Blame It On The Boogie: a mystery manager chastises O2 for outages

For the first time, talkRA is publishing an anonymous guest blog. The piece was sent by email using an account called ‘RA Manager’. Who is this mystery manager? ‘RA Manager’ has shared comments in the past, but has never shared their identity. Given the quality of the writing, we had to publish. The mystery manager will find talkRA is a welcoming host in future, if they want to write more. Over the years, many willing contributors have been unable to submit articles to talkRA because of the demand for corporate approval from their employers. Perhaps telcos can only blame themselves for pseudo-news dominated by vendor marketing. Anonymity is one way around that problem, and there was serendipity in the timing of this submission, which was sent just before publication of our story about a UK government official recommending the use of false names on the internet. There is some irony in how telcos behave. Stifling communication is not the best was to advertise communication services. On the other hand, this mystery manager wrote in defense of a supplier that was blamed for an outage that affected customers of O2, the UK mobile network. As the mystery manager points out, a poor craftsman blames his tools…

Growing up as a young child, my Dad always used to tell me “Don’t blame it on your tools”. In one particular incident, I was supposed to complete my homework before going on a run-a-round with our pet Alsatian. I had opened my school bag only to find that I had left my pencil case at school. So without the pencil, I could not possibly do my homework. So I proceed to the garden, dumping my bag in the shoe room, and running off with the family pet.

When my Dad arrived from work, his first question was “Have you done your homework?” My answer was “No!”, and I proceeded to blame the whole episode on the lack of pencils. My Dad was not happy with my answer and pointed out the numerous pens and pencils that were located on his home-office desk. I tried all kinds of excuses, including the “I am not allowed in your home-office when you are not around”, but I was still scolded for not having used the wealth of common sense bestowed on me by my father and all who came before him.

So let me get to the point. In the last couple of weeks O2 – or is it Telefonica UK? – experienced what can only be described as “Déjà vu”, when 10% of their customers we excluded from participating in the usual joyful fun of making calls and texting while driving.

And since this was a repeat event (another outage occurred in July 2012), they managed to quickly issue an apology to all their customers. But wait for it….The apology was nothing like the previous one where they blamed the whole problem on complicated telecom systems. No, this time they had a scape goat, the vendor who supplied the “Customer User Database”.

For those of us close to UK telecom companies, we know that the vendor is Ericsson. And the common man can Google “Customer User Database” and would end-up on Ericsson’s website. In-fact, the main news gazettes did just that by informing us that the vendor was indeed that Swedish Telecom equipment provider Ericsson.

But let me get back to the main point of this article, which is “You should never blame your tools”. Personally, I cannot understand how O2 felt it could not resolve its own problems and publicly try to shame one of its main suppliers. Can we all tell our boss in the office, “Sorry I am not coming in today, as my Morris Minor will not start?” Won’t your boss tell you to get a cab and make sure you have a plan B if you are going to drive such a crappy old car? Don’t get me wrong, i don’t think Ericsson sells crappy old equipment. But the operator who spends millions of dollars on this equipment is accountable if it does not perform as described on the box and cannot excuse thenselves of this responsibility to its customers.

O2 should come clean and tell its customers that their processes for Business Continuity are broken and need to be fixed. The head honcho who manages risk for the operator should give in and ensure BCM becomes an important part of the organization.

Mobile operators need to understand that they are no longer the pockets of the rich and flamboyant who need to prove their status in society, but part of the critical systems for communications that need to be available all the time. Mobile communications is now being used not just for making calls, but to monitor home prisoners, potential terrorists, home protection and locating accident victims, just to name but a few.

Mobiles have become so entwined into our lives, like the TVs in our houses, not everyone has one, but most people cannot live without it.

So what is the moral of the story? Don’t end up in a situation where you need to make up excuses or blame others for issues you could have mitigated with forward thinking. Operators need to invest in BCM – their corporate ‘Plan B’ – to prevent or minimize network outages.

From time to time, Commsrisk invites special guests to make an expert contribution.

2 Comments on "Blame It On The Boogie: a mystery manager chastises O2 for outages"

  1. Joseph Nderitu Joseph Nderitu | 7 Nov 2012 at 11:11 am |

    Great post – I look forward to more from RA Manager. It would seem that the operator somehow believes that the buck stops with the supplier. This syndrome of shifting blame is particularly severe among operators who have outsourcing arrangements and when things go wrong, you will hear of things like “ Our partner is trying to meet the stringent KPIs that we have set but this is taking the partner little more time than we had anticipated”. The thinking is that by seeing this picture of “operator helplessness”, the customer will somehow commiserate and lower his expectations, thereby accept some level of tardiness.

    The truth is that customers couldn’t care less about the details behind service delivery (and rightly so) and no amount of deflection using technical mumbo-jumbo will ever be enough. When I cannot send a text, I truly cannot be bothered to identify which of your systems malfunctioned and who has provided what element in your network. Your SMSC could be made of clay from Timbuktu for all I know and your IN could be assembled using the finest of bamboo pieces from Mt Kenya. All that is unimportant. What is important is that the customer has signed up for a particular service and expects to get it. No litany of excuses can ever suffice.
    Operators need to be brought face to face with what they have become and RA Manager has hit the nail on the head. It’s about accountability. And accountability appears to be a commodity that is in short supply in our industry.

  2. @ Joseph – great comment. Telcos need to face the facts. How often do we hear of an operator that overperformed, overdelivered and underpromised? Even if an operator did excel, its marketing team probably wouldn’t be aware of it, and nor would the customers. These are ingredients that help to guarantee that communications is treated as a commodity, where the only effective differentiation comes from price.

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