On the eve of 1985, as mobile technology was in its infancy, the Vodafone brand was born in Newbury, England. The UK’s first mobile call soon followed – it was made on the Vodafone network by the son of the company’s founder from a five-kilo phone. Nearly 35 years later, Vodafone now serves approximately 640 million mobile customers, 21 million fixed broadband customers and 14 million TV customers across 24 countries. Today, the company is one of the world’s largest telecom and technology services providers – and phones are substantially lighter.
Matt Beal, Vodafone’s Director of Technology Strategy and Architecture, leads the teams responsible for laying the foundation for the company’s large-scale transformation programmes, such as their recently launched 5G networks. Over the past 18 months, he has been focusing on the company’s digital transformation, which includes reimagining the MyVodafone app to offer customers in all markets a richer and more unified experience.
To put the full capacity of the Vodafone Group behind this challenge, Beal and his team set out to revamp their developer and collaboration tools. “Many technology employees were gravitating naturally to Slack,” Beal says. “So we followed our users to what has become one of our most important tools.”
The switch has gone beyond modernising how Vodafone’s developer teams communicate: it allows global software teams to innovate in a scalable way. “The digital transformation is teaching us new things in terms of how we take learnings and capabilities from one market and bring them rapidly to the next,” Beal says.”
By using Slack to streamline these internal processes, Vodafone can tailor a more powerful experience for customers and “really retool our entire business to be more effective,” Beal says. “It lets us give complete power and capability to the customer.”
“Slack has opened new avenues of communication and collaboration… whether teams are in the UK or Egypt, we have completely changed how we work together and accelerated the capabilities we bring to our customers.”
Leveraging team knowledge to scale efficiently
In central London, the Technology Strategy and Architecture team serve all of Vodafone Group, which covers 24 countries, predominantly in Europe and Africa. “We’re a relatively small group that spans all technological functions, including network, IT, cloud – the whole gamut,” Beal says.
Before Slack, teams were localised and siloed. They relied on emails to communicate, which involved lengthy threads prone to confusion and a lack of ownership. Robert Greville, the web development manager for Vodafone UK, says that “Slack allowed us to cut through that noise and facilitate collaboration.” It started small, with just a handful of users. As teams started to integrate Slack into their everyday workflow, “we quickly went from 10 to over 1,000 users in our department,” he says.
This mass Slack adoption opened a window of opportunity that allowed software developer teams to quickly scale. “We wanted to lift our capabilities and facilitate easy sharing between markets. Not just of know-how and experience but also code libraries and more,” Beal says. Now, markets can share innovations instantly. Whether it’s a search function or app update, they can “integrate it into their project and immediately have that capability – which we’d otherwise have to build from scratch,” he says.
Previous tools limited the ability of Vodafone’s international software developer teams to share ideas, solutions and code with each other, but today, “Slack has opened new avenues of communication and collaboration,” Beal says. “Whether teams are in the UK or Egypt, we have completely changed how we work together and accelerated the capabilities we bring to our customers.”
“Our Slack integrations empower developers to deploy from development machines to test environments to production environments in a very short period of time”
Putting power back in the hands of developers
As a fast-developing international company, Vodafone’s technology department has an extensive, ever-evolving org chart. “There’s a lot of flux and new joiners on a regular basis, so really understanding the team membership, what teams are available and working on what products is a huge task,” says Paul Whyte, Head of Systems Engineering for Vodafone UK. To simplify things, Whyte introduced a custom search integration, where users can enter the slash command /team to pull up relevant team information. Another integration pulls up the teams responsible for a particular service, making it easier to quickly identify and reach the right person.
While Beal’s group is focused on big-picture projects, he knows the real magic happens in small connected teams. For these teams to successfully adopt the fast-moving agile and devops methodologies that shorten deployment timelines, building camaraderie and empowering developers is essential, he says. “Slack’s been instrumental in developing that fabric,” he adds. “When we put the power back in the hands of the developers, they drive the culture and create the capabilities.”
Integrations are a key component of developer life at Vodafone. “The richness of integrations available in Slack is a real selling point. It has become our single source of truth,” Whyte says. His team frequently use integrations to tighten the turnaround time on new code. “In terms of our ability to deploy really quickly, Slack is a key element,” he says. “Our Slack integrations empower developers to deploy from development machines to test environments to production environments in a very short period of time.” So far, Vodafone has reduced that cycle from around three months to 30 minutes – and the company aims to lower it even more.
“The richness of integrations available in Slack is a real selling point. It has become our single source of truth.”
Resolving customer issues more quickly
To monitor and escalate customer-facing events, Vodafone uses the PagerDuty integration. When an incident occurs in a production environment, the integration notifies the right team, down to the right individual, within milliseconds – and all within Slack. “That dramatically reduces the mean time to resolution because we’re able to contact and alert the right person at exactly the right time,” Beal says. Before Slack, it would have taken 15 to 20 minutes to find the root cause, “but we’ve reduced the mean time to resolution to under five minutes,” Whyte says. “It’s been phenomenally successful in a very short period of time.”
Slack also offers Vodafone’s senior managers visibility into new workflows. “We’re able to give transparency to our business leaders and let them see how technology projects are going,” Beal says. And that streamlined process ultimately results in a better product, faster. “Slack reduces the complexity to get your code from your machine into a production environment and ultimately in front of Vodafone customers,” Whyte explains.
With Slack, Vodafone aims to empower its developer teams across the globe to adopt new ways of working. The ability to connect quickly, work cohesively and share knowledge widely has helped the company deliver new and improved service experiences to millions of customers worldwide.