Celcom is the oldest cellular provider in Malaysia and, until 2006, it was also the largest. That year, it dropped to number three and posted a loss. Since then, Celcom officials have turned the company around -- and regained the top spot in the market -- with what Suresh Sidhu, chief corporate and operations officer, calls "a steady but slightly radical transformation." Its makeover included hiring a new CEO, changing the corporate culture and diving into an Oracle implementation to revamp the way Celcom manages the customer experience.
The Oracle project is due to be completed in April and will have taken only 18 months from start to finish. The initiative has involved a thorough overhaul of the technology underpinning Celcom's business processes, with a primary focus on improving the company's customer experience management operations. That was seen as a must for an organization with 14 million customers who have a total of 40 million lines and run the gamut from 2G users in rural Borneo to LTE users in Kuala Lumpur.
The number-one item for creating a context for change was very good alignment with the business.
In an interview at the 2014 Oracle Industry Connect conference in Boston, Sidhu said that Celcom's customer base is evolving "in slightly different directions." On the one hand, he said, the company serves a population that is "becoming more urban, sophisticated [and] technology-centric." On the other, it has to meet the connectivity needs of customers who are "still relatively rural and much more focused on agriculture."
Celcom, which was not an existing Oracle customer, chose the software vendor as its primary technology provider for the new customer experience management system. It also signed on consulting services provider Accenture to manage the implementation and EMC to provide storage technology. In addition, it brought in BT Group as its infrastructure services partner to assist with network deployment and optimization as well as systems integration and to provide ongoing network support.
Three priorities on software selection
When deciding which companies to work with, Celcom had three top criteria, according to Sidhu. The technology evaluation and selection team was looking for the company with the most complete suite and the strongest capabilities out-of-the-box. It was also important that the system be able to support multichannel and cross-channel marketing efforts. Oracle scored well in all three categories, especially working well out-of-the-box, he said. And as a business partner of Vodafone Group PLC, Celcom was also influenced by the fact that the U.K.-based mobile carrier was moving more and more into the Oracle stack.
Once the technology decisions were made, Celcom rolled up its sleeves and got to work. "We set out to do things really quickly," Sidhu said. As part of the Oracle implementation, the company has set up new customer portal sites and retail stores; it also installed a Siebel call center system as well as Oracle's inventory management and Communications Order and Service Management applications.
Celcom got the entire technology stack up and running for its 10 million prepaid customers within nine months, cutting them over to the new system in stages during the final four months. Now the company is in preproduction on the module for its 3 million customers with monthly service contracts; it plans to cut over the last group of them in mid-April. In the final phase of the project, Celcom will finish replacing 17 separate systems with one seven-module Oracle system.
Over the course of the Oracle implementation, Celcom officials made some conscious choices aimed at making all of their employees more invested in the project. "The number-one item for creating a context for change was very good alignment with the business," Sidhu said. Technology selection committees were chaired by sales and marketing representatives, which involved them from the beginning and ensured that people outside of IT were making the case for the project.
Advocating for the business
The company also enlisted project directors from both the business and IT sides and assigned 100 employees to the Oracle project full-time. Among them was a group of "business advocates" charged with championing the causes most important to the business side.
"I think having the business advocate team really makes a difference," Sidhu said. "They speak for the business." Also, with their connections to business departments, they've been able to streamline the process of requesting funding for the initiative and getting project plans and specifications reviewed and signed off on.
To help employees engage more fully with the implementation, Celcom also rebranded telecom industry technical terms with names that nontechnical personnel could understand. For instance, business support systems, which include the applications that telcos use to run their customer-facing business operations, were renamed the Best Sales and Services platform. The BSS acronym remained the same, but the new meaning was intended to better convey exactly what Celcom wanted from the project. It also defined the key objectives of the Oracle project in easy-to-understand language.
In addition, Celcom brought in Oracle consultants to function as outside observers. Their role, he explained, was project governance -- essentially, to help Celcom's project managers document all of the technology that was being deployed "and understand from an architectural point of view, for example, whether an integration that was proposed by Accenture was appropriate." And if parts of the plan didn't mesh with common Oracle approaches or best practices, he said, the consultants could weigh in on whether there were "acceptable reasons for these things."
To get an Oracle implementation of this size to work, Sidhu also recommended that senior executives take the time to meet with their counterparts at the technology vendor and whatever systems integrator is working on the project. At Celcom, top-tier executives also have devoted large amounts of time to the customer experience management project internally. Sidhu chairs a steering committee that meets every two weeks and also includes the company's chief sales officer and chief marketing officer. Their involvement "is an important element because there is a lot of sponsorship from them," he said. "People see that this is serious and that their boss takes it seriously."