Home / Venture  / Telco or transformer? Vodafone’s new weapon

Telco or transformer? Vodafone’s new weapon

Innovation means different things in different situations, from helping companies make more money here, to helping save lives in Africa. Leveraging its global networks, Vodafone Global Enterprise Limited has created the Enterprise Innovation programme, which engages businesses and organisations all over the world to see what sort of innovation can help them – and then makes it happen.

vodafone enterprise innovationSeventy-seven percent of the world’s population now have a mobile phone. In 2011, 48 million people used their mobile devices for accessing maps and US$5.4 billion of mobile coupons were issued. Tablet sales are going through the roof and touch screens are predicted to be a thing of the past as technology begins to recognise voice and faces.

But with Vodafone’s Enterprise Innovation programme now in its third year, it has found the best new opportunities for transformation are not always dependent on new, cutting-edge technology. They are in existing technology, applied in a radical new way – for example, text messaging.

 In Africa, malaria sufferers who had to walk miles to a clinic only to find medical supplies there had run out are now benefitting from a Vodafone-partnered app for clinics called SMS for life, which uses text messages from clinics to notify a network with levels of supplies and whether they need deliveries.

Over in the US, computer game-like design has been used to manage databases. A CEO of a mega-corp can use a bespoke dashboard app to instantly access every report, from dispute management to revenue, during a conversation in the elevator – all so intuitive to use because it looks like a computer game.

vodafone enterprise global innovation juan jose juanRather than ‘gadgeting’ – innovation for the sake of it – global head of Enterprise Innovation (aka Chief Troublemaker) Juan-Jose Juan says the programme is about fresh thinking to find opportunities that can transform the businesses of customers at local or global level.

The Silicon Valley-based group was formed after Vodafone grew from a communications provider to a massive communications-as-a-service company spanning more than 100 countries. As communications technology continues to change (for example, the rise of VoIP), Juan says it has become necessary for telcos to “think beyond the network”. This has created the perfect springboard for the Enterprise Innovation programme.

“The global deals and services are already there,” Juan says. “What we do [in the Enterprise Innovation programme] is replicate what we learn from the big customers – the Ciscos and Unilevers of the world – for our small customers, so there is a natural osmosis process.”

It works the other way too, he says. The uniqueness of New Zealand’s market means there’s much to learn from our well-developed tracking, machine-to-machine (M2M) and fixed mobile convergence, to spark innovation in the big companies.

michael poonan vodafoneMichael Poonan, Vodafone Solution Sales Specialist and Enterprise Mobility Lead (a.k.a. Mobility Evangelist) says a hot topic right now with some customers is mobile analytics, but with other customers it’s really quite simple – “they want us to help create a flexible mobile workplace in order to make better use of available technology.”

Juan’s November trip to New Zealand was for a number of engagements with customers: the Vodafone Expert series, forums and the Enterprise Innovation programme’s ultimate weapon – innovation workshops.

To spot new opportunities for innovation, half-day innovation workshops are held around the globe with existing customers to gain a complete understanding of that company’s priorities, ambition, and challenges as a business – especially those aligned with Vodafone’s own.  

“The aim is to identify future products and services in areas that aren’t yet fully developed or commercialised,” says head of business development, Becky Lloyd.

“What we do is understand what the future of the business of our customers looks like,” says Juan. “Transformation is the key objective here, and innovation is just the tool we use to find that business’ transformation.”

Vodafone is supplying the New Zealand Police with mobile services for 6,500 frontline officers, including the latest smartphones and 3,900 tablets, which officers on patrol use to run innovative applications on high-speed data, enabling information to become officer-centric and prevention-driven, rather than station-centric and response-driven. There’s also no need to return to the station for information processing. The mobile technology deployment is forecast to save the Police 520,000 hours each year and is regarded as such an innovative model that they’re off to London to present at an international policing conference. Vodafone has also set up a bespoke application development centre in co-operation with the New Zealand Police.

EROAD has also benefitted. It’s a technology company which specialises in wireless vehicle tolling and tracking using a combination of hardware, software and mobile data – basically, it can capture precise data on a vehicle’s location, speed, time and distance covered, to work out real Road User Charges and save on that cost. EROAD partnered with Vodafone to create its technology platform, with the continuous stream of data enabled via Vodafone’s mobile network. Vodafone has also ruggedised its global sims so they can be used in any temperatures – one use is embedding them into vehicle hub odometer tracking, so truck drivers cannot tamper with the odometer to lower road user charges.

vodafone smartpassSmartPass is another – a technology which lets retail customers make transactions using just their phone. “It’s going to transform the way people can use their smart devices – initially for payments, but ultimately for all sorts of rich and valuable experiences,” says Lloyd.  “It’s a great example of taking a technical innovation [Near Field Communication] and turning it into a really easy to use application that is relevant to everyday life, as well as being secure. Over time we’ll see more and more applications of this technology. Our job is to bring it to our customers in a simple and reliable way.”

