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Case Study


Tellabs Stays Ahead of the Mobility Curve


April 1, 2011

This interview provides an inside look at the internal mobility initiative at Tellabs, a global manufacturer of telecommunications equipment. Jean Holley, Executive Vice President and CIO of Tellabs, answers key questions about the company’s mobility strategy and the IT department’s efforts, including insight into what the business refers to as its “any, any, any” mobile vision.

Tellabs is a global company that designs and manufactures telecommunications network equipment for telecom service providers, mobile operators, cable TV companies, and federal government agencies. Tellabs helps advance the smart mobile Internet with reliable and scalable mobile, optical, business, and services solutions. That’s why 43 of the top 50 telecom service providers use Tellabs solutions. With more than 20 years of experience in 400 mobile networks worldwide, Tellabs’ equipment has been deployed in more than 100 countries around the world.

Cultivating the company’s internal mobility initiative is Executive Vice President and CIO of Tellabs Jean Holley. insiderPROFILES asked Holley, who has served on the company’s executive team for more than six years, about the state of the business’s mobility strategy. Her answers offer an up-close-and-personal account of the IT department’s efforts, including insight into what the business refers to as its “any, any, any” mobile vision.

Q: How would you characterize Tellabs’ overall mobility approach or vision?

It’s all about the smart mobile Internet. I can’t imagine life at Tellabs without it. First, it helps Tellabs meet its business objectives. And second, our overall IT strategy is anchored in it. IT at Tellabs is advancing the use of the smart mobile Internet within the business — and we’re already well on our way.

Our mobile vision at Tellabs is to provide secure anywhere, anytime, any device access to accurate information. We call this our “any, any, any” vision. So, as you can imagine, the mobile Internet is at the core of this. We cannot accomplish or enable our vision without it.

And the piece that’s most interesting to other IT shops is that we are device-agnostic. When we chose to put the word “any” before the word “device,” that meant we had to think about our approach differently. We didn’t want to limit our mobile users to a BlackBerry device. We wanted them to work with any secure device and accurate data. If you look at the trends, the variety of devices is only going to increase. That meant we needed to develop a platform-based “any, any, any” approach, which is precisely what we’re doing.

At the same time, our vision has been evolving because we realize the mobile Internet is also becoming smarter. And as it gets increasingly intelligent — creating a richer experience for people as a result — we’ll continue to embrace it and figure out how to leverage it to fulfill our vision.

Q: How has this evolving vision translated into Tellabs’ business objectives?

We’ve been developing the “whats” of our IT strategy for this vision while trying to push three key business objectives: streamline our decision making, accelerate business processes, and make these processes adaptable. If I had to choose one word for each objective, I’d say “access,” “speed,” and “flexibility,” respectively. The mobile Internet is the key, because you can’t achieve these objectives very easily without it.

For example, in its simplest state, mobility equals speed. As we discover new ways to implement mobility, we’re giving our business the ability to operate faster. And our business users don’t need all of the data they think they need. So making applications available on mobile devices, which serve up a subset of information, inherently simplifies data for users and streamlines our business decision making.

Through mobility, we can achieve our business objectives of streamlining decision making, improving our employees’ productivity, and giving them the flexibility to do the “any, any, any.” But we also need to focus on ensuring that we’re creating applications or capabilities that not only help our employees, but also benefit our customers.

Q: Can you share an example of how a mobile application has benefited your customers?

Some key initiatives along these lines are already in production. One example is an application that enables our supply chain employees to use a mobile device to do month-end approvals on exception-based shipping. Imagine that it’s the end of the month and our supply chain users are trying to meet customers’ demands quickly. The traditional process flow for approving expedited orders would have users boot up a laptop, VPN into our safe secure environment at Tellabs, access an application, bring up and review data, and then approve or reject the shipment.

Now, with a mobile application, they simply turn on an iPad or mobile device, enter a password to instant-on, and they are right there in the SAP application doing read-write transactions. Within seconds, they can approve these shipments so that products essentially are shipped to customers faster. And here’s the key — which goes back to our “any, any, any” vision — it can be done anywhere, anytime, on any device.

On our website, you can find a video that shows two people competing in a race — one using a laptop and the other using an iPad — to see who can complete the task faster. It’s no surprise who wins, right? The employee on the iPad approves the transaction in 30 seconds, while the employee on the laptop takes 90 seconds. There’s a demonstration of what mobility can do for you. Both methods show the same exact capability, but one is just a lot cleaner, simpler and faster. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most — getting our shipments out the door to our customers more rapidly.

We’re also working on mobile apps that we fully expect to deploy to our sales force this year to provide that instant-on capability that will give them speed. And when you give sales speed, they can deliver to their customers faster.

Q: How do your business and IT teams collaborate around your mobility efforts?

Mobility has been, without a doubt, a collaborative effort between IT and the business areas. When IT makes suggestions to the business, we have more than just conversations with them. We show them a capability or a prototype, and from there, we work with them collaboratively. While it can take days or even a week for us to develop new capabilities, the quicker we can get these prototypes into our business’s hands, the faster the overall process is complete. The secret to this speed is, again, mobility.

When we develop one application, we’re already thinking about the next three applications that will follow. Our business users help us with that collaborative imagining of what else we can do. We sit in a room with both IT and the business and discuss what would happen if we did this or that, looking at business challenges or problems and trying to figure out how to use mobility to solve them. And 9 times out of 10, we just keep going back to the mobile Internet to help take out the complexity.

Q: What advice would you give to companies that are at the beginning stages of their mobility initiatives?

First, mobility must be in your strategy. If it’s not, you’re missing a critical component for the future. And as part of that strategy, don’t wait or approach mobility with traditional thinking. That’s the number-one mistake IT shops make — focusing on how to make one application work on one device. A clear and precise vision, such as our “any, any, any” vision, helps you think and then develop very differently.

Second, keep it very simple by focusing on small projects for employees who are rarely at their desks. Mobility solutions are very fluid and will have a shorter lifespan than your older, traditional-based solutions, so the development and the deployment should be faster. After all, those apps are going to live and die quickly, and people will always want more of them.

Third, partner with business teams that are technology-friendly and really willing to work with you. Create an environment that’s very different from traditional IT development — one where you’re learning together and truly collaborating. And this means sometimes you need to have the guts to say, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out.”

Q: What are Tellabs’ future mobility plans?

Looking ahead, we see that the future of application development lies in creating apps for the mobile world using the smart mobile Internet. A subset of applications, which are needed for hardcore number-crunching, will need to run on a full PC or desktop, while everything else will run in a mobile environment.

We’re always pushing ourselves with our experience and our thought leadership, and we plan to stay ahead by continuing to think differently. Ultimately, our goal is to provide information — not pounds and pounds of data, but information — so that people can make decisions in a quick, simple manner.

It’s all about looking to the future, anticipating how mobility will evolve, and not passively waiting for the opportunity to present itself. We know we’re ahead of the mobility curve — and in fact, we’re helping to shape it and drive some changes — which is a good place to be, because the business challenges of today are not as difficult to address if you’re ahead of that curve.

Through mobility, we can achieve our business objectives of streamlining decision making, improving our employees’ productivity, and giving them the flexibility to do the “any, any, any.”

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