Owning and operating networks in 26 countries, Vodafone Group lives up to its classification as a multinational telecommunications company. Among mobile operator groups globally, it is ranked fifth by revenue and second in the number of connections. For such a large organisation, achieving quality is a complex and commendable enterprise.
Following his presentation at The National Software Testing Conference in May 2016, Ajit Dhaliwal, Director, Head of Delivery, Release and Testing at Vodafone UK, sat down with the Editor of TEST Magazine Cecilia Rehn, to discuss career paths and how the importance of testing is being reinforced at the British multinational telecommunications company.
Tell us about yourself, and your path into testing?
Whenever I think to myself ‘What’s my profession?’, or ‘What’s my discipline?’, it always involves testing. It always has. I like to consider myself a career tester. I started my career in testing with Logica (now CGI) as a graduate software tester, having studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Brunel University. I started my first role in testing and worked on various secure sector projects but quickly realised I did not have the patience for testing and was more suited to management, so I progressed in my career through the ranks of testing. I have held various positions in testing which have mainly focused on Customer Relationship Management Enterprises for large-scale organisations, with a special focus on new greenfield transformational upgrades and implementations. I’ve been very privileged to work with some of the best FTSE organisations in the UK and help transform their businesses through new IT system transformations across digital, voice and assisted channels. Before joining Vodafone, I was the Head of Testing at BT Retail where I had the privilege to work on many leading programmes, including Digital Transformation and the launch of BT Sport!
My previous experience within this industry has provided me with the ability to shape testing and delivery organisations to cater for the needs of the business and telecommunications industry and focus on delivering excellent customer experience and value through testing.
What do you oversee at Vodafone?
At Vodafone I am responsible for Testing and IT Delivery, serving Vodafone UK. This covers our digital platforms, CRM, billing and business support systems across mobile and fixed line products. Very simply, I am responsible for quality! It’s 50% of my role. I’m also responsible for IT delivery, which is the other 50% of my role. I am also part of the UK leadership which helps me to shape strategy and influence commercial decisions.
My role sees me responsible for IT strategy, execution, and most importantly quality, through delivering excellent customer experience. I’m the one-stop shop for quality. I joined Vodafone in November 2015, so I’ve been in this position now for a year.
Have you witnessed change within the industry during this past year?
Vodafone UK went through a significant IT transformation programme. Moving away from a legacy CRM, to an industry first single Oracle stack. As with any major IT system and business transformation, there were a few issues along the way. Unfortunately, during the upgrade and subsequent customer migrations this lead to a few customer experience issues arising, which lead to customer dissatisfaction. However, I have been fortunate enough to help lead the recovery and drive up customer experience and NPS and bring back stability and service reliability.
Now that that’s all been done, effectively my remit is to cover the issues that have been caused by the transformation, drive up customer experience, drive up net promoter scores, and introduce a structured change process, so that the business can introduce and deliver change more frequently to respond to competition. Our aim is also to get changes delivered quicker, in order to improve customer experience, and just as importantly, employee experience, and then lastly, to launch products and services quicker to market. Introducing new practices such as agile and DevOps and increasing technical insourcing are all priorities prevalent in today’s climate.
How is the QA function set up at Vodafone? What changes have you made as UK Head of Delivery, Release and Testing? And why?
Our primary focus at Vodafone UK is delivering a first class customer experience and therefore testing is a key function within our IT department.
When I joined Vodafone, my priority was to reinforce the importance of testing and the value it brings in informing decisions on quality, delivery and vendor performance. As a team, we have worked hard to drive up testing maturity and standardise operations and reporting, investing heavily in test automation across BSS and Mobile using cloud based solutions as an example.
We also reformed and structured our testing engagements with our strategic partner Accenture in order to deliver improved valued and focussed outcomes to align to business priorities.
