Cable & Wireless is a venerable name in British communications infrastructure. A name which conjures up images of cable ships flying the white ensign, far out at sea, unfurling cable from an immense drum to keep the empire connected.

But today’s Cable & Wireless Worldwide is just one half of the recently demerged whole. It continues in the role of a provider of managed voice, data, hosting and IP-based services and applications.

Although this part of the original company is primarily UK-based, it still manages to retain a significant global presence, boasting over 20,000km of fibre network in the UK as well as a cable network 425,000km in length.

In a world of global telco behemoths, C&W Worldwide is one of the smaller operators in its sector. As a result of its dependence on a struggling UK economy it has suffered a tough first year, as its recent annual report conceded.

Richard Wilson has been C&W Worldwide’s Director of IT Operations for two years and he is based in new C&W Worldwide headquarters in Bracknell, which is where CIO met him.

Here Wilson revealed that his background was not a technical one, but a business one. He cut his teeth in a telco analysis role at the strategic consultancy Analysys, before moving to C&W Worldwide as Strategy and Business Development Manager.

More recently he was responsible for the entire property portfolio of C&W Worldwide as Director of Property.

The property role has had a direct influence on Wilson’s focus on using the expensively maintained property portfolio most efficiently, and is what drove him to investigate hot-desking (a label he rejects) solutions for the company.

Wilson wanted to look at how mobile and desk-bound activity could be made more efficient, through, for example, the merging of mobile phone operations in and out of the office.

In this particular case, he has used Fixed Mobile Convergence to create mobile ‘cells’ within C&W Worldwide properties to handle calls made on company BlackBerries when on site.

Today Wilson’s role is in operational IT, but the close connection between his needs as a purchaser and implementer of IT technologies and C&W Worldwide’s various product and service offerings has made his department a useful test bed for technologies and services that may become commercial products for the company.

Wilson’s team feeds into C&W Worldwide’s CTO Nigel Hall and Product Director Dominic Jones about product opportunities and participates in early adopter programmes alongside customers.

Wilson cites the high-definition Managed Video Conferencing tool as an example of a C&W Worldwide product which has benefited from this internal piloting approach.

The recent move to C&W Worldwide’s new Bracknell HQ, triggered by the demerger, was an opportunity for Wilson to apply some of his theories about getting corporate property under better control.

“Our old building had between 900 and 1100 desks allocated” he recalls. “This one has just 650 desks at half the cost.”

This cost reduction has been achieved by what Wilson calls ‘team-desking’. “Hot-desking is a misnomer,” he says. “In team-desking each team has an allocated area.”

Team allocations are based on predicted requirements; sales teams, for example, will typically have fewer people in the building at any given time than IT support, so team desk space is allocated accordingly.

Successful user buy-in was critical for a project with such huge cultural implications, and an important part of the process was Wilson’s focus on user experience.

“We did a successful pilot,” he recalls. “We went through what does and doesn’t work, tried sample furniture and layouts. We really gave people ownership of the whole change. I think it’s important to have a combination of strategic understanding of the business objectives and a feel for end-user behaviour. By observing the way in which individuals and organisations are behaving we can make it easier for users to change.”

Wilson’s experience from the property move fed into a major desktop upgrade and refurbishment programme, with about half the machines being replaced and the remainder receiving operating system upgrades.

Some 5500 instances of the new client image were downloaded and at the same time about 1000 laptops and 1500 desktops were replaced.

In spite of such massive change in both physical and client environments, Wilson’s consultative and user-focused approach meant the whole roll-out resulted in just two complaints and a 92 per cent satisfaction rating with the upgrade.

Source of review
In the wake of the upgrade, Wilson has also brought C&W Worldwide’s outsourced helpdesk service back in-house.

“I’ve been in this role for two and half years and wanted to look at our outsourcing and helpdesk provision from the perspective of a business that is moving forwards,” he says.

“What is the service we want to deliver to the business?” was the question Wilson asked himself last year. A full review followed with the service desk being brought back in-house.

Service desk was among a range of IT facets outsourced by C&W Worldwide back in 2007 when the telco found itself struggling to compete with the likes of BT Global Services.

“The main outsourcing was done in 2007 and it was done fairly quickly as the business was in a rough state and at that time it needed to cut costs,” Wilson explains. By 2011 the books are looking a great deal healthier.

“A change in requirements, not performance,” is how Wilson describes the findings of his study of the service desk requirements and subsequent change in strategy. “As IT we have to be very conscious of the world moving on around us.”

