Three Ireland: digital transformation for the customer

Stephen Reidy, CIO of Three Ireland, tells us about the benefits its transformation has enabled for customers, the dawn of 5G and its COVID-19 response

 Three Ireland is one of the major players in the Irish telecommunications market, as its CIO, Stephen Reidy, tells us. “Three was a disruptor 10 years ago. But then, when we acquired O2 in 2014, it really became the major player that it now is. We provide a number of services, but our vision is really about connecting people and connecting things. It's about being the telco of choice, to be relevant to people's lives and to provide them mobile telephony.” The business has a broader strength in the B2B space. “We provide a lot of services around managed security, we take on people's call centres, and so there's a lot we offer around the whole mobile space.”

As CIO, Reidy has overseen a comprehensive, wholesale digital transformation. “We've recently concluded and delivered a completely new IT stack. A new CRM system, billing, ecommerce, self-serve, order management, rating, integration and a big data platform and storage infrastructure. So pretty much across the company, we’ve delivered a lot of new technology and changed a range of systems.”

Before that came the systems change involved in the merger of the Three and IT technology stacks, which presented its own challenges and opportunities. “Big, complex transformations are very challenging because they require a lot of focus, commitment and even belligerence. For me, it's key that there’s top down support from the C-level across the organisation. Because it’s generally never just an IT transformation, it's a business transformation. That's something that was key to our success.”

When it comes to data, Reidy has ensured Three has a comprehensive approach. “We have Hadoop, a data lake which we procure through our partner Amdocs. We have a BI platform from Teradata. We use IBM's Datastage for our ETL platform, and we are about to go live with a new and exciting real time next best offer/action engine, which we've also procured through Amdocs, and all of these platforms are built on flexible and scalable storage infrastructure with data protection from Dell.” Such technology is used in line with a strategy of understanding the customer’s needs. “We want to be able to offer our customers relevant services at relevant times. So, like many telcos, the question is: ‘how do we monetise the data that we have in a more efficient way?’”

Reidy is not considering, as some are, a wholesale move to cloud systems. “We use the cloud where appropriate,” he says. “That’s based on cost benefits, or where we need a particular type of agility - which you often can get from cloud as opposed to an on premise solution. But we have very much a hybrid setup, appreciating that public cloud isn't always the right answer.”

Emerging technologies have also found their place in the transformation, such as the machine learning used in its aforementioned next best action / offer engine. “AI is something we’re looking at to improve our efficiency. In terms of our customer care, we use AI in our chatbots, so we have a combination of human interaction and automation. We also do a lot of robotic process automation (RPA), where we’re using technology for repetitive activities, as opposed to people. That frees them up to do more value-added activities.”

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Three is very ambitious, always striving to be better and to be the best it can be.

Stephen Reidy | CIO, Three Ireland

Three’s transformation was enabled by the assistance of a number of key partners, such as software and services provider Amdocs. “It's certainly a partner relationship, and we work well together. Amdocs are always looking at where they can add value to our business. When we have challenges in our transformation or in terms of delivery, we always work on those challenges together.” Reidy emphasises the fact that Three’s trusted partners mutually deliver value to each other. “Transformation requires both parties to work and be successful together. With Dell, we procure the majority of our laptop and computer estate through them, as well as leveraging their PowerMax platform for our storage infrastructure. Tech Mahindra, in partnership with Amdocs, provides us with a lot of operational and delivery services, both here in Ireland and in India. BT is very much a crucial partner for us in the IP space. The technologies that we use are complex and they all have to interact and integrate with each other. So it’s very important that our partners don’t just work well with Three, but also with each other.”

5G is the next frontier for the telecommunications industry, and something for which Three Ireland is excited to enable. “We're certainly very busy at the moment,” says Reidy. “It obviously involves new radio and new core technologies, and that integrates with all our IT systems.” Reidy sees the benefits of 5G as being transformational for society at large. “It's very early days, and like most new technologies, there's a lot of promise there. I don't think it's going to happen overnight, but it's very exciting and it will be very interesting to see the use cases and how supporting technologies develop over the coming years to make widespread 5G a reality.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Three’s activities and required an agile response, as Reidy explains: “It's brought forward certain activities and pushed others back. Clearly, in terms of how we work as an organisation, it’s fundamentally changed how we work - as it has for most companies worldwide.” He also sees the pandemic as pushing companies into a broader digital journey. “I think it will have a fast track effect, particularly in the retail space where people have been forced online. In the long term, that’s going to change forever, depending on how long social distancing is in place, and so on.”

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Reidy is clear that the principal benefactor of Three’s transformation has been the customer. “We're always looking to do more. It's really about how we can continually evolve and enhance the customer experience. We've delivered a digital transformation, which has brought a lot of new digital interactions with customers, and that journey will continue with the advent of new technologies. With AI, with 5G, there'll be a lot more services that we’ll be delivering and servicing, joining the dots and making sure the customer experience is easy to use. Making sure that we provide reliable services to our customers so that they can rely on us to provide them with connectivity - particularly now the ability to work from home.”

Reidy’s proud of the effects the transformational work his team and its partners have achieved. “It's been a very rewarding experience, for me personally, for my team, for the company at large, but also very much for our customers. Transformation is not something that you start and finish at a particular time. It's a continuum. And we’ve learned in the last few years how to succeed and continue to be agile.”

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