Year of the threat

It's a little early to make predictions by looking back at this year in IT, but indulge me as I take a stab at stating the obvious.

If you are part of a large, incumbent and possibly monopolistic corporation based in Australia, it hasn’t been a great year.

Actually, it’s been the sort of year you’d rather forget, the year you seriously considered looking around for another job. That’s if your large incumbent employer hasn’t already helped you out with the latter and cut your job out from under you.

When referring to large incumbents, two gnarled home-grown behemoths come to mind. The perpetually half-pregnant Telstra and our miserable airborne macropod Qantas.

As they struggle to bring decades worth of near-moribund legacy systems into Gartner’s real-time world, both face the rise and rise of newbie competitors eating into their margins.

Let’s start with Telstra. While not saying much about it (and why would you?) Telstra is staring down the barrel of shrinking voice revenues thanks to VoIP as it attempts to overhaul billing systems and reduce software licence costs.

Telstra has a lot of billing systems — so many, in fact, it’s less about data silos and more like Swiss cheese.

While its competitors are milking every sort of data-driven up-sell, cross-sell and down-sell imaginable, getting a single view of anything out of Telstra is still the exception rather than the rule.

Even Telstra’s radical purge of $600 million worth of bad bills from their books went horribly wrong, with data so badly degraded it resulted in continuous weeks of flaming from Ray Martin burning the name and profits of the collection agency along with it.

Now that very collection agency is switching over its call centres to VoIP to kill operational expenditure and unify its data handling. They want a single enterprise view and a single bill, two data hurdles Telstra has yet to clear. You won’t see that in a Telstra ad anytime soon, and you won’t see many happy shareholders either.

Qantas has outsourced its booking and reservations system in an effort to bring the airline into these data-centric times.

While its safety record is relatively unsoiled, Qantas’s customer experience is in tatters as it tries to cut costs and boost margins. Planes run late and are over-booked, while some frustrated call centre staff have been “thinking aloud”.

The threat to Qantas is nasty little start-ups like Virgin and low-cost rebirths like REX, which have successfully delivered IP-based booking and transactional offerings at a minimum of cost.

In the airline business, operational expenditure is everything and Qantas’s domestic competitors are stealing customers and servicing them for a fraction of the cost, harvesting data and exploiting it to the full.

The customers are loving it because such low-cost, real-time booking engines allow greater scheduling and staffing flexibility with none of the legacy system or data headaches the likes of Qantas have to endure.

It’s more like a bus ride than a limo, but you spend half the price and get half the hassle. You just see signs at the counter asking you to be patient because Virgin “is experiencing computer difficulties”.

Now Qantas is talking about starting up its own domestic carrier to stem the tide of red ink — and you can bet they won’t be leveraging off their systems, and the call centres, if they exist at all, will be using VoIP.

Sometimes, the best sort of business intelligence is just knowing when to throw back your hand.

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