CIO100 2018 #31-100: Ewen Powell, Chorus NZ
“Being clear on what the organisation is looking for” from your role is a key lesson Ewen Powell has learned from his experience as a technology leader.
“From my perspective, the Board and organisation are looking for two key things from the CIO or the CTO,” says Powell, the chief technology officer at Chorus. “These are to manage risk and identify opportunities to develop and innovate for the organisation.”
“The CIO needs to understand where the technology risk lies and what and how to mitigate it,” he says.
“Getting the basics right builds the foundation to innovate to support the business, whether through product development, process optimisation or organisational transformation,” he adds.
“CIOs can often provide a neutral voice to identify and evaluate these opportunities – the framing of which is key.”
Powell continues to apply this perspective at Chorus.
As Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie notes, the CTO is not only accountable for the provision of the IT systems that enable Chorus to conduct its business, but also the shared systems that underpin most of the telecommunications sector in New Zealand, along with the technology that enables Chorus’ nationwide broadband infrastructure that is used by most homes, businesses, schools and hospitals across the country.
She says Powell also leads the company’s innovation programme, which identifies new and creative ways to leverage Chorus’ extensive nationwide assets to provide high quality connectivity as efficiently, reliably and effectively as possible.
“He has built a a high quality team around him who he leads with skill and passion to deliver excellent outcomes for Chorus, the telecommunications industry, and the country,” says McKenzie.
Among the projects delivered by his team, Powell cites the Copper Fulfilment and Inventory programme, or CFI, as having the most impact, not only to Chorus but also to their customers.
CFI is a large IT and business change programme to replace and modernise how Chorus manages service inventory and activation for more than one million copper broadband connections.
The project spans two-and-a-half years, and involved the lifecycle replacement of a fulfilment platform that had served Telecom and then Chorus since 2003.
The project had accumulated more than 300,000 development ‘man hours’ and 17.4 million orders over that time.
“With products that drive most of Chorus’ revenue flowing through this system, my primary objective was ensuring business continuity,” says Powell.
Thus, he and the team implemented a proactive risk management framework for the project.
“Separate executive governance was established to oversee all costs and risks associated with the programme, with 202 risks actively managed and only six open at launch – all of which were classed as moderate/amber,” says Powell.
Powell says transformational projects delivered prior to CFI suffered issues with business transition, which he traced to poor quality engagements with the rest of the Chorus Business.
Key to their success with the CFi was executive sponsorship from the Customer Services function, and the appointment of a capable business owner who is dedicated 100 per cent to the delivery of the project.
“We formed a leadership triangle with the business owner, programme manager and chief architect accountable to manage the delivery and outcomes desired,” says Powell.
“We challenged this leadership group to drive the project culture and each other, ensuring the appropriate tension existed to avoid any possible ‘group think’.”
Supporting this model was an entire project stream dedicated to “business integration” which worked in concert with technical delivery.
He explains this stream had its own project manager and was responsible for change management, training, migration and data cleansing, knowledge, BI, business testing and transition.
He says the project involved eight major suppliers and two consulting companies.
“In order to drive effective collaboration we contracted and implemented the physical co-location of key supplier teams and resources, with people from Nokia, Comptel, Circini, Deloitte and TTC all seated and working together in Chorus offices,” he says.
This had a positive impact on time, quality and culture. Wider collaboration was augmented through the use of the Chorus virtual desktop environment, and tools like Sharepoint, Confluence, Enterprise Architect and Jira.
“Overall, the model was so successful we are now employing it on all large IT projects,” says Powell.
On the innovation front
Talking about his other remit, Powell says a focus for the team over the past year is applying technology innovation to areas which help deliver the best possible broadband to New Zealanders.
For example, we have improved the connection experience for around 76 per cent of the copper based customers through the introduction of some smart technology in our copper broadband network, says Powell.
In the background, copper broadband services are being regularly tested, the results of which drive automatic adjustments to network and service configurations to optimize the performance, improving broadband speeds.
This automated performance tuning has resulted in speed improvements of up to 13 per cent downstream and 50 per cent upstream for broadband customers.
In addition, Chorus is making greater use of testing and network generated data to provide more accurate, automated predictions for broadband performance that customers could expect.
This uses a combination of the customer’s location and Chorus’ available network in that area, says Powell.
The information is available to both the retail service provider customers and for users of broadband services (through the website).
Since making this information available we have experienced up to x100,000 visits per month, and have seen an increased uptake of higher speed VDSL services where available – continuing to demonstrate not only the demand for broadband performance information, but also for higher speed broadband itself, says Powell.
Powell says that as a member of the executive team, he has the opportunity to help lead and drive the organisation’s strategy.
“A key part of the role is ensuring we understand global technology trends and what and how we could apply them in the context of Chorus,”he says.
“In this light, we run education sessions for both the board and executive teams on emerging technologies,then link these through annual strategy and business planning cycles to the investment choices we have as an organisation,” he says.
“Given the rapid pace of change and innovation, we now need to look much wider than the traditional global players, to some of the exciting innovation occurring around the globe and importantly in our own backyard.”
BBQ conversations and inclusive culture
Powell highlights Chorus’ support of programmes to promote diversity and inclusion, like the Global Woman Programme.
“This is a great initiative that develops high achieving and potential women from different industries,” says Powell. He says two members of the technology organisation are participating in this.
He says the women in the technology team also get mentoring, support and access to development programmes.
“As a male dominated industry, we want to ensure we create and support an environment to encourage and retain more women,” says Powell. “The benefits of a diverse workplace are well documented.”
In addition to this, we have become more conscious that it is important for all our people to connect with the company, says Powell.
“Rather than just focusing on financial performance and share price, seeing how we connect with our local communities resonates with staff and gives a sense of pride – and supports ‘BBQ conversations’.”
For instance, Chorus sponsors local artists to paint their telecommunications cabinets, making them both more attractive and a talking point, says Powell.
Chorus is also working with Network for Learning on options to help students who do not have high-quality broadband in the home.
The proposed solution will use Chorus’ existing street and network infrastructure. The company trialled the concept with the Haeata Community Campus, providing wi-fi access into homes of the school community, free of charge.