Three UK Chief Operating Officer Graham Baxter believes the CIO has the toughest job in the C-suite because they have to marry the needs of the customer with the requirements of every internal business function.

Baxter was previously the CTO at Three UK, the mobile brand run by Hutchison 3G, driving through the telco's massive network share joint venture with T-Mobile from 2007-2010 before taking on the COO role in July 2011 with the added responsibility for customer service.

"We weren't known for the strength of our network," Baxter said. "We needed to fundamentally change its strength and doubled its size between 2007 and 2010 with a massive network consolidation.

"Everyone said it wasn't possible, but it did work and was a very challenging time to be the CTO.

"But generally the CTO at a telco doesn't have as many customers within the business. There are not many people telling you what to build and you can be reasonably autonomous within the business - focusing on coverage and reliability, working with manufacturers and providers.

"On the CIO side everybody is a customer. Every internal function wants something as well as every customer. Our CIO left in July so I've taken that on as well.

"It's a really tough job to transform not just the IT function, but transform the whole business. The COO role is a good position to influence the wider business; it's harder from the CIO role," Baxter added.

Board director of MBNL, the shared network operation with EE, Baxter said the results of doubling the size of the network in the joint venture means Three now runs at only two thirds of its 2006 network operating costs, "and that's with data usage going completely off the charts".

Baxter was speaking to CIO UK last week in San Francisco after picking up the Visionary Trailblazer Award at the TIBCO NOW conference, the annual customer event hosted software and integration supplier Tibco. Three UK was recognised for challenging the "way things are done" to improve the customer experience in the face of major technology disruption, Tibco said.

The next focus for Three UK is pushing on from a more robust network and improved customer service, Baxter said, and the grand task of trying to alter the perception of mobile operators as an industry.

"Less than 15% of customers in the UK trust their operator," Baxter said. "To put that into context, the industry is less trusted than banks and journalists.

"There is a huge market for an operator willing to take the moral high ground, by not just delivering on technology but trying to make customers' lives better."