Telstra turns weedkiller on IT

commentary After spending years allowing a multitude of information technology (IT) platforms and systems -- and customised code -- to gain root within its business, Telstra this week finally drew a line in the sand. Consolidation, flexibility and fleet-footedness is the mantra for IT under the new executive team's sweeping review and planned path forward for the carrier, revealed this week.

commentary After spending years allowing a multitude of information technology (IT) platforms and systems -- and customised code -- to gain root within its business, Telstra this week finally drew a line in the sand.

Iain Ferguson, News Editor, ZDNet Australia

Consolidation, flexibility and fleet-footedness is the mantra for IT under the new executive team's sweeping review and planned path forward for the carrier, revealed this week.

The existing IT setup -- whereby data is held across multiple systems, severely restricting the carrier's ability to manage its own operations, deliver customer service and obtain a single view of its customers -- is poised for a radical transformation.

The telecommunications heavyweight is slashing by 75 percent its 1,200-odd business and operational support systems and network platforms by 60 percent from 334 over the next three-to-five years.

It has also committed to using only off-the-shelf software products, with customisation now a dirty word.

All aspects of IT are coming in for close scrutiny, with Telstra's operations boss, Greg Winn, also flagging possible changes to its existing outsourcing arrangements. While "substantial portions" of Telstra's IT will remain outsourced, he told a briefing yesterday, "we will have more of an inclination where we need to have intellectual property that's key to running the business, to have it closer to the business or inside the business versus outside".

Winn made his overall thoughts about the state of the telecommunications carrier's systems crystal clear at the briefing. And for the company's previous chief information officers -- including Jeff Smith -- they were not very pleasant.

Remarking that if it wasn't politically incorrect to do so, he would describe the current IT situation at Telstra as "the root of all evil in the telco industry," Winn then proceeded to put developers on notice.

"…the first software developer code writer that even attempts to modify a piece of software will be doing something else for a living, hopefully working for one of our competitors and screwing up their IT platforms".

Success in decommissioning systems is going to be front and centre of Telstra IT's performance measurement, Winn noted. "We have a clear path as to how we are going to take [the systems] out and I am going to measure people on how we decommission".

Winn knows how crucial it is that Telstra gets the IT project right. As general manager of operations in the Telstra program office, John McInerney, said yesterday, the "velocity of change" planned for the carrier over the next five years requires support from IT even as the area undergoes its own transformation. As widely reported this week, that change is immense - including development of a next-generation IP network, a national 3G GSM network and the abolition of some 12,000 full-time equivalent positions.

However, Telstra is not alone in looking to consolidation as key to boosting its IT operations.

According to the preliminary results of a Gartner survey released this week, consolidation has come from virtually nowhere to become one of the top three priorities for IT executives in the Asia-Pacific next year.

Businesses are calling on their IT departments to enhance their contribution to the business without necessarily giving them big budgets to spend on new projects.

There should be a lot of large organisations in the region looking at Telstra's plans and seeing what lessons and benefits are there for their own consolidation programs. Of course, the proof for Telstra -- as with all companies -- is in the delivery.

Nice plan -- can Telstra execute? Is consolidation a way of delivering real value back to any business? -- E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and give us your thoughts.

Iain Ferguson is the News Editor of ZDNet Australia.

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