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What is life like working in one of the most exciting parts of Vodafone? Hear about some of the projects and initiatives at Vodafone, and what it’s like working for one of the fastest-growing businesses in IoT.

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS

Christine is the Principal IoT Engineering Manager at Vodafone, leading a cross-functional engineering team of over 80 engineers and engineering managers dedicated to making Vodafone’s IoT vision a reality by building the IoT products and platforms our society needs for a better future. She is a cross-functional engineering leader experienced in the tech sectors in Europe, Australia and Asia, ranging from defence, telecommunications and IoT, recognised by industry authorities and associations, with board-level experience in non-profits and startups. Christine has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Electrical Engineering, and is currently doing a part-time Executive MBA at Cambridge.

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Episode Transcript

Christine Chen
So my name is Christine. Um, the topic I’m going to be talking about today is a day in Vodafone IoT. Some of you might know, Vodafone made the decision to set up an IoT business within the existing business rather than spin off an IoT business. And what is that? Like? What are some of the projects we’re working on? And what is where is the future of this part of the business? Is what I’m going to talk a bit talking about today.

Christine Chen
A bit about me. So I’m the Principal IoT Engineering Manager at Vodafone. So I lead the engineering team for the IoT business in Vodafone, which is a team of currently about 36 Plus, onshore plus about 5060 people offshore, where a team where multifunctional cross functional engineering team so software engineers, test engineers, architects, DevOps engineers, security engineers, infrastructure, cloud infrastructure engineers, you name it, we pretty much have in the team. Before that I’ve have worked for a mix of multinationals and startups.

Christine Chen
So I’m currently I was totally also co founded a startup called Clara, a social platform startup. The app is on play store and Apple if you’re interested. And before that, I was a senior manager of solutions consulting also at a telco company called Siena, also multinational and then before that was probably the role that took me into IoT, which is when I was working for thing straw, as the global IT solutions and Delivery Manager. Thigstra is the Sigfox operator in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Christine Chen
If for those who are new to IoT, there’s a few big major connectivity IoT connectivity providers in this world. Vodafone’s NB IoT is one and currently the largest connectivity provider with over 135 million connections. Sigfox is another one. Another example in the UK will be LoRaWAN. So this thing straw runs the owns, has the Sigfox operating operator licence to operate in Australia, New Zealand in Hong Kong. And at the time, the CEO realised that a lot of their projects were happening in Europe and wanted to move someone to Europe. So I joined that company to help it expand verbally. And it’s a it’s also a startup, it’s a probably what we would call a medium mature stage startup. Now it’s pre IPO. But at the time, it was 70 people and at Ceres I think the or II at the time when I joined they probably at Ceres because Xillia now I’m currently doing Executive MBA at Cambridge and I have a master’s in batch Bachelor’s in electrical engineering. So that’s a bit about me. It’s very quickly, I have a safe word today for this presentation, which is Scooby Doo. Marketing in Vodafone has quite strict policies. And there’s a lot of things I can’t talk about. I thought rather than just saying very boring of making a very boring statement. Sorry, I can’t answer that question. And we’ve all refer to someone else. It’s way more fun just to use a safe word. So if you hear me say Scooby Doo, it’s because it’s not. I can’t talk about that. Because Vodafone hasn’t shared that information public yet.

Christine Chen
Okay, what is Vodafone? Like I said earlier? We are the largest IoT connection provider in the world with over 136 million connections. That is growing at double digits year on year. We also own and operate 570 networks in 182 countries. There’s only 195 countries in this world. So I’m when I first joined I was quite impressed by that. We were in multiple connectivity vertical. So 5g NB IoT NPN not just so we’re not your typical telco provider, we’re actually probably one of the most versatile technical telco providers. And and that is a myth. Here is Vodafone is just a multinational telco company. Is that true? And I’m going to show you why we’re not. Vodafone is actually in a lot of spaces. We offer 5g IoT Edge computing cloud and security mixed reality that pretty much every digital technology you can think of out there we probably have a project running in that spicing Vodafone when I first joined, I also thought Vodafone is just a telco and recently getting into IoT.

Christine Chen
And then I realised that no, we’re actually one of the largest with the largest IoT connectivity provider in the world. And we have projects in all of these different areas. So it’s really quite exciting. It’s working for the IoT part of Vodafone. It’s very much like working for a startup backed by a multinational world leading company. One of the struggles I experienced when working for startups is always that scalability, you have great ideas, you want to scale it, it was always a struggle, because startups by nature are resource constrained. In Vodafone, it’s, it’s like, it’s like, because you’re in a new part of the business. It’s like in your, we’re trying to, we’re trying to grow in IoT. It’s like, that mindset is very much like a startup with the resourcing of Vodafone. So I found that actually quite quite, quite interesting. It comes with its own set of challenges, too. But it’s also very interesting and exciting to be in. We’re working on some of the most ambitious cutting edge projects in the industry. And I’m going to talk about a couple that are specific to IoT. What are some of those projects, one project that my team is leading for the engineering part of it is end to end solutions, what we call end to end solutions in Vodafone and the basically, we want to build one of the largest IoT solutions marketplace in the world.

