Leading the digital side of a large New Zealand telco organisation can be challenging at the best of times – but how do you adapt the technology in response to a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown? Deloitte Digital lead, Grant Frear, had that question front of mind when he spoke to Greg Moore, Chief Digital Officer at 2Degrees for the latest Digital Transformation Conversation.
Grant: Great to talk to you, Greg. I thought I’d start with something very present on everyone’s minds right now – the effect of COVID-19 on organisations. How has it affected the direction of 2Degrees and their digital transformation journey?
Greg: In terms of 2Degrees’ approach to digital transformation, in 2018 we set ourselves the goal of becoming the leading digital experience organisation in New Zealand by 2022. That meant taking a human-centred design approach - understanding what a great experience looked like from a customer perspective and what would be required to deliver on that promise. The fundamentals of that approach weren’t impacted by COVID-19 - however, how the teams worked during COVID-19 to deliver on our goals certainly did change. We quickly shifted to working from home which required a greater reliance on digital collaboration tools to keep the team connected and be able to share information effectively across projects and the entire business.
Prior to COVID, we undertook a process to review our digital ecosystem, which wasn’t quite providing what we needed from it to support our transformation journey. In response I spoke to the board, to explain what digital transformation work we would need to put ourselves in the position to lead in our market, including upgrading the systems we had.
How did you find making your case to the board?
For me, it was predominantly an educational process, breaking down the potential benefits of the proposed work and systems upgrades. That meant not just being more capable from a customer perspective but enabling the business itself to be more capable.
After all, we're not just competing against Spark and Vodafone - we're competing from a digital experience perspective against Uber and Netflix. That's the expectation being set and one we have to match., In turn, we can set ourselves apart through the great customer service that 2Degrees is known for.
With the board, I used the analogy of a freighter – our platforms are solid and can handle huge numbers of customers. However, if we want to change their direction it's a slow process, if we want to pivot it’ll take a long while, and we're increasingly up against more nimble craft.
It’s often the case with large organisations too that the tech platform is the digital backbone. It’s not just there for project managers and developers - your customer service layer needs to be there, your marketing folk need insights and the larger team relies on it for daily processes.
Absolutely. This platform enabled some of that but not all of it, which is why I focused heavily on the digital experiences of our team in the front line of customer sales and service. We have defined what great looks like for our Care and Retail teams too. After all you can’t have great “CX” without great “EX”, particularly in an assisted interaction.
Along the journey so far, we've introduced technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to streamline experiences for staff and customers. We are expanding into Robotic Desktop Automation and we've also started to look at chatbots internally. We haven't got an external facing chatbot, but we've got an internal one that works on our IT helpdesk. We’re looking to roll it out to other common functions of the business in the coming months.
That’s a common pattern that I've seen, particularly in adopting chatbots and voice assisted robots, and that’s starting with an internal rollout to refine the technology before gradually integrating it into other processes.
That's our approach too. We’ll move to an external facing chatbot in 2021 – it probably won’t be the same technology we're using internally but we'll take the learnings we got from that and apply it to the external one. I'm not a big fan of chatbots to take away FAQs so it's got to be an integrated chatbot that can carry out meaningful tasks on behalf of the customer.
And how has the impact of COVID-19 and New Zealand’s lockdowns affected that transformation?
While COVID-19 hasn’t driven any of that other work, it really made us reassess our ways of working. We had to look at how we could transition from the traditional office schedule of being there five days a week to working flexibly from anywhere. Now that the nationwide lockdown has ended, we’ve pushed hard to maintain that level of flexibility that we were forced to create during that time.
How did you find that rapid transition affected things like productivity or employee experience?
We were quite lucky in that we were able to get our call centre working quickly. We have the only onshore contact centre in New Zealand’s telco industry, which ended up being really positive for us. The call centre environment is probably the best environment for monitoring remote work too, because it’s all run on one platform.
For the organisation as a whole, it was a challenge. We were facing the same issues as Deloitte would have been - how would we all suddenly adapt to working from home? Initially there was a dip in productivity, but we were clear to our staff that looking after their families came first. In that first couple of weeks, it was just about finding a new rhythm – look after your families and work when you can, but don’t worry if you're finding it hard to get your hours done. After that, the productivity balanced out.
When it came to responding to the lockdown in the leadership team, where did your role as a CDO sit?
For me, it was about making sure our teams could access our internal systems from home and that what we already had was working well. We needed to extend the number of concurrent VPN sessions supported and also roll out VDI infrastructure. The team did a fantastic job to stand this capability up almost overnight. From a collaboration perspective, luckily we already had good technology, we were regularly using Microsoft Teams and were already working remotely in a limited way.
It also became obvious during that time that high-quality digital experiences for customers were in unprecedented demand. Our traditional retail channels such as stores were closed, so overnight our customers turned quickly to our digital channels. We had to make sure we were addressing that.
Now that you’ve proven that your digital systems can support fully remote working for 2Degrees employees, do you think it’s changed the risk appetite of the leadership team towards further transformation?
Absolutely - we have a whole stream now just to look at ways of working. We’ll also be moving into a new office soon with a much lower desk to person ratio, so we want to enable a more flexible approach permanently.
This kind of flexible working environment I think was probably five years away before COVID-19 happened but we’ve already reached it in a few months. If you’d said to me pre-COVID-19 that we’d have to move everybody offsite in a couple of days and overall productivity would remain pretty much where it was, I would’ve thought you were crazy. But that’s what happened.
Yes, and I think those steady productivity levels was common across the globe. It talks to the resilience of people, their own personal digital literacy and comfort working in the environment.
Yes, although there are some downsides. Having your finger on the pulse is easier when you're in the office and so we missed a little bit of that. We were also trading on the relationships that existed in the business when we were all together, not those made remotely. While the other executives were still accessible to me, it wasn’t the same as poking my head in their office and having a conversation.
Luckily for us, we have a really strong culture and bonds within the business that we've been able to trade on.
On a different topic, as someone who moved here from Australia, what perceptions did you have of New Zealand in regards to our digital capability?
When I came to New Zealand, I was really impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit. The ability to innovate in this country is strong, which I think is a wonderful attribute of the culture here.
What is challenging though is the available talent in the market. The capable pool of digital talent is very sought after and there's not enough of it, so we need to do more to grow that capability and literacy here in this country. I think that will happen more as organisations grow their own digital capabilities, and talent will be able to move around and create value for more organisations. That will benefit the whole of New Zealand over time.