That old Chinese proverb about ‘living in interesting times’ may not be the first thing you’d wish upon David Thodey, but it probably goes a long way in describing the Telstra CEO’s first year in the big chair.
It’s been a year marked by numerous challenges, such as the spectre of separating his company, and tough negotiations with the Government and NBN Co around the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Then there’s the falling PSTN revenue, market share, customer service levels and ongoing shareholder disquiet.
So, on the anniversary of Thodey’s first year, Computerworld Australia turns to some of the telecommunications industry's analysts to get some perspective on just how good a job he’s done.
First to turn in their score card, IDC’s David Canon said Thodey’s last 12 months were full up managing the legacy left by Telstra’s previous CEO, Sol Trujillo.
“There are three main parts to the Sol legacy that would arguably have been the top priorities for David,” Cannon said. “First, the massive internal IT overhaul which has led to customer dissatisfaction issues, second, re-establishing relations with the government, and third, managing the decline in PSTN revenues. So the last year has been all about stopping the rot and creating a framework to go forward."
Of the three, the revenue decline is what has affected share prices the most, Cannon said.
“However, the declines in revenue have very little to do with David and everything to do with Sol,” he said. “Sol played hardball with the ACCC. The ACCC then lowered ULL and LSS prices to the point where the business model to build competitive infrastructure made sense. Sol also played hardball with his biggest customers, the wholesalers.
“The decline in PSTN revenue we are witnessing today is predominantly about the transition away from Telstra infrastructure and onto competitive infrastructure and hence a direct result of Sol's poorly executed broadband policy strategy."
Budde Communication’s Paul Budde said Thodey has helped change Telstra from a “monopolistic giant” unprepared to face the rapidly changing world of digital economy to one that is, at least on the surface, “embracing the new world”.
However it’s still finding it tough to “make the appropriate decisions” to move the company forwards, he said.
In the last year, facing Telstra shareholders keen to hang on to the past has been Thodey’s biggest challenge, according to Budde. In the year ahead, finding a “game-changing” set of products and services to address irreversible PSTN revenue declines will be the number one priority for the CEO.
Telsyte’s Emilie Ditton said Thodey has taken a Telstra, aggressively trying to take control of its environment - regulation, commercial, cost base, market share – to one that is more transparent and approachable and willing to operate within the environment it is being given by the Federal Government.
“He is at least engaged with the Government, and therefore in a position to drive what he believes to be the best outcomes for shareholders,” Ditton said. “It’s unclear whether he has got improved government and industry relations right… [But if] Telstra does not join the NBN, and the legislation cannot get through Parliament … then he is a position to compete aggressively with the NBN, and has first mover advantage.”
On the downside, Ditton said Telstra under Thodey has seen broadband subscriptions fall for the first time, and PSTN decline accelerate.
“[Telstra] cannot change the fundamental market drivers, but it has not responded well to the way that the market is changing and what competitors are doing,” she says. “TPG and iiNet have been allowed to achieve big market share gains in the broadband marketplace. Telstra appears to have a poor handling on the needs and requirements of its own customer base and been very slow to respond to the market.
“David Thodey has a big year ahead of him. It’s a make or break year for him. We’re looking to how much more proactive he and Telstra can be in responding to market movements.”
Gartner’s Bjarne Munch said Thodey had grasped that it was critical that Telstra prepare new revenue streams that could replace especially declining PSTN revenue.
“It appears that Thodey has… more focus on the longer term strategy which I regard as a very positive change,” he said. “It also appears to me that David has introduced a clearer or better articulated strategy for what services Telstra need to focus on.
However, Munch said it was unclear how Thodey intended in executing on growth areas of the business, particularly around managed IP WAN, IP telephony, Unified Communication, security and hosting/infrastructure as a service and software as a service.
“This is a concern because all new services within the strategy will not only require new skills and capabilities but they will also require new processes and methodologies,” he said.
“Telstra has focused on improving their operational tools and integrate these across business areas which is a fundamental starting point, but I am yet to see more clearly how the culture is changing to be more involved with their customers and more responsive to customer needs.”