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CIO50 2021 #26-50: Mark Beder, Spark

  • Name Mark Beder
  • Title Technology Director
  • Company Spark
  • Commenced role 2016
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 1800 staff, eight direct reports
  • The unique challenge in Mark Beder’s role as technology director is the dual focus on ensuring Spark has modern, resilient, and productivity-enabling technology that will support its growth in the market, while simultaneously delivering the same for its customers – including many of New Zealand’s largest enterprises and Government.

    With responsibility for an annual capital budget of more than $200 million, he leads the critical infrastructure investment decisions Spark makes every year that support New Zealand’s technology backbone.

    Spark’s three-year strategy has a clear focus on building a smart, automated network with unconstrained capacity — enabling Spark to offer its customers the data they need, when they need it, wherever they need it. With demand for data growing by around 40% every year, the challenging economics of delivering rural connectivity across New Zealand’s terrain, and the increasing amount of severe weather events resulting from our changing climate, this is a challenging ambition that requires continual adaptation.

    Response to COVID-19

    Beder led Spark’s operational response to Covid-19, which delivered the following key highlights:

    • Scale capacity upgrades across the country, to keep pace with the pre-existing 40% increase in data usage every year, in addition to the compounding impacts of lockdowns.
    • Network capacity management to enable Spark to remove data caps for customers on data-capped broadband plans, who were at risk of being disconnected during extended lockdowns.
    • During the first lockdown, the rapid design of a process for Spark’s major IT releases to be undertaken entirely remotely, by using more CICD and automation tooling and frameworks. This not only ensured Spark could continue to operate effectively during lockdown but has significantly improved business-as-usual IT application enhancements and lifecycle management.
    • Enabling digital transformations for managed services customers that would normally take many months to be completed in a matter of weeks to support the shift to remote ways of working, along with massive scaling of call centres for critical service providers.
    • Recognising the impact of the pandemic on the digital divide, network capacity was made available for Spark to rapidly scale its not-for-profit broadband product Skinny Jump, more than doubling the number of families in need connected.

    5G rollout out

    In August 2021 Spark committed to rapidly accelerating its 5G rollout, investing an additional $35 million in FY22 and bringing Spark’s total in-year mobile connectivity investment to $125 million. The acceleration has already begun and will see around 50% of Spark’s sites upgraded to 5G by the end of calendar year 2022, and 85% by the end of calendar year 2023 – enabling around 90% population coverage in the same timeframe.

    The 5G program will deliver significant value to Spark and its customers in the next two years:

    • Supporting Spark’s ambition to have 30-40% of its broadband base on wireless, by increasing capacity and opening up new product development opportunities through the next evolution of 5G technology.
    • Maintaining Spark’s leadership in mobile service revenue growth, by providing differentiated, premium services to customers.
    • Opening up new use cases for commercialisation, particularly through planned trials of mobile edge compute with enterprise businesses.
    • Supporting the continued growth of Skinny Jump, with 4G upgrades in areas of high-need factored into the 5G rollout.

    Internet of Things expansion

    In addition to driving Spark’s 5G rollout, Beder has responsibility for Spark’s Internet of Things (IoT) business, which has been identified as a future market in the Company’s three-year strategy. Under his leadership IoT has thrived – and in the last year alone Spark IoT launched a new brand identity to the market, won several significant contracts, and grew IoT connections 83% to over 450,000.

    Rural broadband role

    In addition, Beder is a board member of the Rural Connectivity Group, which delivered its 260th cell site to rural New Zealand this year and is on track to deliver more than 400 by the end of 2022. As a partner to Crown Infrastructure Partners (CIP) and Te Puni Kokiri on the Marae Digital Connectivity Initiative, Spark has connected over 450 marae to date, and continues to play a key partner role to CIP as it rolls out Government-funded rural investments to extend coverage to the most remote communities.

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