scott petty vodafone cto1

Digital transformation has the potential to improve business performance significantly. Across the UK, businesses are deploying digital technologies and new practices to break down silos, encourage collaboration, optimise operations and develop new revenue streams. In fact, over three quarters of UK business leaders surveyed in a Vodafone report at the end of 2018 responded that digital transformation is a strategic priority.

Vodafone is developing new technologies like 5G, the next generation of mobile communications, to be at the forefront of this transformation. Getting our network ready for 5G has shaped how we think about digital transformation, giving us unique insight into how technology will change our lives for the better. A world with internet speeds that are up to four times faster than 4G will spark a new wave of innovation, enabling smart homes and offices, driverless cars, remote surgery and more. We're likely to see the pace of technological change increase even further.

As we head toward a 5G world, businesses need to be ready to move fast, and become more agile than ever before. Vodafone is three years into our own five-year transformation programme. At its core, our transformation is about the pace of delivery, with a focus on engineering innovation and excellence. That's why for us, digital transformation starts with our people, and not just technology. We're moving beyond a culture of engineering teams operating in silos, and managing large builds with long lead times. Instead, we're giving our engineers greater autonomy and ownership of their work, and enhancing their ability to respond quickly to changing customer needs.

Here's a behind the scenes look at how we're using new technologies to empower our engineers and improve the customer experience. As our approach to digital transformation is people-driven, we're also investing in digital skills to build our tech talent pool.

A new engineering culture

Over the past 12 months, our teams have made huge leaps forward in the pace and frequency of delivery. We've been able to move from quarterly application releases to daily. By automating tasks that used to be done manually, simplifying our work processes, and making use of collaborative tools, we've been able to work much more efficiently, while freeing up our engineers to work on projects that can add more value to our customers.

It used to take a lot of time to carry out tests like checking that a customer-facing web page is fully functional. Testers had to go through each step in the customer journey manually, entering information in an online form one field at a time to make sure everything worked correctly. These days, we can write code so that these tests can be completed automatically, and it takes just seconds.

We've also given our engineers the digital collaboration tools, systems and applications they need to work more independently. The "Build it, Ship it, Love it" code our engineers live by encourages everyone to have a real sense of ownership of their work, and to take pride in the products they're building. As a result, we're seeing a new engineering culture take hold, one that recognises the value of autonomy and individual initiative. It's gaining real momentum across the business.

Becoming cloud native

Becoming ‘cloud native' is about moving beyond migrating standard services to the cloud. For us, it's about knowing how to take full advantage of what cloud technology can do, and that influences everything from design to delivery.

A key initiative we've developed thanks to cloud technology is what we call "Everything as Code". Using the cloud, we can write code to get just about everything we need done, which means we're not just automating basic tasks like testing web pages. Rather, we're automating large scale projects that used to take loads of time to complete. This helps our teams to work in a more agile way.

Here's a quick example. In the past, to support a new smartphone launch – which meant a big increase in web traffic – we had to spend a lot of time setting up the hardware and software infrastructure needed to support that spike in traffic. Today, with cloud technology, we can write code to build the environment we need in far less time, and for a lower cost.

We haven't stopped there. A few months ago, our teams set themselves a target of making it quicker to rebuild than to repair an environment when something goes wrong. Repairing tends to be fraught with unknowns – it's hard to tell how a change you're making will affect other parts of the system. The cloud enables us to build new environments quickly, and by rebuilding instead of repairing, we've reduced our delivery time from six weeks to just 30 minutes. This approach also makes it easier to introduce any improvements; we just change the source code and rebuild!

Building our digital talent pool

To realise the full benefits of digital transformation, expanding our digital talent base is critical. Vodafone is investing in digital skills through a number of new initiatives. The Vodafone Digital Degree – developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham – offers computer science students technology apprenticeships at Vodafone, providing essential real-world experience in the tech industry.

Another digital skills programme we have is Code Ready. Created in partnership with Makers, London's leading software development programme, Code Ready gives frontline employees in Vodafone retail stores and contact centres the opportunity to retrain as developers in just 16 weeks. It's fully funded by Vodafone, so employees don't need to pay a fee to learn to code.

Fostering innovation

Ultimately, the new technologies and techniques we've deployed are there to help our employees deliver better products and services for our customers. In order for this to happen, we need to foster a culture of innovation.

We don't treat innovation as a separate function within the business. Rather, we aim to cultivate a mind-set where employees feel motivated and encouraged to try new things. In fact, this is how Vodafone became the first telco in the world to develop a skill for Google Home that lets customers access their Vodafone account using their voice. Back in spring of 2017, a Vodafone engineer decided to experiment and in just a few days, he succeeded in developing the code to enable Vodafone customers to ask for information about their bill.

Digital transformation could help to unleash all kinds of new innovations, great and small. By putting people at the heart of this drive to innovate, we increase our chances of success.

Scott Petty is Chief Technology Officer for Vodafone UK, responsible for defining and implementing the organisation's technology strategy and driving forward key initiatives, including the use of artificial intelligence, 5G and full fibre broadband.