Designing an IT infrastructure from the ground up
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Designing an IT infrastructure from the ground up

Jessica Twentyman — January 2014

Truphone’s CIO has had the rare opportunity of building a technology operation from scratch at the borderless mobile network provider.

The opportunity to build an entire global IT infrastructure — from the ground up — doesn't come along very often. For CIOs today, such an IT ‘black swan’ would raise fascinating questions about whether an all-cloud architecture is feasible or desirable, whether the widespread use of open source software can cut costs or whether the customer life cycle can be managed in a consistent way from the get-go.

Since he joined global mobile network operator Truphone as chief operating officer and CIO, Colin Windsor has had just such an adventure. “Instead of inheriting an infrastructure, my team and I have had the scope to build the infrastructure that we wanted to run. But more importantly, the one that we know will best serve our customers,” he says.

That’s a far cry from Windsor’s previous job as CIO of BT Openreach, the infrastructure division of BT that oversees local-access delivery of services to homes and businesses in the UK. There, contending with legacy technology was a fact of daily life; at Truphone, there is no such thing as legacy.

Established in 2006, Truphone styles itself as “the mobile operator without country borders.” It provides corporate customers with SIM cards for their mobile employees that enable them to make calls, send texts and use data services, all at local rates, across multiple countries. Today, the line-up extends to the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands. Employees using a Truphone SIM, meanwhile, can also have multiple international mobile phone numbers assigned to their devices, so that clients in different regions of the world can reach them via a national call. Coverage elsewhere in the world is achieved by the company’s partnerships with local mobile network operators.

That proposition has attracted some high-profile supporters: customers include four out of five of the world’s top investment banks. And early last year, Russian business tycoon Roman Abramovich invested £70 million in the company, giving him a 23.3% stake.

Simplicity from complexity

But in such a competitive field, says Windsor, Truphone needs to beats its competition hands down when it comes to service quality, in order to retain existing customers and attract new ones. And while the company’s proposition to customers is simplicity, says Windsor, its infrastructure must handle terrific complexity in international tariffing, billing and operations.

And that has involved drawing on a mix of cutting-edge cloud services and open source software and trusted solutions.

Telco-specific functions are handled using CRM and billing applications from Cerillion Technologies, a specialist provider to the mobile sector. For other, more generic aspects of sales, marketing and customer service, Truphone uses cloud apps from and Marketo. Together, these cloud apps provide Truphone employees with a single view of large multinational customers, from the earliest stages of that company becoming a sales prospect, through to day-to-day tracking of any customer-service issues or inquiries raised by established customers.

To stitch all these apps together, meanwhile, the company has deployed the FuseSource enterprise service bus from open source software specialist, Red Hat.

“Cloud technologies have been imperative for us and its scalability and agility will allow us to add new countries to our network very quickly.”

“As a company, we were born global. It wasn’t the case that we started in a single country and then expanded outwards. We were in several countries from day one,” Windsor explains. “That has made cloud technologies imperative for us — but [cloud’s scalability and agility] will also allow us to add new countries to our network very quickly, with apps immediately accessible in the languages and currencies that we need, without having to add IT infrastructure in those territories.”

Windsor also runs a network of six data centers worldwide that house Truphone’s core switching network. A team of around 100 network engineers runs the company’s network operations center in Lisbon, Portugal. This is what enables the company to deliver a global service, rather than routing calls through the mobile user’s home territory, as traditional mobile network operators do. According to Windsor, that traditional approach leads to latency, call degradation and high costs for multinational companies with highly mobile workforces.

“So much of the world’s telecommunications are based in single-country or regional silos and that’s not a good fit for international businesses,” he says. “What we’ve done at Truphone is build a unified, global infrastructure that keeps customers connected, wherever they are.” As the company moves out of the “build phase” and into the “sell phase”, he says, it’s also an infrastructure designed to flex and scale with Truphone’s global ambitions.

First published January 2014
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