CIO100 2017 #31-100: Ewen John Powell, Chorus
It is difficult to look at Chorus’ transformation journey over the past year without understanding the context of the last five years, says its chief technology officer Ewen John Powell.
In December, 2011, Chorus demerged from Telecom New Zealand and subsequently invested heavily in new capability to order and provision its fibre network. While Chorus had operated fibre networks for a number of years, it did not have large scale residential fibre deployments.
With this move to fibre, an important innovation released last year by the company was a mobile application called TechMate. This is a tool used by Chorus’ contract technicians who work on the UFB network and moved away from expensive physical tools required by technicians in the fields to an application run on their mobile device that leveraged centralised test capability inherent in the network. Essentially this turned the model from looking from the outside in to looking from the inside of the network out.
Powell says the application provides customer address and fibre inventory information, and four electronic tests that show whether the fibre connection is working, what the exact optical characteristics of the line are, whether the customer’s modem is passing traffic and what the hourly performance has been over the past 20 days. The tool greatly assists technicians to both ensure a connection is working when they provision a service and also in diagnosing problems on the network.
He believes a challenge all CIOs face is ensuring core operational systems are running while creating new, innovative products and services.
''Chorus runs an outsource model for management of core infrastructure and applications. This gives us the opportunity to leverage other organisations scale for monitoring, tuning and response and restoration activities.
''The intent of this is to provide the headroom for Chorus’ employees to focus on the capability that we need as a business. In practice however, with a large IT portfolio, lifecycle upgrades and management are critical to keeping current, and do use a lot of financial and physical resources to address.
''Where the company focuses its efforts on is the emerging technology trends and how we might apply them.''
He says key technologies they are focusing on are cloud computing, API development and management and business intelligence insights.
He says the surge in customers wanting to connect to fibre has caused Chorus to focus heavily on operational excellence.
''Key to increasing operational performance is data,” he states.
“Being able to identify improvement opportunities and target these specifically, enables gains to be made. There are no silver bullets unfortunately, but having the right data enables our limited resources to be targeted at improvement opportunities.
''We have been working hard over the past 12 months to get our two-speed (bi-modal) deliver methodology bedded in – focusing waterfall methodology on the heavy lifting projects, but putting in the abstraction layers that enables us to innovate on top of this while mitigating the risk.
''Being transparent about how our network and services are performing in real-time is increasingly important so we are increasingly focused on getting this data in the hands of customers and technicians.
We have partnered with Sixtree and Certus around an application development platform hosted in the cloud , allowing us to present insights directly but also to provide APIs to enable customers to consume information and innovate in a way that is relevant to them ” he states.
“This enables us to protect our core systems – cyber, load management and so on - and enable the innovation on top of this to focus on customer and end-user experience.''
The CTO/CIO function in Chorus reports to the CEO, Kate McKenzie as part of the executive team.
Powell says the company staff engagement is critical to its success and making Chorus a great place to work is a focus for all people leaders in the company. The company communicates in a variety of ways and are committed to keeping staff informed , this includes an active community that participates on the intranet through to more structured and formal management of projects and programmes across the business.
He says the technology team achieved a “fantastic” engagement score of 86 per cent last year.
''Keeping people informed and connected to what is going on in the group and wider Chorus business, as well as recognising people’s achievements is something we place a lot of emphasis on,” he says. “This is evidenced by weekly 'all hands' calls where status updates, topical information and recognition is promoted.”
Throughout the year, team activities are encouraged culminating in bringing the CTO team together as a whole, some 140 people, to build on the broader team culture.
''In the past 12 months, in addition to external recruitment, we have been focused on growing capability internally by bringing less experienced, but technically minded people, from other parts of the business and supporting them to acquire deeper subject matter expertise,” he states.
This has proved to be very successful in parts of our business, such as architecture,” says Powell.
"I also sit on the executive Steering Committee for Diversity and Inclusion within Chorus, as I have both a personal interest and desire to take a leadership role in this important area."