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Look Inside T-Mobile's 'Uncarrier' Transformation

Sarah Thomas
10/31/2013
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SAN JOSE -- Digital Disruption -- T-Mobile has its vocal CEO John Legere to thank for its new attitude and marketing tactics, but the unsung hero of the uncarrier's transformation is actually inside the company: the IT department.

The Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) changes T-Mobile US Inc. had to make were immense, as Melissa French, T-Mobile's director of IT marketing solutions, explained to Digital Disruption attendees here this week. That's mainly because they were starting from a place of complete disarray owing to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s failed takeover attempt in 2011. (See AT&T Drops Bid to Acquire T-Mobile.)

T-Mobile had the highest churn in the industry, and it wasn't attracting high-value customers. According to French, behind the scenes, it also had low employee morale and high turnover. The carrier was operating six major IT systems and a variety of shadow IT apps. It took six to 18 months to launch a new campaign and, since it didn't have the right employees, it would bring in contractors that took three months to get up to speed.

"Our methodologies were broken and our technology and people were not in a framework to be successful," French explained.

Then, John Legere came on board in September of 2012 donning a magenta superhero cape (at least how French made it seem) and radical ideas for change within T-Mobile. Everyone knows what came next: the Uncarrier strategy. (See T-Mobile's New CEO to Lead Challenger Strategy.)

As she described it, the Uncarrier strategy has so far has had four iterations:

Inside the Uncarrier
The Uncarrier strategy may have bolstered T-Mobile's image with consumers, but it caused a lot of problems on the backend, French said. She brought in Deloitte Consulting, which introduced guiding principles to T-Mobile as it undertook dramatic changes. These included to keep it simple, don't over-architect, and utilize inherent capabilities, according to Angel Vaccaro, principal for Deloitte Consulting.

A big part of T-Mobile's SPIT transformation necessitated bringing the IT department much closer to the business department. Rather than explain that they changed the backend to a service layer with APIs (which they did), they told the business team, "making this change will add one week of training. Is that okay?"

"Our job as consultants was to go to [the business team]," French said. "We understand where the bleeding edge is and what the benefits are, but in the end the business has to make the decision on how much risk, investment, and the time to market they want."

They also brought all their data into one place, including web, social media, network, and customer data. French said they don't have all the data they need -- for example, they only know 0.06 percent of their customers' Twitter handles -- but it's an ongoing process. And, as they add more data, it'll all goes into one common data-landing zone.

T-Mobile also tapped Deloitte's pre-configured SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP) management solution to converge its six CRM systems into one. But, French also made sure they had an out by keeping its old system up and running. She said she wouldn't contaminate the old system by integrating it with the new.

The result of T-Mobile's internal changes, according to the two women, include more empowered, engaged team members with more accountability, more work happening between the IT and business teams, reduced manual processes and work flow steps, and lower opex and costs to serve customers and generate customer loyalty.

"This project takes a lot of empathy and compassion for business users and IT," French said. "This is very hard… It's about getting the right software built that meets the right business needs with a quality bar that's been decided."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
11/4/2013 | 10:55:43 AM
Glitch in the system
Things don't always go right when you are making changes as big as these and as quickly. For example, a glitch, or "executional mistake" as it called it, in T-Mobile's system forced new customers to sign up for a $10 on-demand data plan for tablet purchases, which wasn't the promise with its free data offer. T-Mobile says it fixed the mistake, but shows how tricky back-office transformations can be.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
11/1/2013 | 11:41:44 AM
Re: List of to-dos...
Yeah, the IT talking the same language as business was kinda funny, but definitely necessary. Even when you call a help desk, they often talk you through all the behind-the-scenes issues in what seems like a different langauge, but you just want to know what it means for you and the bottom line. Both sides need to have some view into what the other does, but it helps to speak a common langauge.
F,Alpizar
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F,Alpizar,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/31/2013 | 11:55:05 PM
List of to-dos...
Seems that they had a lot of work, done to the right direction.  All carriers have the same issues, and it's a nice list of to-dos:  

- Talk the same language of the businessmen

- Bring all your data to the same place.

- Keep a fallback strategy

- Empower your people

And a great one... compassion for bussiness users... something not common in IT.
milan03
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milan03,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/31/2013 | 12:25:11 PM
Re: the legacy question
indeed! Sprint had a year LTE head start on T-Mobile, but with their poor backhaul peak speeds are suffering.

T-Mobile on the other hand has fiber to 99% of their sites, but in many cases they underprovision their backhaul which is the gating factor especially in 10Mhz FDD LTE markets.
Liz Greenberg
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Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/31/2013 | 12:07:16 PM
Just what the customer ordered
I think that Legere et al are brilliant.  The "uncarrier" is not only a great marketing feat but also takes into account the frustration felt by many wireless customers who feel tied down and hamstrung by wireless companies and their artificial constraints.  It reminds me of the late 1970's and early 1980's when MCI and others encroached on long-distance and forced the then AT&T to make changes.  Disruption can be very good.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/31/2013 | 11:19:26 AM
John Legere,
Journalists love John Legere not just because he is a quote machine, but also because he enables the "people stories" we all love to write, like this one: http://mobile.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-31/t-mobiles-john-legere-trashes-the-wireless-business-model
DanJones
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DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
10/31/2013 | 11:00:34 AM
Re: the legacy question
The LTE network has also been pretty speedy too. Remember Sprint started *before* T-Mobile.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/31/2013 | 10:47:42 AM
Re: the legacy question
Yeah, I bet so, and they really did move pretty fast once Legere came on board, so they probably couldn't afford to rip out the old system so quickly.
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
10/31/2013 | 10:21:47 AM
Re: the legacy question
I wonder if they looked at the OSS migration troubles other carriers have had that led to customer experience disasters, like indie telco FairPoint's problems as it tried to absorb the Verizon properties is acquired several years ago. Totally different issue there, I know, but highlights whi a safety net might be necessary at least in the short term.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/31/2013 | 10:09:12 AM
the legacy question
I thought it was interesting that T-Mobile decided to keep its legacy systems on standby in case the new systems didn't work out. The topic of how to address legacy came up a lot at the show -- do you integrate with it, replace it entirely, or operate both? T-Mobile's decision seems smart because an entirely new system was needed, but it also seems like the expensive route to go to maintain both.
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