Interview with René Coppoolse

René Coppoolse is CIO at Allinq. Allinq is the partner where owners of telecom networks invest the entire life cycle management of their physical telecom infrastructure. René talks about putting the customer first, the transition to smart digital asset management, and the ambassadorship of CIOs.  

You have been CIO of Allinq for over 4 years now. Have you always worked in the IT field?

My background is really in the telecom field. In Ghent I obtained my PhD on high speed integrated circuits for telecom networks. After that, I immediately started working for cable and telecom companies. As initially responsible for development and then for management, the work slowly shifted from pure telecom to IT. Whether this concerned telephone exchanges, video platforms or software-defined networking, the majority of developments were IT related. When the BSS and OSS environments also came under my responsibility, I automatically rolled into the IT field.

What is Allinq's vision?

Four years ago I joined Allinq as CIO; when they wanted to transform from a traditional to a digitally driven company where the process is central and IT takes on a greater role. Allinq's goal is to be one of the top three partners in the Benelux and Germany in the field of telecom infrastructure lifecycle management by 2025. In order to achieve this, we will focus on five spearheads in the coming year:

  1. Customer #1: Increase satisfaction to build stronger, broader collaboration and service.
  2. Right person in the right place: well-trained people to adequately anticipate developments in the business
  3. Strong capacity for change: stimulating curiosity, team spirit, cooperation, ambition and empathy; appropriate for a market that is highly subject to change.
  4. Waste at 0: leading in quality and productivity and therefore focused on finding more effective and efficient working methods.
  5. Return on sales: return goes ahead of sales growth in order to achieve our goals.

On the one hand, Allinq's vision is 'customer first', but at the same time you also say that the process and thus operational excellence will become more central. How do these two principles go together?

We believe 100% in customer intimacy. First of all, because that's what made Allinq great. In addition, our customer base is not very large. We work for companies that own telecom infrastructure. There are not very many, in total about 40 in the Netherlands. Consolidations also regularly take place in the telecom sector, for example Vodafone-Ziggo. If you want to be distinctive, the focus on customer intimacy is very important.

From an operational excellence point of view – in terms of reliability and predictability of the processes – we can meet customer demand even better. If you want to take on the role of partner, whereby we as a coordinating partner have to find synergy across the work packages, then processes and operational excellence will play a much greater role. Customer intimacy is still at Olympic level, but operational excellence is in close second place.

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What does customer intimacy mean to you?

The customer is our number one priority at all times. If we can unburden the customer and take control of this, then we certainly won't let that happen. The core of what Allinq does is the life cycle management of physical telecom infrastructures. From specification, design, to construction, management, maintenance and finally decommissioning. The assignment we receive from our customers is not simply to carry out construction and management for them, but also to realize savings and optimization possibilities. That is why, together with the customer, we look at how we can optimize asset management: how can we optimize consumption, extend the lifespan and lower the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)? In order to do this as well as possible, we strongly focus on innovations. With this we are also moving more towards smart digital asset management.

More towards smart digital asset management, does that mean you go further than just the telecom industry?

No, we still do this within the telecom industry. In principle, we currently already maintain the assets. The development we are currently going through is to do this better with the help of digital tools. An example in which digital technology plays an enormous role is keeping data about the life cycle of transmission towers. How do these hang, where does rusting take place. This allows us to perform much more targeted maintenance. Of course, we also get demand for these kinds of solutions from other quarters, but for now we are focusing on the telecom market.

In the past year we have collected more data than in Allinq's history. The difficulty with this is that it is not about our own assets: we manage them for our customers. That is something we are aware of. We are thinking about what information we record in order to generally perform better asset management in the future. As a result, we remain the partner that relieves the customer and can take control of the entire chain.

When it comes to smart digital asset management, do you see data as the most important asset?

Data can help enormously to make things smarter, more efficient and perhaps more fun. But you are not there with data alone. I think that IT knowledge of its own data and process support systems within all departments will become an important factor for every company in the future. That will determine how well you can use data and what you can do with it.

“CIOs should be more ambassadors for IT, but developments should be demand-driven from the business.”

Are you as CIO fronting this transition?

It's not just an IT change. I believe that CIOs should be more ambassadors for IT. But a change like this really has to come from the business. A good example of this is that a few months ago we drew up a plan from IT to successfully launch Microsoft Teams and have it used by the organization. Then corona came and there was a desire and necessity from the business to make use of this. It has now been fully embraced in a short period of time and the implementation plan could be thrown into the trash. This is how it must and will go with more developments, that it is demand-driven from the business.

