Project Management: AT&T Wireless Self-Destructs

By Christopher Koch
Thu, April 15, 2004
Page 4

In the spring of 2003, the company decided to upgrade to version 7.5 for the roughly 3 million customers on the GSM and general packet radio service (the data portion of the new network). TDMA customers would continue to be serviced through AT&T Wireless’s legacy Axys CRM system until they could be moved over to GSM and the new Siebel system. The project was called Odyssey.

The Upgrade Begins, Badly

Though the upgrade promised gains in speed and simplicity, getting there was neither speedy nor simple. AT&T Wireless’s IT staff had to rip apart old links from the different legacy systems to the client/server-based Siebel 6 system and rewrite them to work over the Web. The back-end systems-integration work was so complex that it wasn’t unusual to see teams of 20 or more people assigned to write connections for a single system, says a former employee. Coordination between the teams-the responsibility of the lead integrator on the project, Deloitte and Touche-quickly got out of hand. (Deloitte and Touche did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.)

"Everything was siloed among the different groups, and we all worked independently of each other," says a project team member. Teams would work on a revision to their piece of Odyssey, for example, only to find that when they finished testing, code had changed elsewhere in the system, rendering the testing meaningless. "In other projects I’ve worked on, the project managers would freeze code while the teams did revisions to their pieces so you could test everything against the same code base," he says. "I didn’t hear of that happening on this project."

Meanwhile, rumors of layoffs and offshore outsourcing began swirling around Odyssey. "[The rumors] slowed things down," says a former employee. "When stuff like that happens, people start looking for other work. I know I was looking for other work when I should have been testing."

Meet the New Boss

On April 10, 2003, Mike Benson, a 15-year AT&T veteran, sent a memo to employees announcing that he was leaving after three years as CIO. AT&T Wireless’s Siegel says the 48-year-old Benson "decided to retire." Christopher Corrado, the head of the security solutions practice for Wipro, an Indian offshore outsourcing company, was named executive vice president and CIO. Before joining AT&T Wireless, Corrado had been CTO at two divisions of Merrill Lynch, where he presided over the offshore outsourcing of portions of Merrill Lynch’s IT. Employees speculated that it was just a matter of time before offshoring began at AT&T Wireless.

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