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Vodafone NZ spies opportunity in partnerships and the rise of public cloud

The rise of public cloud is erasing its rivals' infrastructure advantages, says Vodafone
  • Rob O'Neill (New Zealand Reseller News)
  • 29 October, 2020 15:00
Murray Osborne (Vodafone NZ)

Murray Osborne (Vodafone NZ)

Vodafone NZ has always stuck pretty close to its telco knitting, unlike arch-rival Spark, which has built strong businesses in ICT, but that could be about to change.

Where Spark built a substantial base of ICT infrastructure through its buyouts of datacentre and services providers Revera, CCL and others, Vodafone NZ is banking on the rise of public cloud — and the arrival of global public cloud players in the local market — to nullify its rivals' infrastructure advantages.

It also seems possible that Vodafone would seek acquisitions of its own, too, to supercharge its drive into cloud services.

Vodafone NZ's strongest current ICT businesses - unified communications and contact centre technology and consulting - is still not that far from its telco core. But the shift to the so called modern workplace, is creating large new opportunities.

That will remain part of the foundation of the company's future public cloud business, said head of cloud and partners Murray Osborne, but it has been joined by three other pillars: cloud, security and IoT.

Osborne, now an 11-year Vodafone veteran who joined the company to manage public sector and enterprise clients, has been instrumental in moving government agencies to the all-of-government telecommunications-as-a-service (TaaS) platforms.

That prompted the company to analyse the other ICT services adjacencies available to it and where it made sense for Vodafone NZ to play.

"It was pretty clear, even in the public sector, that while we'd done a reasonable good job to move customers across to the TaaS platforms, it was quite limiting in terms of what you can do adding new products and services," Osborne said.

"There were a lot of customers talking about cloud and what have you and we were pretty much not in the conversation."

That led to the creation of a cloud and partners team and a recognition that Vodafone NZ was going to have to partner rather than build to make the most of emerging public cloud opportunities.

The first cab off the rank was managed security, in partnership with Telstra, and building a security operations centre (SOC) and security incident and event management (SIEM) capability, initially again for government clients.

That white labelled service lifted awareness at the executive level that there were other options than Vodafone building everything itself.

The fact the service was hooked up to both Telstra's network in Australia and Vodafone's globally also delivered a vast level of threat intelligence that customers might not receive if they implemented a SOC or SIEM themselves.

Osborne said the acquisition of TelstraClear by Vodafone in 2012 gave it "total telco" breadth and depth at the top end of town but less so at the mid-tier corporate level, not helped by separate billing systems in use for a period after the buyout.

"One of the advantages that Vodafone has in this new world is we don't have a lot of legacy ICT that we are trying to protect," Osborne said. "We definitely don't have datacentres or old-style desktop management practices or procedures."

That leaves Vodafone unencumbered, able to focus on reinvention and disruption in the ICT space at a time when core telco revenues are in decline.

"If we focus only on that space then we are effectively only able to affect the rate of decline," Osborne said.

Cloud creates a future way of working that is core to Vodafone's strategy, especially since mobility is an integral part of that mix.

"Even before COVID we've always been very flexible in terms of our work practices and the technology that allows us to work from home," Osborne said.

That was not necessarily the case for other large organisations, especially in government.

Microsoft cloud-based productivity suites and tools are central to the mix, driving back into Vodafone NZ's core mobile capabilities. On top of that is a partnership with CoreView to help optimise the use and licensing of those Microsoft environments and tools.

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Indeed, Vodafone NZ's experience with, and knowledge of, flexible working is now considered a differentiator, Osborne said. It is part of the company's DNA that COVID-19 stressed tested "at scale".

"We believe that as an organisation we have some fairly unique assets about how we do that and we've been doing that for a long time." 

Where many organisations think they have the technology side of remote working sorted, they still struggle with the culture of it and with internal communications, he said.

If the client company isn't even in the cloud, Vodafone NZ has partners such as The Instillery or Umbrellar to help with that with the ability to be the prime contractor if required or appropriate.

That decision is often driven by who has the existing relationship with project governance then layered over the top.

In the short term, selling cloud migration directly was probably too hard, Osborne said.

"It's too much complexity. It's easy to say 'let's migrate to the cloud' but there's more too it than that."

The technology pieces that drive delivery is where partners can be brought in, around Microsoft or AWS or other technologies.

The creation of the partnerships team within Vodafone was a sign that Vodafone is taking that side of the business more seriously and looking for stronger and less opportunistic relationships.

Ingram Micro is another key partner of Vodafone, allowing it to provide any type of equipment to a customer through Vodafone Procurement Services.

"The view here is that the only way we are going to be able to really drive into any of these spaces, and logically why wouldn't we, is to really drive a partner model," Osborne said.

That has become a full-time focus, working with the practices to understand who those partners are and how they fit into Vodafone's story.

Vodafone is now looking to grow into its four pillars in a "more connected and more structured way", Osborne said.

The new ownership has also helped create a different, more entrepreneurial conversation at the top management and board level and helped create an environment where investment is possible.

It has also helped create direct local relationships with the likes of Microsoft where previously this would have been held at the Vodafone Group level.

"There's been quite a lot of bridge building over the last 12 to 18 months to try and build our own capability in New Zealand.

While those relationships with key vendors are building, go-to-market partnerships still require more work. Vodafone NZ is taking some lessons on that out of Vodafone Ireland, due to the similar scale of both markets.

One existing partner is Noel Leeming, which bought McLean Technology in 2013. That unit provides ICT services to small-medium businesses and now sells Vodafone's core telco services.

Osborne said the strategy scales from an organisation as large as Inland Revenue, for example, to a company with 10 employees.

"The difference is going to be how we execute in the different market sizes - what you do at the top end of town versus what you do in the SMB space. We have plans for that as well. We're pretty excited."

Another area of focus is software defined networks, cloud architected networks, 5G and edge computing.

"We've got some pretty clear views about what we are going to do in that space," Osborne said.