CIO

Starting From Scratch

As much as he loved the time he spent at Vodafone, Chandler says he found there were numbers of challenges in working for an established organisation that he no longer has to worry about.

"Over a period of time, unless you've controlled architecturally, the environment that you're in, and your standard operating environment, it becomes harder to undertake change and harder to integrate new offerings and services." Chandler no longer faces that problem. And he is thoroughly enjoying working with the business to achieve COMindico's aims.

"What I find is that the technology group here is totally linked with the business. We don't just sit back and work in an ivory tower of technology; we assist on many of the business opportunities [arising]. I think the death knell is sounded when the IT department sits back and waits for the business to communicate to it. My business managers are my account managers back into the business. They're not there just to obtain requirements from the business, they're actually there to link into the business and to facilitate a transfer of information both ways," he says.

"The company is small enough that there are no ivory towers here. Everybody knows everybody, and the beauty is that we all pull together in the same direction, because we're all of the one culture, we're all of the same mindset. We can't afford not to have that attitude."

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Despite the relatively smooth and rapid implementation, with hindsight there are areas Chambers says where he would have been more cautious. One of those is workflow. The automation of workflow within PeopleSoft is a great advantage, he says: it can both reduce the amount of work to be done and transport it to wherever you desire. However, he says, CIOs must be mindful that if you change your organisational structure, and your business rules around that structure, then the workflow must also change.

"In other words, as our business rules have been changing, the workflow has similarly had to change along with it. This is probably not necessarily an issue that a more established company might face."

There was also a bit of a hurdle regarding training. As one of the earliest adopters, COMindico did not have access to version 8 training prior to implementation. To ensure that staff would be up and running as fast as possible, users trained on the previous non-Web enabled version, then moved on to PeopleSoft 8.

"What we did was create internally a few [product] champions who had a train-the-trainer and support role to bring people up to that skill set. So again it's a question of being on the leading edge. We took on the software, we went for it, we implemented it, and we did train people and took them through the training process, but it was hard to get the latest training available for that release."

None of which will stop COMindico continuing to be an early adopter in the future. Chandler says there are plans to add a number of emerging technologies in the areas of voice services, unified communication services, corporate network services within peerless networks? that provide quality of service, prioritisation of packet traffic across the network and multicasting capability.

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Evaluating technology options is never easy, but it's exacerbated when both the organisation and the technology are new kids on the block. How does a start-up company know that a new or unproven solution will deliver the desired result for the business, and also go the distance as the company grows?

Obviously one of the things that you do is look at the business model, Chandler advises. "[We asked ourselves:] ‘What was COMindico about?' COMindico is a wholesale provider of telecommunications services in a convergent marketplace," he says.

"You look at the map and the plan as to the products and services that will be delivered over time. You then ensure that you will have the systems in place to support those products and services as they roll out and as they're required in the marketplace."

Chandler says you also team with other people in the various business units, particularly in cases where you are being called on to support new products and services that are outside your previous experience.

"My focus, my background was Vodafone - being a GSM player. It helped that I came from a telco background; but there are new products and services here that you wouldn't find inside there. And, if you look at COMindico staff, it's a mixture of highly talented people who have come from traditional telco or Internet service provision-type backgrounds, or even marketing.

"So you've got to map out what is the business about and work with those people. It isn't about me [using] a cookie-cutter based on where I came from. It is a totally new business model."

Chandler says his team was under incredible pressure to get the software up and running fast. "In line with the business plan, as soon as the funding was approved and received we immediately shifted to the building phase. So we had to be ready to move forward straight away [with the implementation," he says. "We are in business here, and at the end of the day it's all about speed to market and ensuring that our investors see that we are fleet of foot."

Despite the tight timeframe, Chandler says, in some ways implementing such a major rollout for a brand-new organisation is easier than implementing it for a long-established organisation. For one thing, there are no "nasty" legacy systems to be replaced nor entrenched ideas of how systems should operate. The only migration is from some manual processes where people can easily see the advantages in workflow afterwards.

However, it's not exactly a cakewalk either, because being an early adopter has its risks.

