Cerillion Q&A: Delivering digital best practice from home

Cerillion Q&A: Delivering digital best practice from home
Cerillion is a couple of weeks into remote working, with every department striving to ensure that it’s business as usual. Adam Hughes spoke with Amit McCann, Delivery Director at Cerillion, to see what effect the coronavirus is having on the company’s projects.

AH: Hi Amit, thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on Cerillion’s delivery projects?
AM: First and foremost, the health & safety of our staff is most important, so it is essential that we change our habits to work from home wherever possible. It’s also a very rapidly changing situation, for people individually as well as for companies, so we need to be adapting, and ensuring we have the best possible systems and processes in place to continue our projects.

We’ve been carrying out contingency planning for a few weeks now, looking at infrastructure, and doing trial runs to make sure we can continue with projects with as minimal impact as possible. This isn’t totally different from the way we normally work – our staff have lots of experience working remotely with customers all around the world, and with colleagues across the UK, America, India and Australia.

One of the big challenges we’ve had over the last two weeks is where things are rapidly changing; we’ve had restrictions imposed by governments, making it hard to send staff to site, and we’ve had to “evacuate”, to use that word liberally, our staff from certain locations due to borders closing at very short notice. We’ve had people in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Americas, South Africa, Asia – and each of these places has changed how easy it is to get in and out, so we’ve had to work with our teams to make sure people can leave, and give them as much protection as we can.

There aren’t many tasks we can’t do remotely, but some require more face-to-face interaction, and we’ve been re-planning so we can continue our work without too much disruption.
What we have seen is that telecoms is actually a growing market in the current environment, with many people working from home or needing communication tools to carry on with their daily lives. So, we’ve seen a burst of energy from customers changing promotions and packages, and we’ve been there to support them at short notice.

It’s been a challenging time with so much change, but not totally alien to us, it’s something that we’re used to on a day-to-day basis.

AH: How is Cerillion adapting its implementation methodology to cope with the travel restrictions?
AM: There aren’t masses of changes – we’re trying to align our customers more so than ourselves, because, as I say, we’re pretty used to it.

We’ve got very good collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, and have had a lot of practice in using these tools over the last few years. We’ve also had lots of training in data security; what’s challenging is that customers may not have, so we have to educate them to use the same best practices to progress on projects, since we depend on a lot of customer interaction.

As managers, it is important that we are communicating with each person on a daily basis, always verbally, ideally through video ensuring they are clear on their tasks and priorities, listening to issues that are blocking their progress and generally checking on their mental wellbeing. It isn’t sufficient to exchange an email.

As a company, it is important that we are communicating with our staff and customers on a regular basis to ensure they continue to feel part of our community. Social networking is a major part of our company philosophy, so we are setting up virtual Friday drinks or Friday cakes to ensure that people continue to engage and share their stories.

We do work with customers all over the world; some like face-to-face interaction, but some are happy to work remotely. With the restrictions in place today, we’ve got to take the best practices for customers working remotely and apply them to everyone, and it requires us to convince our customers to work using the same tools and methodologies. Remote working has been good for the projects we’ve delivered in recent  years using an Agile methodology – there’s a lot of interaction with clients, showing them what we’ve done and getting feedback at each stage.

Obviously face-to-face meetings do give us a lot of value, since we can find out what people are really thinking. A lot of our business analysis is based not just on what is said, but how it’s said and that requires face-to-face interaction. So we’re really promoting the use of video calls.

Project milestones are important for us to maintain, and we believe we can continue meeting these if project plans are clear. We are doing some re-planning, but most projects continue as they are. Dare I say, we’re actually gaining some efficiency benefits too, now that we’re not losing time by travelling. Maybe this whole situation could turn into some new ways of working. It’s too early to tell now, but I’m hoping for a silver lining in all of this.

AH: What effect is this having on staff?
AM: It’s certainly having different impacts for different people – some staff quite like working from home anyway and have wanted to do so more than we typically advise, whereas others find it challenging working from home and feel that they can’t concentrate or that collaboration isn’t as good.

People’s environments at home are different as well – some have a good infrastructure in place to work from home, some don’t. What we’re doing is talking to individuals about the pros and cons, what challenges they’re having, so that we can understand where the problems are and address them.

Most staff are used to remote working though – the issue is the continuous nature of the work that is affecting people. Typically, working too long from home can be hard, mentally, but as of now we’re only a few days into it. I think people are coping well, they’re doing the best they can, and in some ways it’s working better than they expected.

On a personal level, I’m not missing the daily commute and enjoying seeing my children a bit more so far!

AH: And how is this affecting Cerillion’s customers and their project teams?
AM: We’re lucky in the telecoms business, compared with other sectors – our customers are tech savvy and are used to using communication tools. However, we have seen people fall sick, so we’ve been offering, where we can, to see whether we can help them out in any way, shape or form.

I’ve seen good interaction over the last few days, with good spirit. Our customers are understandably very focused on business-as-usual; they have to keep their businesses alive in the current situation, but they also seem determined to keep going with their transformation projects – even more determined in some cases – as they know the importance of these for their future growth, and certainly the importance of more effective automation is more apparent now than ever.

AH: What do you think the long-term effects of all this will be?
AM: I think the world will be in a very different place after all this. I think people will appreciate that remote working is more viable, and that we’ve got good tools available that allow us to work effectively from anywhere. That’s not to devalue face-to-face interaction, but we overuse it currently. We don’t have trust that it won’t work as well if we don’t meet face-to-face, but the next few months will prove we can continue just as efficiently as before.

And we know we can trust people to work remotely. They’re mature enough, and we don’t need to monitor them minute-by-minute – the work still gets done. I wholeheartedly believe that some good will come from the horridness that we’ve got in the world currently.

AH: And finally, what tips would you offer to other companies thinking about embarking on similar BSS/OSS projects?
AM: Under the current constraints, I think it’s about making sure that there is a clear agreement on how to work and an appreciation for each other in terms of best practice. It’s vital to have daily calls and online collaboration with each other, such that you can avoid emails wherever possible. I think emails can be very painful, and when you’re remote there is a tendency to use them even more.

Collaboration and communication is critical; use the digital time you’ve got to plan better and prepare for meetings better. Using an Agile methodology also really helps – by doing more iterative work, with weekly deliverables and more ‘show and tells’ you can get early feedback on projects and avoid surprises later.