by Mark Chillingworth

CIO Profile: Vodafone’s Albert Hitchcock on new procurement models

Mar 21, 20125 mins
CareersCloud ComputingIT Strategy

See also: Vodafone CIO Albert Hitchcock on global IT

VodafoneGroup Services CIO Albert Hitchcock has overseen a global IT rationalisation program that is leading to the adoption of cloud and hence, new procurement models.

“We had datacentres in every market, now we have just five: three in Europe, one in South Africa and one in India. The entire estate has been virtualised so that 88 per cent of our computing can sit in these five locations.”

The major VMware-based virtualisation has created an internal cloud environment for Vodafone that has consolidated infrastructure, networks and a lot of security control.

“Now we are the application layer and it’s the most complex as that is touching business processes,” he says.

A single instance of SAP across the firm will be completed in 2012, delivering company a single set of finance books, HR and supply chain processes supporting central functions and local markets.

“We have taken a design-once, develop-once and deploy-many approach,” says Hitchcock of the domain-based strategy.

“The efficiency you get is that there is a lot less development time, no duplication and a more efficient support model for the business, so we can get to markets faster,” he says. “The benefits of the domain model is you get massive scale.”

CRM and billing on a new Oracle platform have already been through the domain exercise.

“Every part of IT is changing this year and by 2013 the IT opex of Vodafone will be lower, as we decommission large parts of our legacy IT estate,” he says.

“In high-growth markets like India we have to move very fast to get things deployed, but at the same time I don’t want to be creating legacy, so with standardisation we will be more agile and lean,” he says.

Hitchcock believes the reduced opex will free up capex to fund more transformation. Beneficiaries he says will be customers and shareholders.

“IT is a leading the changes in process, structure and technology that is focused on the customer.”

Each local Vodafone operation has a CIO, with the CIOs reporting to the local business as well as to Hitchcock. There are 21 CIOs organised by region. Just as the technology approach at Vodafone has adapted, so too have the CIOs within the organisation.

“It’s an evolving journey and now we run as an integrated team. Some of the CIOs propose their own global initiatives and that works really well. For example our Portuguese operation did self-care services really well and that is now a group standard. Changes in the CIOs have seen people with international experience join the organisation. Now it is not a group of fiefdoms.”

With India playing a pivotal role in the Vodafone story, the nation hosts a shared services centre for IT, back office and support, with operations in Egypt and Hungary also significant in the operations.

Cool customer Hitchcock is one of the few CIOs this title has met that recognises the cost of the power that his operations consume and as a result the IT leader has begun to tackle it, just as energy costs rocket higher than a teenager’s mobile phone bill.

“Our datacentres run at 28 degrees so we are cooling less. In Ireland we are using a cool aisle strategy rather than cooling the entire datacentre. We are looking at how we can take the datacentre power levels much lower and working with the vendors on this,” he says.

As a network provider with – as Hitchcock puts it – mobile in its DNA, the discussion has to include consumerisation of technology and the progress towards 4G networks as smartphones and tablet devices become increasingly prevalent not only in the enterprise, but on the streets too.

Hitchcock doesn’t pour cold water on consumerisation – after all its network firms that are more likely to drive consumerisation than hardware vendors – but he does defend the analytical and cautious stance his CIO peers are taking to consumerisation.

“We sell all these products and the expectation of users is that it works seamlessly. But in truth there is a lot engineering behind the adoption.

“We have tried to give our employees the same experience as consumers, and workers do join video conferences on their laptops and tablets. We are a huge user of video and it is really helpful as it has slashed our travel bill as most meetings are now via video. But in the PC environment we are still very prescriptive.

“As CIOs the challenge is how you partition the enterprise data with the employee’s data. We are a little bit more conservative and have a strong need to protect customer data. I see over time a virtualised image of enterprise applications on consumer devices and I think that will be credible, but that is at least 18 to 24 months away and it will depend on the cloud environment in your organisation.”

Travel time Hitchcock’s global role calls for a gruelling travel schedule and he is clear that the fun has long gone from travel, but the unified vision of how to use technology to make the technological experience of communicating better certainly inspires Hitchcock enough to put up with airports, delays and time zones.

The CIO is like his employers: still young in attitude, but clearly established and looking ahead at the big picture.

When he can escape the Vodafone Newbury campus and airports Hitchcock’s passion again suits his employers well: he’s a passionate car enthusiast, and no doubt enjoys the close relationship Vodafone has forged with the McLaren F1 team.