And TomTom navigation devices. “TomTom had to change, because selling maps has no future,” says Juan. “They needed to provide a premium service that people would want to pay for – such as extremely accurate traffic information. We realised mobile phones, no matter what the model, are always talking to cellphone towers and change from tower to tower as they are moved. From this, you can extrapolate the average speed of cars to region and to the whole of Europe, connecting statistics from the Vodafone network in real time.”

The drug detection system MethMinder is an example of a small and smart Kiwi company using mobile data to create an innovative product. MethMinder detects methamphetamine (commonly known as P). If tenants create a P lab, landlords are left with toxic residues permeating their rental and a hefty clean-up fee. Methminder’s product is a chemical detector connected with remote monitoring technology that sends live data continuously, in a great example of machine-to-machine innovation, which is one of Vodafone’s areas of expertise.

The team hurries along the development with a ‘fail fast’ approach, as well as using and testing the product themselves during development to polish it. In total it takes a maximum of two months designing the concept, followed by one or two months testing the prototype.

“Deciding whether or not something will make it big is based on quick results,” says Juan. “Before, it would take 18-24 months to take a product to market, using the traditional telco model. By taking a ‘fail fast’ model, we move only impactful things to market.”

Vodafone’s innovation hero

Juan-Jose Juan is the mastermind of the innovation workshop model. A tall, dark, bearded Spaniard, he travels the world with a giant paella pan, cooking huge batches of the stuff in an apparent Silicon Valley way of business networking.

 A telecomms engineer by trade, he joined a local Spanish operator (which later became Vodafone) at a time when people were not necessarily expecting that mobile was going to be a big thing – the challenge was to find a way to make using a mobile phone something different than just using a fixed phone. But slowly, mobile became the thing to have.

Juan has played many roles from sales to product development within Vodafone, and with the changing nature of the industry, innovation has always been a massive part of it all. In the beginning, the innovations beyond voice were very basic things, like texting, and then only for consumers – there was no focus on business.

It’s a huge part now. Because telcos come from a traditional business setting with a network, Juan says, they have had to reinvent themselves with the changing times.

“The smartphones, the Androids, the Apples and the mobile apps are capturing more of the user’s attention now. So telcos have to think beyond just the network and the pure carrier experience – how you can be part of creating the customer experience? How can you make communications something intuitive and simple, whatever is involved behind them?”

He says telcos need to focus not just on mobile but on communications –  mobile, fixed, wifi and other technologies, blended together – and offer the whole package whether directly or by partnering with someone else.

“And the real challenge is how to make the whole thing so simple that it just happens seamlessly, so your business or your life can benefit from that,” he says.

For more examples of how Vodafone is transforming business see www.vodafone.co.nz/mobility

JJ’s List of Things Companies Need to Crack (and Vodafone can help)

1. Global flexibility. As a business expands out into the world, it becomes less flexible by definition. This presents a challenge because they then have lowered barriers to competition because small companies can come in with great technology but also flexibility. How do companies remain large but also nimble? They need to be able to access information where and when they need it, but the technology can’t be intimidating.

2. Usability. If systems and apps are too complicated, no-one uses them. But some things, such as Angry Birds, are very simple and intuitive. If we can attract corporates to use a system because it’s so simple, we solve the problem – so we employ game designers to design our interfaces.

3. Smart Data. Big Data as a term is not necessarily positive. Smart data is applying it to what you need and in real time, for you as a marketer. Real data in real time in the hands of the right people.

4. New business models. Not always new, such as Amazon. For example, the rental car industry – in the US, it’s no longer through a website. You go into the street, find a car, open it with your phone, drive it around and drop it. It’s real-time use of service. It’s possible because mobility has been applied to car, to create a flexible rent-when-you-need-it model. Another area set to boom is car insurance: paying insurance on how much and how well you drive by tracking your braking, acceleration and speed. M2M is important in this – the tracking and feedback is what creates this opportunity.

5. End user. These days they have a voice and they know what they want. Creating balance between something good for enterprise/corporations and something that attracts users.

6. Everything connected – machine-to-machine. We invented and patented the global sim so there’s no need to combine sims, which is a huge benefit for manufacturers. Now, Kindles outside the US all have a Vodafone global sim, without customers even having to know. BMWs, too – all those rolling out of the factory now have connectivity for customers, should they choose to use it in the future.

Review overview