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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Vodafone aims to double number of workloads in the cloud in three years

Scott Petty joined Vodafone back in 2009, working his way up from director of business products and services to the role of group enterprise technology director in 2013, and then to the UK chief technology officer (CTO) role in February 2018.

He’s responsible for all of the organisation’s technology in the UK business which encompasses the network, IT infrastructure, security management systems, technology used in the organisation’s office, digital strategy, digital engineering team, technical approach and enterprise delivery function.

He reports in to the UK’s CEO Nick Jeffrey, while he also has a reporting line into group CTO of Vodafone Johan Wibergh.

When he joined the organisation, the UK business was in its first year of a plan to drive improvements in business performance, customer service and the way the company’s operates.

“We set about setting a strategy to really be a leader in the market from a network perspective, using digital to enhance our customer service and help support our commercial performance and use technology tools to help us become more cost efficient and drive out inefficiencies,” he says.

A lot of this is strategy was based on turning off old legacy technology and migrating both the organisation itself and its customers onto more modern alternatives.

Petty also works with Wibergh on the overall group technology strategy – with the current technology strategy finishing in 2020. In the last year, Petty and Wibergh have been working on a 2025 strategy. This focuses on similar areas to the UK business: 5G leadership, enhancing the digital side of the organisation and building new tools.

5G, Petty says, has been a big driver for change at Vodafone and the way it builds networks.

“We have to virtualise and use mainly cloud technologies to deliver all the functionality, particularly low latency and mobile edge computing and performance enhancements – we’ve been doing that for the last three years, that gave us a lot of skills in cloud native technologies, both technologies running our own data centres but also public cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud Platform,” he says.

“We’ve been running our own workloads in AWS for quite a long time – all of our digital platforms, external-facing tools like our app and our website,” he adds.

As the company has been modernising its network infrastructure, it has been working with its enterprise customers to move them onto more modern networks and tools.

An example of this in action is Vodafone Business’ tie up with AWS to make AWS Wavelength available in Europe. AWS Wavelength is touted as a tool that enables developers to build applications that serve end users with very low latency over a 5G network – the idea is offer customers a way to tap into edge computing for the likes of AI, augmented and virtual reality, autonomous cars, video analytics, drones, robotics and other emerging technologies.

Amazon is a customer of Vodafone’s too: a number of their products use Vodafone’s IoT platform.

“We’ve been discussing for 18 months the role that mobile edge could play with cloud technologies and as we launched 5G earlier this year in the UK, we started to validate with AWS in our labs that we would be ready for this early in 2020 – it makes it easier for AWS customers to consume mobile edge computing. They can use loads already in AWS and move them into Wavelength on our network to get the benefits,” Petty says.

Becoming cloud-based

“We’re 35 per cent cloud and we think that will go to 65 per cent over the next two to three years, and much of that is driven by vendor support, particularly for core systems like CRM as those are not yet cloud native applications so we’re waiting for the vendor to move in that direction,” he says.

For the company’s network, most of the technology over the next three years will be cloud-native, but it will be on Vodafone’s own hosted cloud infrastructure.

“It’s unlikely we’d put core network security into public cloud services, maybe at the edge of the network, perhaps support applications but in terms of cloud technology that is a focus area,” Petty adds.

To support this move, the company has hired a lot of digital engineers and developers that are skilled in cloud native technologies.

“It’s a constant challenge [to hire] because you’re not just competing with telcos; you’re competing with big tech companies as well. We opened up a new office in Southwark in central London for our digital engineering teams which made it easier to attract talent, and invested in tools and capabilities and look at our processes to become an attractive employer for people with digital skills,” Petty explains.