CIO50 2018 #26-50: Simon Smith, Vocus Group
Early in his career, Simon Smith led a team of software engineers in an online project.
“We were totally passionate and threw ourselves into the project, developing some great software,” Smith recalls. “It featured object-oriented design, multi-threaded capability using J2EE and many other top-end approaches.”
Unfortunately, the business stakeholders and investors did not see the value in what was produced and after two years, the project was shelved.
“This was a huge event in my career. In reflecting on the project and why it arrived at its fate, it became very apparent that when developing applications, building networks, creating technical solutions or a better widget than the last one, there has to be a tangible business value delivered, not just at the end but visible along the journey. The other lesson learnt is that customer experience is the ultimate judge of success of any product or solution that is delivered.”
Smith, now the chief technology officer at Vocus Group, always makes sure of teams are centred around customer experience and delivery is focused on business value.
“Technology is an enabler not the end point,” he says. “It is this insight that has been a silent partner in my career which has now led to the one of the biggest transformations within a major challenger in the Australian telecommunications space.”
Vocus Group operates more than 30,000kms of fibre connecting hundreds of thousands of residential and businesses customers across Australia, New Zealand and globally through a network in Asia and the Americas.
Many organisations don’t provide products and services which rely heavily on its technology.
"However, as a service provider, our technology is a critical foundation and dependency for the products and services we provide to our customers. Technology-led innovation at Vocus ensures our fibre assets, intelligent network, digital portal and collaboration tools can evolve quickly to deliver features, speed and security that our customers demand.”
This year, the company has delivered its core network upgrade – the Vocus Intelligent Network. This multi-year project to upgrade to Vocus’ network management capability will soon enables Vocus enterprise customers to manage their networks via portals and APIs. Smith says this will allow customers to better manage services and be ready for unpredictable traffic growth due to 5G, internet-of-things devices, cloud computing infrastructure, and virtual and augmented reality technologies.
Led by Smith, the new rollout had several drivers. After multiple acquisitions, Vocus needed to simplify its technology stack to reduce network and IT platform duplication.
“By implementing an advanced networking core, we were able to reduce future capital expenditure by a factor of 10, offering tens of millions of dollars in savings, and redistributing operational resources to deliver more innovation through a core network that is increasing in demand by 95 per cent year-on-year,” he says.
The new network can will enable programmatically design and managed management in real-time. This lets customers provision and change their network requirements similar to how they would provision servers and storage in Amazon – meaning they only pay for what they use.
Finally, the future of programmable networks will also allow Vocus to offers innovations such as self-healing and routing based on AI to bypass network disruptions and optimise network performance in real time. The savings to these customers alone from this capacity would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars significant, he says.
Technology doesn’t exist in isolation
Smith says that even though this program is highly centred on technology, the key to success were the people. A key initiative he introduced early on was to bring all relevant staff into one technology division.
“We do not exist in isolation from the wider business and this has been a major area of reflection and learning for my team and myself,” he says
Smith ran national roadshows to share his vision for the business. He asked his team of ‘quasi-technology consultants’ to engage extensively with key operational staff to identify wider business requirements.
During this discovery process, the team identified that they needed to alter the program’s cadence to deliver ‘quick wins’ – aligned to core strategy.
“Key initiatives included the stabilisation of existing infrastructure which had seen frequent outages.
“Then there’s the technology to support the roadmap for the network. And when you lose count of how many vendors you have in your organisation, it’s not easy to bring it all under one framework.”
Smith and his team quickly realised how much ‘technical debt’ the organisation had. This provided the base to understand which technology could best reduce that debt, he says.
Solutions that ‘don’t need’ IT
Vendors selling cloud-based SaaS offerings are targeting ‘lines of business’ inside organisations with promises to provide solutions that ‘don’t need IT to implement.’
“I think as CIOs, we need to embrace this trend and ensure that the organisational enterprise architecture supports the integration of cloud software while keeping the core technology stack secure and managed to a high standard.
“The role of the CIO needs to become more business-focused while keeping strong governance on the overall enterprise architecture. CIOs need to look for ways to ensure that the lines of business can use the software they require while making sure the organisational technology does not increase in overall complexity from the additional proliferation of applications,” he says.
A wide influence
Smith says he has extensive engagement across Vocus which spans from the board, executive, his own team, suppliers and customers.
“At a senior business level, I engage regularly with our board and senior executive to share my vision and to gain support in their strategy and business decisions, particularly when hundreds of millions of dollars are being committed,” he says.
“They must believe in my vision and trust that we have the plan to succeed. This is a considerable focus and requires all of my skills and that of the team around me to achieve.”