in New Zealand
  • Related

    Before Claire Barber took on the newly created role of chief digital officer at Spark New Zealand, she led the re-engineering programme for the telecommunications company.

    The re-engineering programme was about shifting Spark towards a ‘digital first’ future.

    Spark needed to modernise its customer and network-facing IT, and exit a variety of platforms it had previously shared with Chorus, says Barber, who was then GM Change and Technology.

    This meant establishing a new architecture based around customers rather than the copper line, building capabilities for the future, and migrating customers and their assets from the legacy systems to the new world.

    From 2400-plus legacy applications, the rationalisation included moving from 17 integration layers to a single consolidated platform for an API architecture. Twenty-one online environments were simplified into a modern architecture. We also consolidated 11 different CRM systems, 19 order managers and multiple bespoke applications, she says.

    The programme was delivered within budget with multiple major and minor releases over three years.

    In July last year, she stepped up to her current role, whose remit was to design, develop and operate best practice digital platforms and the core products and services enabled by them.

    “As CDO, I’m able to understand the business, its operations and its capabilities through a customer lens,” she explains. “I like to demonstrate and leverage business understanding to create an agenda that people can support. We then back that agenda into our plans as outcomes that we then track as KPIs through our business performance reviews.”

    When we formed the new Platforms Business Unit and the chief digital officer role, we needed to communicate the change and its implications. We held large-scale conferences, bringing People Leaders together to explain what the changes meant and how it would work. We included technology showcase stands which everyone rotated through, as well as a session dedicated to “new ways of working” and the role of the Platforms team.

    She says the team reinforces the messages with ongoing communication through quarterly roadshows, and using internal channels to create communities which discuss different topics of interest, showcase work, and recognise teams who’ve generated “Little Victories” for customers.

    Barber describes herself as “an active floorwalker”. “Sometimes the best form of feedback comes from getting involved in daily stand-ups or sharing a meal with teams who are working late. It’s a high pressure environment so it’s important to stay connected with each other and course correct based on a feedforward approach”

    She shares details on some of their major programmes this year.

    The first is around service and digital transformation. This encompasses delivering a new operating model and moving to more proactive ways of working with customers she says. It also involves leveraging the new re-engineering and digital capabilities in the form of initiatives like our new Spark App whilst realigning the skills in our channels for the future, and improving NPS (net promoter score).

    By creating cross functional service, technical and product teams, we have been able to focus on the customer experience in a meaningful way.

    “We are already demonstrating real improvements for customers with one initiative delivering a 53 point improvement in NPS in seven weeks.

    “We are also very excited by the potential we see in the combination of big data and machine learning. We are working on initiatives in this space to create more personalised and proactive customer experiences as well as improve back office and technical operations.

    “We’re experimenting with workflow, knowledge base and big data, developing use cases, prototyping and testing them. We’re also working on a ‘virtual assist’ capability, leveraging our internal APIs for personalised calls, IA and natural language recognition to develop our next generation customer-facing ‘bot’,” she says.

    In parallel to this, Spark is also investing heavily in the future for our government, enterprise and business customers.

    Telecommunications as a Service (TaaS) is a major, multi-year programme delivering a catalogue of new capabilities to government, including network, voice, collaboration, IT and security services, she says. It builds on the work to date and will create new capabilities more broadly for enterprise and corporate customers. It is augmented by a Spark-wide business initiative focused on small and medium-sized businesses.

    “We balance the new areas of innovation and development with a focus on sustain initiatives. We recognise that better customer experiences require us to continue to simplify what we do. Ongoing lifecycle management and decommissioning have their own KPIs to ensure we maintain focus on simplification. This work has delivered substantial savings, reducing some heavy overhead burdens of legacy support and freeing resources for retraining other activities,” she says.

    “Our overall TCO has reduced substantially and ahead of business case.”

    Balancing act

    Striking the right balance between adopting new technologies and embedding the resulting new ways of working is a challenge, she adds.

    “The scale of change has been massive for us. We are grappling daily with opportunities to get more from what we have, and challenging ourselves to find ways to deliver change at scale whilst minimising disruption to customer experience.”

    The Dev/Ops teams are also maturing both tooling and work practices to support an uplift in our CICD (continuous integration, continuous deployment) maturity levels. Widespread adoption of agile is also changing the fabric of how we work.

    She says the company is investing in design thinking courses, using the Stanford University D-School approach.

    "We’ve also established a customer lab where we can bring customers in to take part in rapid prototyping exercises. With our Spark App launch we beta trialled with customers first and now have a community of some 8000 customers involved in providing feedback and vote on the priority of new services.

    "The shift in focus to customer led design is not a fringe exercise – we can be confident that we are delivering capability that matters to customers when they have a strong voice in what we do.

    “We don’t do ‘pure’ research but innovation is part of the culture and a lot of innovation comes from our focus on customer and operational excellence," she explains.

    “The change can’t just be to the technology. It’s about our customers, our business and our ecosystem.

    "The pace of change is huge and it continues to accelerate. Training and development, new ways of working and a willingness to innovate are critical – as is getting the balance right for the customer experience."

    Divina Paredes

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