Telstra CIO: Customer experience leads the digital transformation

Telstra's AU$1.2 billion digitisation effort has seen five customer experience-led initiatives crop up so far, with the CIO explaining that it is more about retraining teams in agile ways of working across digital platforms.

Telstra's digital transformation is more about enabling its teams to continually make changes to improve customer experience by using the agile methodology than it is about a single IT project, Telstra CIO John Romano has told ZDNet.

According to Romano, there are three key elements underpinning Telstra's digitisation: Improving customer experience or the experience of those providing customer service; building this on a digital platform; and delivering these in an agile way.

"This is not about IT transformation, this is not about a project ... this is about how we continually deliver innovations, improvements, making things better, all those sort of things on those digital platforms for customers," he said.

"It's not one project in this, it's lots of innovations, and the beauty of establishing an environment where we have proper agile ways of working is that it's this constant innovation."

The emphasis is therefore currently on building out the digital platforms Telstra is using, but this is being done in order to fundamentally shift the way its people work, Romano explained.

According to the CIO, Salesforce and ServiceNow are the most important parts of its architectural stack, but it is also working with CloudSense and provisioning engines like Amdocs.

This involves flying in and out experts from those companies to work alongside Telstra's teams to help coach them on using these technologies.

"We have to get the right architecture and platforms in place, and it has to be something that's led by the customer or the people," he said.

"The key is they're cloud-based, they're modern, and they allow our digital ways of working to work on the digital platform quickly, reliance and performance is strong on those platforms, and the interfaces into other platforms is much simpler.

"We're building it but utilising expertise from around the world."

Telstra's teams then have the authority to immediately make changes without needing to go up the hierarchy for approval, with the goal of constant improvement.

"It's not about an individual coming up with an idea; it's about the team having the authority to implement something that makes a big difference," Romano told ZDNet.

"The ability for teams to implement immediately and not to be controlled by managers on what they can and can't do makes a big difference."

Getting tech, business, and product teams to work together has also been a major emphasis during the project, he said, which the telco ensures by collocating such teams together.

Romano spoke to five initiatives that have been delivered so far under Telstra's AU$3 billion investment in transformation, around AU$1.2 billion of which was allocated to digitisation.

Get Help, which provides an automated National Broadband Network (NBN) fault restoration process, has reduced call times and field technician visits by 55 percent due to improved diagnostic capabilities, with Romano calling it "a big change". It has also enabled customers to use a single online service to report and solve issues.

Notify, which has replaced around 100 customer messaging platforms with one, and Service Status, a page that has been updated with more accurate information on network outages, were "small innovations that have made a big impact", the CIO said.

"It's not about one big bang that's going to change the experience; it's about lots of things that are going to change the experience," he explained.

Telstra Connect and Expert Finder, meanwhile, are more focused at enterprise customers. The former is a native business app combining 50 online portals for customer service, while the latter provides business customers with the ability to contact experts through a tool on Telstra.com to solve technical issues.

"Connect is that front-line ability for an enterprise customer to be served from one single look and feel," he said.

"The Expert Finder again is a little initiative that makes a big difference, the ability to find expertise simply online."

Romano also labelled the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as an "enabler" of improving certain aspects of customer experience rather than as a be-all and end-all in technology.

"It's an enabler, it's not the solution. The solution is the right process, the right experience for the customer, and AI is a capability that we have today that can enable that," he said.

For instance, Telstra is currently using AI and machine learning to predict what's going to happen in the network, examine events that are affecting customers, and forecast the time to restore services in the event of an outage.

For the future, Romano said Telstra is continuing to work on transformation projects, including how to better utilise Salesforce as its CRM to improve customer experience.

"There's a whole range of initiatives, many, many things are under way at the moment, but the emphasis I think is the digitisation team," he said.

"Giving [teams] the authority, the trust, the power, the ability to make decisions at the front end for a customer is powerful."

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