Probably not everyone in the business has an overview of what is possible with IT, how do you see the role of your CIO office in this?

Researching IT developments and how you can use them remains part of IT. We keep business analysts on board who monitor new developments, also within our ERP packages. At the moment we still traditionally have a dedicated IT team per department, but we notice that the people really know what they want. More and more solutions are coming from the business. This makes it particularly important that you have to hit the boundaries more clearly from an IT perspective with regard to what is possible.

Do you feel that you are ahead of fellow CIOs in this? Because you leave the business in charge much more?

As the basis for our services, we implemented a completely new IT environment last year that fulfills our ambitions. This supports our core processes and we have all asset and workflow data available in one environment. In this environment we can implement new changes or link new solutions relatively easily. This puts us in the privileged position of leaving the business at the helm. We are taking the right steps, and I have the feeling that we are currently ahead of our competitors, but that could change at any moment. With current developments, this is of course never certain and it is possible that people will run past you at any time. Suppliers of equipment are also increasingly carrying out management and maintenance, with which they also enter our market.

'Right person in the right place' and 'strong change capacity' seem to be HR-driven spearheads. How do you view that as a CIO?

With regard to the right person in the right place, I really believe that IT only has a governance role and thus becomes a CIO office. In the future, I expect that everyone will be able to manage their own IT, request changes, resolve issues, and so on. Of course, this is only possible if IT ensures that the architecture and governance are in good shape. Based on our vision for the future in the field of IT, we therefore give our own interpretation to these spearheads.

Another example that gives the right person in the right place a completely different dimension is the development we are currently going through with augmented reality. With this you can, for example, send a mechanic - even if he or she is still in training - into the work field and he / she can see exactly which location and asset is involved and how to act via augmented reality. The experts are involved in the background, which means that their knowledge can be used more efficiently and effectively and that employees can also be deployed more widely.

The ability to change is indeed a large part of 'human beings'. I think this is the most difficult within any organization and lies more in the HR column. The IT field is of course extremely dynamic and our employees in particular know what it is like to change and to implement changes. We can also act as ambassadors where possible.

The developments you mention also contribute to your spearhead 'waste at 0'. For example, preventive maintenance instead of corrective maintenance. How does such a process work?

With data analyzes we gain more insight into the life cycles of assets and based on this we plan predictive maintenance. We also use RPA and augmented reality, among other things, in particular to reduce costs and increasingly move to smart digital asset management. That is why we are looking at all techniques that may help extend the lifespan, optimize consumption and lower the TCO. As a result, we help our customers to deal with their assets in the most efficient and effective way, freeing up money for investments in expansions and new work packages.

“I really believe that in the end you will survive if you put your customer first. That is the future.”

That seems like a difficult business model, receiving less turnover while you are actually making improvements.

The customer is number one for Allinq. And these developments in the use of data and predictive maintenance is what is best for the customer. In the end, that pays off. That may be special, but it is what we believe in. That's what I like about this company and I really believe that you will survive if you put your customer first. That's the future.

We do this throughout the entire chain. Allinq is a management organization, so we manage many subcontractors. These are parties that generally focus more on fast production. We are passionate about guaranteeing and improving high quality with subcontractors. We want to bind subcontractors to us who believe in the same as we do. That is why we also make our innovations and developments available to our subcontractors. This is how we try to expand our ecosystem.

An ecosystem to serve the end customer in the best possible way. How do you see the further future of IT and the role of your CIO office in this?

I think you eventually work towards a well-functioning ecosystem, in which organizations outsource what is not fundamental to their core business and IT is given a governance function. New generations are increasingly IT-minded, which helps in this transition. But if you look at the current state of affairs in the Netherlands, that will not work in the short term, because we still have a lot to do with legacy systems here. On the one hand we look at new developments, but on the other hand we also 'carry along' a piece of legacy. How do you keep this up and implement the necessary changes? We are well on the way, but this will certainly not make an ecosystem feasible for everyone in the coming years. It's definitely going that way.

“We, from IT, have to guide the business towards a future where they can maintain and manage their own IT.”

What would you like to pass on to others?

The most important thing now is the ambassadorship. IT becomes an integral part of the business. We, from IT, must ensure good governance. And guiding the business towards a future where they can maintain and manage their own IT.