"I like to joke that I'm trying to make sure I'm staying as far away from being in legacy situations as possible, which takes me as close to the bleeding edge as I can get," says Chandler. "So I'm all about finding these systems which I feel provide COMindico with the competitive advantage, the partnerships and teaming with the company that we're looking for.

"I often talk about relationships that are symbiotic, not parasitic," he says, "which means there's a win-win situation here for all who are involved. So there is risk associated with a brand-new product that's just been launched into the marketplace. I try to minimise that by looking at the [vendor] you're dealing with, seeing how robust and resilient that company is, its commitment to us and the partnership that we will have with them."

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Backed by a veritable who's who of the corporate world after the largest private equity deal in recent Australian history, COMindico has been building the new IP network to service Australia's evolving communications needs. At the time of writing, the last of 66 points of presence dotted across Australia was nearing completion.

The vision is for COMindico to deliver a comprehensive range of services to retail and business customers around Australia via a smart network. The company believes that by allowing organisations to totally outsource their communications solutions it can help them to build a closer relationship with their client base. As a national IP-based wholesale provider in Australia, COMindico's goal is for its network to deliver quality, cost-effective voice and data via an expansive market presence in Australia, and deliver new and established technologies designed to help customers to carry their business into the global economy.

COMindico has committed more than $200 million in creating its world-leading network, backed by investors including JP Morgan, AGL, AMP Henderson Global Investors, Queensland Press, Consolidated Press Holdings Group, and Wayne Passlow. With its switch network running on data routers built and installed by Cisco Systems, Cisco is also providing substantial vendor finance. COMindico is also partnering with eServ in the delivery and integration of its BSS (Business Support System). eServ will work together with COMindico and its other business partners to provide the BSS, drawing on eServ's expertise and background in delivering similar solutions to telephony carriers and service providers around the world.

"The selection of strategic technology partners is key to COMindico's business model," technology director Alec Cameron says. "Of critical consideration was the innovation offered by our partners in assisting us to develop management systems that complement our IP network and support the provision of our intelligent network services."

Dockerty says that since the executive team started coming on board last June, the company has been building a corporate culture under CEO Steve Demetriou's guidance. He was previously chief executive officer for Telstra Europe, based in London, where he spearheaded Telstra's international expansion into Europe and the UK. Demetriou is an enthusiastic advocate of measures to facilitate a self-empowered workforce, and the creation of an e-enabled environment to support employees' need to access applications and information from wherever they might be.

"Our corporate culture is one very much of innovation, encouraging individuals to be innovative and team [building]. Teaming is very important for us. These values are inherent in our HR policies from a recruitment perspective right through to our performance review policies," Dockerty says.

Part of Chandler's role was to implement technologies to support and foster that culture. Initially, he says, with no applications other than Office, his focus was predominantly internal and his role that of a traditional corporate IT manager. Apart from looking after the PCs and applications, most of his time was spent planning and building an architecture. However, with the business continuing to ramp up, there was clearly a need for an enterprise solution to meet the new business's requirements into the future.

True to that philosophy, COMindico in November announced it had become the first Australian customer to purchase PeopleSoft 8 Financials to underpin its rapidly expanding operation, and would also implement Purchasing and Billing for PeopleSoft 8. It is also moving ahead with PeopleSoft CRM 8 and is currently conducting workshops to ensure its readiness to take on the CRM implementation.

According to Chandler, the applications' Internet architecture [no code resides on the client was a deciding factor. "We wanted to be consistent in our approach by implementing Web-enabled management systems."

Chandler says COMindico partnered with consultants from PeopleSoft and IBM GSA to implement the Financials solution, combining professionals with complementary expertise in communications sector implementation projects, product functionality, project management methodologies and workflow. The combined project team began rolling out the software in September 2000 with a go live deadline of January 1, 2001. To minimise the time and expense associated with the implementation, COMindico opted for a highly vanilla configuration that it saw as allowing it to take advantage of the best practice incorporated in the solution.

