Post acquisition – Life at MTN

Migrating and changing functionally and architecturally.

Key Role: Chief Information Officer / Head of ISP Services

  • Main areas of influence included the technical migrations to MTN, managing all the IT/IS services and technical advisor to MTN M&A teams.

The Big Yello

The period of growing an ISP from nothing in 1993/1994 through to being part of a global telco such as Verizon Business had lots of ups and some downs, not least the period during which Worldcom went through chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US.

What always stood out for me though was that it was possible, and we made a good job of, managing a region without feeling the bureaucracy that a massive organisation can bring. We knew the rules, we had systems and more importantly, we had well documented delegation of authority. Enter MTN.

In 2009, the Verizon African operation was sold to MTN, we had worked on this for a year with multiple possible buyers and by 2009 the deal was done. Heading up the IT teams in this migration was one of the most challenging aspects I had dealt with, as the ability to be flexible and agile in systems and processes, was not yet something the mobile telco’s knew anything about. An ISP could have 30-40 different product sets with multiple variants and custom made monitoring and reporting systems, and didn’t fit well in the world of “everything needs a SIM card or has an IMEI number”. This was most challenging within our development team who had to manage a lot of the integrations and overall a lot of this was seamless to the customer base. We were fortunate to have some of the best ISP developers in the country at the time and took the business as far as it could until it made sense to reduce the flexibility in order to fit into the global way of doing things.

In some ways, this was a benefit, financially it made sense and we managed some enormous projects and saved millions of Rands through some clever developments, in other ways we were not good enough at marketing how good these were and how much money we managed to save the business. The one big lesson I learned was how Agile we had been for 20 years, and only seriously started reading once I saw it slow down. Initially I was of the belief that you could only be agile in high growth and small businesses, looking back at it, it would be interesting if we had managed to move the larger business into more Agile ways of doing things and it became a lesson I’ve been grateful for as it’s something I have taken away with me and will never lose.

In a way, we didn’t know we were Agile, we didn’t know that we were structuring Work From Home environments and flexible work arrangements, it was just part of who we were. Labels were only attached much later. I’m glad we had no labels or formalised it, as I think we might have got it wrong instead of acting on instinct.