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Thursday, 5 November 2015

We built a house!

Ok, so it’s not a physical house but we have built a new business in Indonesia. I can tell you, having previously seen my first home being built, it feels very much the same.  In any construction there are a number of key factors to consider; managing the timelines for the project, ensuring contractors don’t blow out the budget (this is a biggie), adapting to the required changes as we learn what works best and above all ensuring the customer is happy with the outcome. In the case of my first home, my customer was my wife, and in the case of building this business, our customer was the Indonesian market.

When building this business or “digital house” as I call it, we learned there are a lot of great technologies in existence that can be leveraged to build a business’ operations and business systems. And for anyone that knows me, exploring these new technologies was like placing a kid in a candy store and giving them some money to fill a basket – don’t worry I was well behaved, for the most part.

Ironically though, I don’t believe it is the strength of our technology that will drive the right outcome for our digital house, but more so the less predictable elements that will define the successful build of our house - quirky people! Whilst quirky people are not necessarily sought to build a physical house  –in the event the bathroom may end up in the kitchen and a shower in the study – we were fortunate to have some amazing people on this project. It wasn’t just their knowledge that assisted us, but their ability to think outside of the box, and consider the unusual and unconventional ways to approach the deliverables for this unique program. Simply put, they needed to be quirky!

There were a lot of unknowns in the building of this house –  from how we could integrate into the local operator’s business and operating systems and avoiding significant upfront investment to ensuring we were compliant to local market regulatory policies. Importantly we also needed to ensure that whatever we built would support the business’ key goal in serving our customers in a new and differentiated way.

I can appreciate anyone who has worked in a start-up before will be thinking, ”well Nathan, as a start-up that’s pretty straight forward and common”. However, I would ask you to consider that this is a joint venture between two incumbents that were running successful businesses in a prescribed way for a long period of time with clear views on how they felt the business should be established. This isn’t in line with a common start-up model.

The approach we took therefore may have appeared normal for a tech start-up, but for two incumbents it was a leap of faith to change the approach in addressing these challenges, whist driving the outcome that would enable a new business to grow. It wasn’t possible to simply run through a check list – what we needed was people who would adapt to the changing landscape as we learned more about the market and business environment we were operating in, and challenge what was possible (or equally not viable) and what was needed to adapt to the needs of the local operator.

What was imperative in building this digital house was the need to change our way of thinking, focusing on quick outcomes in small steps, empowering our teams and accepting that failure could and would happen.  It is very easy to slip into an approach of “that’s what we have always done” as a reason as to why we shouldn’t try something different, I can’t count the number of people who were happy to tell us “that won’t work”, or “you can’t do it that way”.

This is where we get to the next critical factor - you need people that are committed, and almost stubborn, to ensure that they stay true to the journey that is being defined. You also need an understanding boss who will give you the flexibility to pull this together without losing faith in what we are able to achieve (thanks Boss!). There were times when we would question ourselves – “are we doing the right thing?”, and “should we back off and simply accept that near enough is good enough”. I am glad we didn’t as the outcomes we have started to realise are down to that commitment to the goal.

Equally, the team knew we would not make all the right bets to address both our current and future requirements. As such, we needed to make sure that we had some flexibility moving forward. By taking a cloud platform approach to all the technologies that we introduced offered us the flexibility to evaluate functionality, without feeling we were committed to the tools that we were using in the long term. Yes, there would be a revised integration effort if we changed out an element of our architecture. However, that was better than being stuck with a physical platform for five to seven years that we would have to keep customising to the point that it could no longer be changed out without a complete new build.

 The cloud approach has also meant that our costs for the platforms are directly correlated with the growth of the business. Yes, there is a case of initial capacity, however this is minor compared with the scale we can grow these platforms to as demand increases. Lastly, the hybrid nature of our cloud environment, which extends from Indonesia across international markets, ensures that we can be compliant to evolving regulatory requirements in Indonesia whilst leveraging the benefits of different cloud platforms.

Another key aspect has been the way that we have engaged our suppliers. Every conversation has started with, “how do you interface into other systems?”, “what use cases can you share about that integration”, and “what best practices have driven the development of your systems?” The reasons for these questions were because we knew that to maximise the value of the technology we were using, it was more important to have systems that would naturally talk to each other and had done so before, versus our own team having to build a system to translate between two systems – as if we were trying to help translate between two completely different languages.

To this end, it became clear to us we were building a “digital ecosystem” or a collection of technology partners that would need to interoperate to ensure we could serve our customers in a valued and differentiated way. This ecosystem may evolve over time as we find different technologies that will help us serve more effectively in the future. Fortunately, by remaining true to the approach the team has taken, will help to ensure all new members of the ecosystem understand the requirement for interoperability.

We have now established a Service Provider in Indonesia with no network assets, nor any voice infrastructure. Admittedly, we have had to build a private cloud to meet local market criteria, however the majority of our technology is cloud based. We are developing a culture where the teams succeed or fail together, and where we do fail, we fail fast, dust ourselves off, understand why we fail and then move forward again – but always as one team.

We are also now serving customers and gearing up to expand our portfolio, but the house is clearly built. To that end, in building our digital house; the operating license is our foundation, our walls are the tools, platforms and processes we have created, the roof is the governance we use to always make sure there are no leaks in what we have built, the windows our experience centre to show customers a view of what we can provide, and the interfaces connecting our systems together is the cabling. We can now see where we need to improve the house - where the walls need finishing and where the roof needs to be maintained, but none the less we now have a house!

However, our digital house is still just a shell. It’s the people who work in it that are making the digital house our digital home, and ultimately will be the ones who welcome our customers and partners in as we seek to change the customer experience and serve the Indonesian market with our version of kopi and thee.

This article is dedicated to the Implementation team from the past year that had the patience to work with us, the passion to drive us to complete our goals and never accept near enough as good enough. We recognized that this success will always be bigger than any one person and that we all should reflect on the role we played in realising the building of this house. I would especially like to thank the team for putting up with my crazy ideas, passionate discussions and occasional singing in the corridor!


Pollyanna Lenkic said...

Congratulations Nathan, your house had a great team of dedicated and very skilled architects, designers and builders. Congratulations to all of you, enjoy the housewarming

Ewan Belsey said...

Great article Nathan. A very interesting read. Thanks for sharing the experience. Testament to every great team and their success is their leader. So congrats and can't wait to read more.

Genix Asia Pacific said...

Well Done Nathan, a great team effort ! now lets put the first coat of paint on the inside of the house by 'training the team' through to proficieny, Genix is standing by to support team telkomtelstra !