05 Jan New CEO at TDS on creating a culture of innovation (Part 2)
In Part one of our exclusive interview with new TDS Telecom CEO Dave Wittwer, he addressed the role information technology will play in transforming TDS from a phone company to a broadband provider. In this second part of the interview, he addresses the need to drive innovation, and explains why every TDS employee has a role to play in the innovation process. (Read part one)
WTN: How would you describe your approach to driving the innovation process within TDS?
Wittwer: It can’t be a program du jour. We, like most companies, have struggled with making it stick. We have recently reorganized, and a critical reason for the reorganization was to move from a geographically based structure to a process or function-based structure. We wanted there to be somebody who is responsible for processes at a level below the CEO who can really say, “How can I make improvements in this area?”
Just to use field technicians as an example, the people who are out maintaining the equipment were part of multiple geographic locations. It was very difficult to focus on process improvement, where you create cross-functional teams. It just didn’t stick like a structure that we have now, where we have a single person who is responsible for those field service technicians who is saying, “How do I improve that? How do I measure that? How do I make that better?’”
You need to make sure that you redefine what you’re measuring and rewarding. You need to make sure everybody understands that process improvement is part of their role. We used to have a group that was a general business improvement team, and we have redeployed that business improvement team into the various functions now to make it part and parcel to that group’s responsibility. So there is no organizational confusion about who is responsible for making those improvements.
At the other end, you just need to constantly drive the culture to encourage people to share ideas about process improvement. You can’t just simply say, “Work harder, work faster.” I think that tends to be a mistake. You need to make sure that people think about, “How can I modify this process? How can I be innovative? And oh, by the way, what can that save me once I do that?” You’ve got to have them in that order.
WTN: Who serves as the sounding board for these ideas and who is responsible for the development of them?
Wittwer: We have a small committee [the Service and Technology Council] right now that is ultimately responsible for approving ideas, and it’s just to make sure an idea has resources, it gets funded and, if there are IT implications, that everybody is aligned. Sometimes, if you’ve got a really good idea, it needs to bump something else that is already underway.
That makes sure that good ideas are properly resourced, and then we have an enterprise project management office that manages all the projects to make sure they stay on path, that they stay on budget. The worst thing you could do is have a lot of great ideas and you’re not properly funding them, you’re not making sure they are getting done on time and on budget, and they are not delivering the results that you wanted to have.
WTN: Can you give me an example of an idea that turned into a process improvement as a result of the new approach to innovation you’re taking?
Wittwer: Many of our service reps are working in a number of systems when they are serving the customer, so multiple clicks, multiple screens, which obviously increases the amount of time they have to spend with the customer, but also doesn’t make that a very fulfilling experience for the customer. Although we want people to spend as much time with customers as we can, clicking through screens isn’t an effective way of doing that.
So this application that we are going to be implementing will allow a service representative to enter information into one spot, and then it will populate other areas that are in disparate systems automatically. When somebody went out and was actually observing the customer service rep in their role, they came back and said, “Wow! They are in all these different applications at a time, and they are ending up putting the same information in multiple places. Let’s figure out a better way to do that.”
That process came to this committee [the Service and Technology Council] for funding, it had a business case that made sense, we approved it, the application was purchased, the Enterprise Project Management Office managed the implementation, and that’s how it goes.
WTN: What are the key IT initiatives at TDS, and how do they fit into your overall business strategy?
Wittwer: There are a few of them. One is that we’re very focused on simplifying the IT environment that we operate in today. If you think in Stephen Covey’s seven habits terms, it’s that quadrant that’s not urgent but very important. Take some time and say, “I really need to focus on a long-range plan. I need to think about simplifying the environment that I’m in.” We have a very clear IT initiative around that.
Another key initiative that we have centers on this concept that we have called “Help the Rep,” and it’s the customer service representative, that front-line agent that’s serving the customer, whether they are in sales or collections or repair or customer billing inquiry. How do we help them?
Another part of the overall function is under [CIO] Leslie Hearn’s leadership. We’ve implemented creating an IT blueprint, a long-range plan that helps everyone in the organization understand how our IT applications morph over time – understanding that they will change and that there will be adjustments, but really moving the IT planning much farther out in terms of timelines than we’ve historically seen.
Sometimes IT shops tend to be relatively short-sighted, and this is trying to say that this is where we need the business need to be, which again ties into the strategy, and then what’s going to have to happen to our IT applications in order to meet those business needs. And how quickly do we need to do that?
The real advantage is that as people are working on discreet projects, they are part of a larger program. They see what the end is going to be. Therefore you may have a relatively simple application, and you understand it’s in place just to bridge a gap to a different end state, as opposed to that particular application getting a life of its own.
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