Three UK saves £10m a year by integrating stores, web and call centres

Mobile operator Three aims to give customers the same service however they interact with the company, while reducing IT capital costs

Mobile phone operator Three UK expects to save over £10m a year in IT capital costs by integrating the computer systems that power its call centres, website and high street stores.

The company, which claims around eight million subscribers, is investing in integration technology that will give its customers the same quality of service whether they visit a store, shop online, or call a contact centre.

Three is rolling out integration software from Tibco, as part of a project that will make it easier for customers to interact with the company, place orders, or enquire about phone upgrades.

“When someone chooses to come into a store, go online, or phone us, they want to have a seamless experience. Our primary motivation is to deliver a consistent and easy experience for our customers,” Graham Baxter, chief operating officer of Three UK, told Computer Weekly.

Three's Tibco implementations

  • Fulfilment Orchestration Suite       
  • Active Matrix – business process management platform
  • Business Events – complex event processing
  • Spotfire – data visualisation
  • Enterprise Messenger Service (EMS)
  • BusinessWorks – business integration software

Combining sales channels

Historically, the £2bn-revenue company has treated its sales outlets as different business operations, which has led to inconsistencies in the way it approaches customers.

For example, phone owners can cancel airtime contracts if they call Three’s call centre, but it is harder for them to do so if they walk into a high street store.

By mid-2015, Baxter plans to have the first applications up and running that will give customers the same options no matter how they approach the company.

The project, known internally as “the multi-channel-engine”, will also give phone owners the ability to start transactions on one channel and complete them on another.

Customers might want to go online, order a phone and have it delivered to a store, or they might choose to go to a store to check out handsets and have it delivered to their home, said Baxter.

Unlocking inventory

Three plans to use the same technology to generate a real-time inventory of mobile phone stock in stores and warehouses, making it easier to find the right phone for customers.

“If you go to a store for the latest iPhone, but there is not the phone you want and the colour you want, we will be able to identify where one is and get it to you,” he said.

Saving IT costs

The project will simplify development work for Three’s IT department, leading to substantial savings.

Rather than redeveloping the IT systems for each channel when a modification needs to be made, developers will only need to make one set of changes.

That could save tens of millions of pounds a year in capital IT spend, said Baxter.

Going out to tender

Three UK began evaluating software for its multi-channel project in June 2013. It tested six or seven technologies.

The phone company chose Tibco because the supplier had a strong track record in multi-channel applications, said Baxter, and also because of the existing strong relationship between the two companies.

Three UK deployed Tibco’s Rendezvous messaging software when the phone operator launched in 2003, and later deployed Kabira transaction processing software for real-time billing, which was bought by Tibco in 2010.

“From a technical point of view, Tibco was applying technology to address the challenges we had. Second, the cultural fit was strong. It is open and easy to work with. It is not just saying, 'here is a bunch of software, and this is how much it costs',” he said.

Managing 4G

Three is also using Tibco’s technology to manage the way customers use services on its 4G network.

The system is able to send customer warning texts if they are approaching their preset data download limits, or to suspend data downloads if they are overseas and don't want to incur charges, for example.

Project challenges

The main challenges in the project have not been technical, but making sure the company understands all of the potential actions and requests customers could make through each channel, Baxter revealed.

“The whole point of this is a consistent and easy experience for our customers. It's about thinking through the way a customer is gong to interact with us and how to make it as simple as possible,” he said.

Project lessons

One of the most important lessons that came out of the project, said Baxter, is a need to focus on fewer projects, rather than to try to make too many changes at once.

“We were trying to deploy multiple different projects simultaneously. Having more focus on one or two or three that give the biggest customer benefit would have been more effective,” he said. “It's a case of doing less, but doing it better.”

Graham Baxter was a speaker at the Tibco Now 2014 conference in San Francisco.

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