Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Optus overhaul misses deadline

It has been a torrid three weeks for the nation's second-largest telecommunications provider, Optus, and there's worse in store.

Following a series of network bungles, Optus has failed to meet a landmark deadline in its $160 million technology transformation overhaul.

The final leg of Project Reitz, the telco's ambitious program to consolidate its billing and customer relationship management systems, has stalled, as it has yet to finalise selection of software and systems integration suppliers to complete the project.

Optus had a self-imposed target of mid-July for the selection. The last stage of the project covers its business, wholesale and hybrid fibre coaxial residential networks. An Optus spokesperson could not nominate a new date.

"This is a complex project with many elements, therefore we are taking our time to make sure we get it right," the spokesperson said.

Accenture is currently the telco's main systems integrator and software from Oracle and its subsidiary Siebel are widely used throughout the company.

In the mix is software from Optus parent company Singapore Telecommunications.

Project Reitz is aimed at reducing myriad legacy systems as the telco moves towards a self-service model so customers can manage their subscriptions themselves.

"Like all the large IT operations companies we are looking to reduce the number of systems and we will try quite hard to use what we have.

"We are certainly looking for systems integration partners, as that has worked well for us," said Lawrie Turner, Optus's chief information officer in an interview with The Australian in mid-June.

In May 2006 Optus pledged $100 million towards the project but at its recent full-year results briefing Optus chief executive Paul O'Sullivan said Project Reitz had cost $160 million as of March 31. It was unclear how much the next stage would cost. The total could be as high as $260 million, industry observers said, and completion could take until 2010.

The project is named after Bruce Reitz, who performed the first successful heart-lung transplant in the early 1980s, and Optus has its own triple bypass tale. It began on July 14 when subscribers in Queensland and northern NSW were left without phone, mobile or internet services for more than four hours.

Two incidents merged to create the ensuing blackout: a contractor operating a backhoe on a building site at Molendinar on the Gold Coast accidentally severed a fibre optic cable. A back-up link should have kicked in but the telco's Stanthorpe point of presence had a hardware failure.

The state's peak industry body for business, Commerce Queensland, estimates that compensation claims could run into millions of dollars.

The outage drew the ire of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who expressed her dissatisfaction with federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Then, a little more than two weeks later, Optus experienced a second body blow when its 3G mobile network on the eastern seaboard was crippled.

Subscribers were unable to make or receive calls and internet access was disabled for more than eight hours.

To compound matters, Optus technical support personnel were providing wrong information to customers on how to overcome the issue. Instead of advising them to manually switch their mobile phones to GSM mode, users were told to keep turn their handsets on and off every second hour.


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