A challenge often faced by customer-facing tech companies is the internal conflict between marketing and IT. After more than a decade working on the commercial side of telecommunications, O2 Czech Republic’s new CTO, Jan Hruska – a mathematics and computer science graduate from the Charles University in Prague – has the unique advantage of seeing the country’s largest telecommunications provider from both sides of the equation. “I'm lucky to be one of the few people who are able to understand and know the company from every perspective,” he explains. “Because I spent over 10 years in different positions on the commercial side of the business, I can apply a deep understanding of its marketing, commercial and distribution issues, programs and challenges to my technical role. At almost every company there’s a tension between the technicians and the commercial guys. I see my current mission as not only mitigating this tension, but bringing the two halves of the company together to establish a creative dialog that helps us progress, and strengthens both our technological market leadership and our commercial position. I can talk to the commercial side and explain technologies using language the commercial guys understand, and along with this, promote achievements, projects and excellent people we have in Technology.”
Hruska’s new role has included overseeing the completion of a four-year digital transformation of O2 Czech Republic’s customer relationship management (CRM) strategy, business support systems (BSS), and practices ranging from billing systems to product catalogues. “We call it Simple Online Company. The aim was a radical simplification that would enable future digitisation,” Hruska says. Never a company to stand still, O2 Czech Republic is also now embarking on another ongoing personnel-focused transformation. “We are now implementing agile scrum methodology for change delivery, that covers about 300 people and connects with the Simple Online Company transformation, because we created the enabler for digitisation and now we need to transform the way we deliver new services and changes,” Hruska adds. From a technological point of view, the company is also implementing significant changes to its network architecture. Hruska elaborates: “We’re introducing some significant product improvements, one of which is that we are complementing traditional copper DSL lines with household internet that is based on LTE connectivity, so called Fixed Wireless Access.” We spoke to Hruska about O2 Czech Republic’s ever-advancing evolution, its past, present and future transformations, and the collaborative expertise he is bringing to the company’s CTO role.
Founded in 2006 after rebranding from the amalgamation of Czech Telecom and Eurotel, O2 Czech Republic is the largest integrated telecommunications provider in the Czech market, operating approximately 7mn mobile and fixed accesses in the region. In 2012, the company was the first in the region to open its network to virtual operators. Operating the only Tier III certified data centres in Central Europe, O2 is a regional leader in hosting, cloud and managed services.
“Our advantage lies in the fact we are able to offer the full range of telco products,” says Hruska. “We originated from a merger between fixed and mobile operators, so we have fully integrated suite of products. We were the first operator here that started an IP television service, which adds a new dimension to our fixed internet service.” O2 also produces its own content for television. “We have a daughter company that produces three sports channels, and we own some exclusive rights to content like the Champions in the Czech Republic, as well as Czech national football and ice hockey leagues – a huge majority of important matches you can’t see without O2 TV service.”
For a company with such an extensive and diverse portfolio of offerings, ensuring its customers have an intuitive and accessible customer experience is a top priority. The Simple Online Company, which launched in October 2018, involved the launch of a new CRM system and a new customer portal, as well as a new product catalogue, network inventory system, provisioning system and a complete revamp of the billing system. “Our aim was to radically simplify,” says Hruska. “We reworked our product catalogue from thousands of services to a couple of hundred. We also switched from our legacy CRM to a new system we built ourselves based on Emeldi Commerce Core.” Emeldi is a long-term partner of O2 Czech Republic. The company’s Commerce Core provides the core functionality for O2 Czech Republic’s new CRM. “It’s the heart of our CRM,” says Hruska. “Emeldi is a key partner that we picked because of their flexibility. We are able to influence the product and get any solution we need. Putting their technology in the middle of our CRM is definitely strengthening our partnership.”
Even though the technical side of the transformation is up and running, Hruska maintains the work is far from over. “This is an ongoing process. We need to keep it simple and make sure any additions and modifications we make aren’t creating extra complexity, which is an extremely tough exercise.” The transformation has also allowed O2 Czech Republic to take the next step on its journey towards digitisation. “Previously, our store set up had a legacy system that typically required four employees behind the counter, working on a main computer, and only allowed for one on the floor greeting customers,” says Hruska. “Now, we have a new system running on all our devices, not just the store computer, but with no reduction in functionality. We can have four guys on the floor in any setup you can imagine. They can talk with the customer; they can take their own mobile or even the customer’s mobile and access the system alongside them. It's true assisted self-care.”
If Emeldi is the heart of O2 Czech Republic’s new CRM, then Ness is its face. “They’re an important IT vendor, providing us with portal solutions; our new Moje O2 portal, developed by Ness, is what the customers and internal staff see from their side,” says Hruska. The new face of O2 Czech Republic’s IT is allowing the company to pursue strategic change in the way it manages its employees and hiring practices. “It’s enabling us to look for a different profile when hiring people in our stores and call centres. Previously, the ability to work with the complex system was a priority. Up to 30% of store consultants were leaving the company within the first three months. Now, after launching this system, we can focus on hiring people who enjoy serving our customers, who have more sales skills than technical skills – and that exit rate has dropped to almost zero immediately. Our employees are able to work naturally with the new CRM and portal, which means they can focus on their conversation with the customer.”
In addition to reworking the customer-facing side of the business, O2 Czech Republic’s behind the scenes technical infrastructure is also undergoing a transformation to ensure that the company’s services remain at the highest possible level of quality. “We are lucky to be in a business with huge demand - a demand for data that shows double digit annual growth rates. This requires us to significantly change our network architecture in order to sustain quality and profitability,” Hruska adds. “We’re in the middle of virtualising our core network systems, as well as introducing a number of product improvements.” The company is implementing Huawei 5G ready radio access technology to complement its new, ultrafast LTE broadband service. “Last year, we launched a second generation of our fixed wireless broadband service. We use dedicated frequency band of 3.7GHz and LTE TDD to provide home and business internet connectivity for locations not covered well by fibre or DSL infrastructure,” Hruska explains. “This is allowing us to offer speeds of 100 megabit per second and higher, which is something that you cannot guarantee on a standard LTE network. This, connected with the O2 Smart Box – the premium WiFi router that we have in households and SMEs – complements the unique ecosystem of our fixed broadband service.”
Chinese tech giant Huawei is a key partner in O2 Czech Republic’s journey to ensure the tier one quality of its network architecture. “Huawei is one of the important vendors to the network side of the business,” says Hruska. “Our fixed wireless service that runs on the dedicated 3.7GHz band is based on Huawei radio technology. It was one of the key projects that we implemented with them last year.” Huawei’s FusionSphere technology is also powering the company’s virtual core network infrastructure, part of O2 Czech Republic’s ongoing virtualisation initiative. “Huawei is helping us to prepare for extreme data usage growth that we expect to continue but is hard to predict precisely. Network function virtualised infrastructure, together with virtual evolved packet core, is granting us practically unlimited scalability with a sustainable profit margin.”
Looking to the future, Hruska is confident in the ongoing transformation of O2 Czech Republic, powered by the symbiotic relationship between the business’ commercial and technology divisions. “We need to shorten the delivery time for new features and functionalities; we need sufficient capacity in our network to support the huge global demand for data, as well as providing a service with sustainable profitability.” He concludes: “My vision is that every year we deliver a significant piece of our IT and network transformation which immediately translates to improved value proposition and customer experience, eventually allowing for constant growth of our market share, revenues, and profit.”