Wilson brought the service desk back in-house within C&W Worldwide. The function now sits within the company’s Indian offshore operation.

The move was completed in May 2011 and Wilson is full of praise for the performance of the previous helpdesk providers and his own staff during the changeover.

“I was nervous about the transition. It was a risk. You can’t stop the business from calling the service desk, but I was really impressed with my team and I’ve not had one complaint. Our outsource provider supported us right to the very end.”

Positive results are already being seen, he claims, with colleagues valuing the helpful attitude of the service desk staff.

“With colleagues the important thing we found from a survey was the degree of empathy they get from IT. Not the speed of the fix, but that IT people understand the business impact of a problem.”

Wilson has realised the benefits of an in?house service desk are emotional and that just occasionally that emotional benefit outweighs the financial aspects.

“Outsource company employees work for the outsource company. This has been a huge success so far with an immediate service improvement as far as front-line relationships are concerned,” Wilson says with pride, while adding that while the search for experienced staff had driven costs up, this was balanced by bringing the service back in house.

“We recruited more skilled people than the outsource provider had and we recruited people who had pure outsource service desk experience.

Like-for-like the cost was actually less, it is about a balance. The number of colleagues in the insourced operation broadly matches the number in the previous outsourced setup.

Some roles have changed to be more active and to have more analysis so that we are not just processing tickets. The profile of the operation has changed but my department remains at 50 people.

“Satisfaction is starting to increases. Since May 2011 first-line fix rates have doubled and we are fixing more tickets than ever.”

In-house improvements
Wilson adds that the network provider isn’t just seeing an improvement to its basic IT service desk operations, but an overall improvement in the way C&W Worldwide uses technology, which is benefiting the organisation in this highly competitive market.

“Conferencing use has trebled from roll-out a year ago because we have simplified the endpoint usage as an internal provider,” he says of the teleconferencing service used internally.

Within the CIO outsourcing conversation is a great deal of debate as to whether an outsourcing provider can really provide an organisation with innovation.

This debate has come to the fore as CIOs are put under pressure to innovate to allow growth in a difficult economy while staying within constrained budgets that have been the norm since the beginning of the credit crisis in 2008.

For his part, Wilson is seeing improved innovation from his service desk operation at C&W Worldwide since the May move.

“They are bringing new ideas, pieces of automation on the service desk to improve the customer and worker experience like new email templates.

These small-scale innovations add up to a big change. They are seeing other ways of doing things and when you understand colleagues you then understand the way the organisation operates and can innovate.

“When you have an in-sourced operation you can be a lot braver with the KPIs and these can measure more for satisfaction and then there is a broader view of the service that then leads to more innovation.

“Outsource providers worry about the KPIs they have been set, especially if they could end up paying penalties on them. So outsourcers are very innovative in the generic areas where service desks are not that technical,” he says.

But, as Wilson is keen to stress, where C&W Worldwide finds itself today is not in a cost-cutting scenario, but an organisation that is looking ahead with a positive manner and plans.

As a result it requires an IT and service desk operation that can really enable the organisation to do things differently.

“The C&W Worldwide business strategy is more about enabling the IT department of our customers today. Cloud computing and conferencing, for us, are great opportunities.

“As an IT department I want to help the organisation with what makes us different in the marketplace, so that means we are not worrying about the infrastructure, although that is important and must work,” he says.

“The barrier between a telecoms and IT company is now non-existent, and as a result C&W Worldwide is in a different market.”

While there are still challenges ahead, Wilson is confident for C&W Worldwide’s future.

“We make money, we are cashflow positive and generative. In 2007 it was still burning money. Now there is a clear value.”

Wilson’s 90-strong team supports around 8000 users, of whom a quarter are third-party providers.

Beyond the usual raft of external partners, mostly offshore, Wilson has a head of IT service management with their own small team and service desk, a desktop, infrastructure and applications support team, a governance team and someone to drive transformation programmes.

The majority of this team are based in the firm’s UK IT centre in Bracknell.

Wilson’s role is a broad one and yet he has managed to interweave his critical operations role with continued involvement in product development and the roll-out of new technologies.

And of course he has also managed to half the company’s office-bound property overhead by a smart use of team-desking at C&W Worldwide’s headquarters. His biggest ongoing challenge?

“The co-existence between IT and product development... we are working together more closely,” he says.