"We are totally Web-enabled, we are an IP network," Chandler says. "One of the things that we wish to ensure is that the systems we deploy need to be operated from anywhere, any time, with that sort of access, integrated between the systems that you're providing. The reason why we've waited for CRM 8 is its ability to stack. I'll be actually placing the PeopleSoft applications ERP, CRM, HR, Payroll, all on the same hardware platforms. So that they all sit above each other and they all communicate with each other with interfaces that are inbuilt."

He says the system will be used internally and also supplied to customers. COMindico plans to provide a portal service which will provide customers with access to systems so they can see their use of network services and be able to log in to CRM through COMindico.

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COMindico says that, by simultaneously carrying voice, data and multimedia across a single network, it ensures optimal bandwidth use and substantial economies of scale. It also makes claims to be actively bridging the "digital divide", arguing that its wholesale network makes it economic for a wide variety of so-called "last mile" providers to deliver services to homes and business in regional areas.

The COMindico wholesale network provides services to four broad groups of "last mile" providers across Australia:

- New telephony carriers and resellers.

- Regional communities.

- Content developers and service providers.

- Internet service providers (ISPs).

The company claims that in providing the means to totally outsource communications solutions, COMindico can allow its customers to get far closer to its client base. For example, it says they can reach a large client base for products they sell online by offering the Internet connectivity services normally available only from dedicated Internet service providers, including access ports, bandwidth and links to the worldwide group, together with e-mail and newsgroups. This enables customers to sell all the services you'd normally associate with an Internet service provider.

The argument is that outsourcing the delivery of these services lets clients grow without making sizeable infrastructure investment.

The advantage extends to being able to offer a reliable telephone service featuring a flat timed rate right across the country, international calls at rates substantially lower than most leading carriers, and a suite of messaging products allowing customers to send and receive e-mails, faxes and phone calls.

Headquartered in Sydney, the company claims to have attracted an exceptional cast of leading industry professionals for its management team and currently employs more than 100 talented personnel.

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A blank technology slate, a fistful of dollars and a culture that thrives on innovation sees COMindico's CIO creating his own lasting legacy.

When Roy Chandler joined the nascent COMindico Australia as CIO in March last year, the entire company consisted of 12 people - mostly technical staff - crammed together into a little office in North Sydney.

For a brand-new company with ambitious plans to become Australia's premier wholesale provider of innovative convergent communications services, technology at hand was primitive. With Microsoft Office running on Intel PCs pretty much the sum total of tools available to get the job done, general manager, corporate marketing Annette Dockerty recalls pulling together purchase orders in Microsoft Word.

What united the team, Chandler says, was a shared enthusiasm and passion for the vision of founding shareholder and entrepreneur Wayne Passlow, the CEO of Open Telecommunications, who in November 1999 formed IPtel to build Australia's first National Internet Protocol (IP) Network. IPtel became COMindico - Australia's first convergent communications service provider - in May 2000. Passlow's vision required the new organisation to become one of Australia's leading users of state-of-the-art enterprise technology in terms of pure Internet solutions as it built its independent, convergent telecommunications network (voice, data, audio and video) spanning the continent. Technologically speaking, Chandler was the man on the spot.

Over subsequent months Chandler has helped COMindico build an infrastructure and applications designed to secure speed to market and attract new investors. He has also had the joy of doing so unhampered by legacy systems or entrenched ideas. "One of the sayings I put around is: ‘I'm creating the legacy systems of the future'," Chandler says.

For a CIO, it's a vision full of promise and scope. Not many CIOs get the chance to build a company's IT systems from scratch, he says. Chandler is relishing the opportunity and says the new organisation's deep dive into rapid implementation has been a positive experience.

"It's not often that you have the opportunity like this. I came from Vodafone where I was for five and a half years. One of the real attracting factors of coming into a company like Iptel, as it was then, and COMindico, as it is now, is the freshness of the organisation and the ability to, in effect, not have to work with legacy [systems] - to map out and architect a future network not based on, shall we say, models which may have met their use-by date."

Yet despite such advantages, there remains a real element of risk, Chandler says, especially since COMindico is a consistently early adopter and remains at the leading edge.