Another big shift was in the introduction of monthly releases – smaller, but more frequent changes to respond to business demand to increase agility, reduce concept to market time and improve throughput. This enables us to respond to market conditions quicker and help increase stability of the stack and improve experience for our customers and internal employees, particularly those in our front line: working in stores or in call centre operations.
We have also pushed hard on the insourcing of key technical roles to drive up quality, leadership, and to help with cost control and direction setting. A key attribute we needed in order to help IT steer its engagements and respond to business demands with individuals was to hire a team whom have the experience and depth to drive IT change and take accountability.
The insourcing of the technical roles – how has that recruitment drive been planned out, and how is that working?
We have brought in a range of people, it’s been quite a key point actually for what we’re trying to do at Vodafone, simply taking back the leadership decisions and bringing back key roles in-house, making people more accountable and giving that empowerment back to our staff. It’s been an important step towards our overall improvement as a department.
It isn’t necessarily important that potential employees have telecommunications experience. The key things we look for are people who have testing experience, and particularly people who have testing experience working with on and offshore teams. We look for people who have worked in multi-application environments, come from structured organisations and people who have passion!
I was fortunate enough to work for great IT leaders who helped coach and shape me into the person I am today. The qualities I role model are those I took from working with some of the UK’s best CIOs.
How is software quality changing in the telecoms sector? Are you looking to any other sectors for ideas/inspiration?
The telecoms sector is experiencing its biggest shake up and challenges in the UK since the privatisation of BT and auction of 3G. The Strategic Digital Review, regulation pressure from Ofcom and market consolidation brings about a whole host of challenges.
This is overlaid with economic and political instability – ultimately customers make decisions based on value, choice and customer experience.
Telecoms serve as a utility, i.e., fixed line or entertainment such as TV or music, which are served through mobile networks using vast amounts of data. All streamed to 5.5 inch devices!
The key to how a consumer makes a decision is based on value or content – it is therefore critical that organisations remain focused on the quality and ease of use of their products and services, and that the time to market is rapid in order to keep up with market trends and apps – which are released weekly!
In your presentation at The National Software Testing Conference in May, you talked about maintaining the importance of quality assurance and testing independence whilst driving for cost efficiencies – tell us more?
I am a big believer in testing departments and the fact that testing teams can provide informed decisions on whether you go live with a capability, if it’s reached the right test criteria, and whether or not it’s got the right quality factors. And I feel that having a Head of Test in an organisation helps reaffirm that role and that profession for teams, as an organisation in the industry, and for testing. Where it does present a challenge however, particularly in larger organisations, where they’re driving for cost optimisation and increasing profit, is that it can be very easy to get rid of the test department. But then you lose the individuals that are passionate about finding defects, and to be honest, the ones that do the boring work of running the test scripts, and any kind of handovers in the IT lifecycle can introduce inefficiency and unforeseen overheads, which can sometimes inhibit and cause frustration for people. For example, that classic handover from development to test and the constant discussion of ‘Have you tested everything? Can I see your test results?’, can complicate the IT lifecycle and create inefficiencies. What I see as well, are people driving for the holy grail of DevOps and bringing together delivery and testing teams, so it’s quite a balance I feel. I think that there’s no right or wrong answer, I think it comes down to the maturity of an organisation; where it is in its lifespan.
What are you looking forward to in the future at Vodafone? What’s next?
Well one thing that we’ve been talking about in the team is that, like all test organisations, we want to be able to collect the huge amount of data, test scripts, test script runs, defect data, and wide incident data. We were thinking, ‘how could we use all of that to help better inform decisions on regression test coverage, on likelihood of failure, on picture defect analysis?’ So one thing we’re looking at is how we can centralise all of that data from HP ALM and other sources into a big data framework, and how we can extract that data in a meaningful way, to start helping inform some of the test case designs and test operations. It’s at the early stages at the moment, but I’m excited about it.
Secondly I am looking forward to taking the challenge back to the competition in the UK and driving significant change within Vodafone UK to help position us for our future challenges against the competition. I want nothing more than to beat the competition in our home market!