03 Jan New CEO at TDS on tech innovation and leadership (Part 1)
TDS Telecom is in the middle of two transitions; one in leadership, the other in mission. David Wittwer, the new CEO, will play a critical role in both. Wittwer, who officially succeeded James Barr on New Year’s Day, will preside over the remainder of the company’s transformation from a phone company to a broadband provider.
WTN Media interviewed Wittwer about the leadership transition. In part one, he explains the role information technology will play in the TDS transformation, and how CIOs can gain credibility in the boardroom.
David Wittwer is also a featured speaker at the Fusion 2007 CEO-CIO Symposium.
In part two, Wittwer will explain how TDS works to develop a culture of innovation.
WTN: How will information technology help TDS make the transformation from a phone company to a broadband company?
Wittwer: When you think about transforming the company from a phone company to a broadband company, obviously everything becomes much more IP-based than it is today. The digital switching technology that has been used in the telephone industry for many, many years has really been computer based, but the reality is that our IT infrastructure… stopped there. It didn’t permeate that part of our world, even though those digital switches were fundamentally computer based. IT didn’t go that far.
One of the key ways that IT is going to make a difference is that it will allow us to better provision those services with less human intervention, much more from the standpoint of giving customers access from the web or whatever source they elect, to create a seamless transition. So what it’s really going to do is open up IT to not just be the billing function, or not just be something that supports the employees within the company, but will really allow the customer to be able to make changes to their services, to add services, to delete services, to change services.
WTN: Can you tie it into specific examples from a service standpoint?
Wittwer: There is just going to be a myriad of different types of services that IT will touch, and part of it will be making all of the much more complex services work seamlessly. Telecom is going to be less about creating that next killer application, but taking disparate applications or disparate functions and making them all work seamlessly in the eyes of the customer because the customer wants it to be simple, will want it to work every time.
One of the innovative things we’ll be doing from an IT perspective is enabling applications that will go out and, using some inference logic about other customers in the area, predict whether or not a customer will be able to get a service so that we can expedite the provisioning.
Rather than a traditional process, where we wait until the technician can go out and test whether or not the customer can get the service, the customer service representative or the customer is going to be able to determine that this is the equipment, here is a neighbor who has this speed, and therefore we can assume with some level of accuracy that you will be able to get that, too.
So it reduces cycle time, obviously increases customer satisfaction, and it reduces cost.
WTN: Now that you officially have become CEO, how will the CEO-CIO relationship evolve at TDS?
Wittwer: I, just like my predecessor, understand the value of IT and what it brings. So we understand, I understand that IT is not a back-office function. It’s a critical part of the business and a critical part of the business process.
WTN: What does a CIO have to demonstrate to the CEO in order to earn a seat in the boardroom and gain credibility with directors?
Wittwer: Oftentimes we say that IT professionals need to understand the business, and that’s always going to be true. The way to earn a seat, to use that term, is to be proactive in improving the business, not reactive to change that the business unit or the business wants. When CIOs become effective is when they understand the business, and they proactively are producing solutions and technology and approaches to fixing business problems. That they are part of the solution as opposed to waiting for an order.
The other part that makes them effective is being able to help the organization understand its risk profile because some CIO organizations tend to have one way, a standard, and there is no discussion around, “Here are the risks of doing it differently than that.” I think an effective CIO will be able to say, “Here is a solution, and it has this risk profile. Here is another solution, and it has this risk profile, and here is another solution, and it has this risk profile. Here’s the one that I recommend, and here’s why.” Allow the organization to manage it just like it manages any other business decision.
WTN: We asked about how IT will help make the transformation from a phone company to a broadband company, but we didn’t really talk about your vision for that transformation.
Wittwer: We want to be that preferred broadband provider. We have an infrastructure that we believe is great for providing that. So with that in mind, becoming a broadband company would say that when customers are in our territory, they seek us out to be the company that they are going to get broadband connectivity from.
We will offer products and services that will ride on that broadband connection. Many of those products and services we don’t even see today. I think voice services that we know today will be an application that will ride on that broadband network. Video entertainment, whether it’s broadcast TV or whatever form, will be an application that will ride on that broadband network.
What that means from a company perspective is we’ll really turn the organization around and say historically, a telephone company is focused on, “I’m going to sell the customer voice services, and then I’m going to add data services on top of that.” And you really need to turn that around and say, “I want to sell that customer broadband services and I want to add voice services on top.”
There certainly will be some that we believe we can create, but much of it will be things that we will partner on, and that model will continue to morph and change over time.
I think the part that won’t change is that getting a robust broadband connection into consumers and commercial accounts, the applications will start springing up from all over the place. It’s just in ways that we don’t even see today.
• James Barr III: No time for evolution in telecommunications
• CIO Leadership Series: Leslie Hearn, TDS Telecom