Christine Chen
To do that, we have to launch solutions very quickly, we have to launch hundreds of solutions in a very short time span. And we need to make it we need to make that experience as easy and smooth as possible for our customers. How do we do that? We do that by partnering with vendors centre competencies and building in house. So Vodafone does have does have in house engineering capability. But in order to launch hundreds of solutions in a very short timeframe, it’s impossible to build everything in house no matter how much resource we have. So a large part of our a lot of our solutions are actually coming from vendors and central competencies. Now vendors we all know quite well, it’s coming from the IoT ecosystem. There’s a lot of companies out there that build asset trackers that build healthcare solutions that build temperature sensors, pet trackers. So we partner with a lot of vendors for that. And then sent all competences, the one in the middle is what I want to spend a bit more time talking about.

Christine Chen
So Vodafone has set up five centre of competencies, basically their subsidiaries that Vodafone partially own, and they specialise in a specific industry vertical. So as an example, we have one in health, we have one in automotive we have one in agriculture. So these centre of competencies are they specialise in the area and they already have solutions in their particular area. Vodafone partners with them to help scale those existing solutions, but also help them launch new solutions through our end to end to end solutions project. These centre competencies are located globally. So there’s one in Greece, one in Germany, one in Africa, for example. And through the this sort of three way or prod approach, this is it. This is how we’re planning to launch as hundreds of solutions within the next five years. Another project is NPM management plane. MDN stands for mobile private network.

Christine Chen
And there’s already this there’s a lot of solutions that are popping up in that space. It’s it sort of is that space where it has an overlap with IoT basically it’s providing customers with their own private network not having to share with the public is particularly useful for customers in the b2b area. So like manufacturing, for example, or oil and gas. I know there’s an Australian in the audience. I’m Australian. Rio Tinto has, for example, a big oil and gas mining company in Australia. They have their own network in their own their own land because they’re that big. So management plane and what is MDM management plane. It’s basically a platform, a portal that we’re building the team is building right now, where it will be used to access all the Vodafone’s solutions and services are great now if you go to if you want to buy a solution for Vodaphone, there’s hundreds of different websites you need to access.

Christine Chen
As a customer, let’s say if you’re in the utility business, you have 2000 customers, and you have an annual turnover of let’s say, 1 billion, you don’t, it might be very difficult for you to find out which solutions and services provided by Vodafone that will be relevant to you. Management Plan is aiming to solve that problem by providing that single point of access single pane of glass to our customers to access the rest of Vodafone. And what that also means is tying back to end to end solutions. It isn’t just setting up a website, it also means aligning everything in the background in Vodafone, providing a unified customer experience throughout all of our solutions and services to our customers, and providing a unified service route. So no matter if you’re a customer based in Asia, in Australia, in America or in Africa, or in the Middle East, your experience with interacting with Vodafone and accessing Vodafone services and solutions will be exactly the same with some customization for your local local market. One thing I’m very proud of is and quite surprising to me since I’ve since joining Vodafone during the pandemic is diversity and inclusion in Vodafone is it is really part of our DNA. So as an example, I my team has an engineering team, it’s typically not very diverse, usually in engineering teams, but my team is about 40% women at the moment coming from I’m going to say roughly more than 14 countries. And that really is like you feel it when you’re in Vodafone is that focus on diversity inclusion and, and being respectful of each other, respecting our differences is really part of our DNA. And we are growing very quickly.

Christine Chen
So my team, for example, we grew we tripled in size in the last 18 months. And that’s the usage. That is that is being part of it. And that’s part of the excitement of being in a startup sort of kind of business in a multinational companies. It’s growing very, very quickly. I can’t fly fast enough, actually. So if anyone’s interested in in applying I’m, I’m hiring six engineering roles, software engineers, and one senior engineering manager Mollica. That’s my plugin.

Christine Chen
We are transforming ourselves into a tech comms company. So as I’ve said earlier, we’re already in 5g IoT mixed reality security, cloud cybersecurity cloud. All of these areas, we are actually already a digital tech company. But the when you’re from the outside looking in Vodafone can often still seem like a traditional telco company. And that’s what we’re trying to change is to change that, that perception and transform ourselves into a tech comms company. Now, we’re never going to be a tech company. Like a lot of our competitors out there, our niche, our unique advantages in the comms part. And that’s what we want to bring to that what we’re offering is that tech comms offering. How are we doing that? So we have a plan to add 7000 software engineers by 2025. It is software engineering is the fastest growing area in Vodafone today. Through we’re doing that through a mix of recruiting internal rescaling and insourcing. And by doing that we aim to transform ourselves, we will become one of the largest software engineering companies in Europe.

Christine Chen
Just a note on the 7000, I think we currently have something oh gosh, a few, a few 1000 already. So we’d be looking at maybe 15 or 20,000. Software Engineers. I used to know the numbers, but I’ve got forgotten now. Where do we see IoT going in the future as a company? We’ve just released an article on that in the news earlier this month. We see it as an operational asset. What does that mean? We see it as essential to businesses. It will in the future become as essential to be as electricity to businesses and society. Already we’re seeing we’re seeing when we pull our customers over 70% of businesses have told us IoT is part of is a is something they want to focus on in the future. And we see that more and more especially in the post pandemic world. One of our solutions is called V boss. So Vodafone Business Office Spaces, it’s used to provide a smart office space to our customers, to, to businesses, to to allocate this to allocate office assets, and manage it in a smarter way in preparation of the future remote ready work culture. And that’s it. Any questions?

Katie White
Thank you, Christine. So let’s answer any questions that the audience has asked. So we have one from Laurie, what is the biggest challenge in leading large scale complex projects and people in your team?

Christine Chen
Oh, there’s a few challenges. One is hiring Vodafone, still, I can’t fill the roles fast enough. But then the work still has to be done. So So unfortunately, I spent quite a bit of time recruiting and hiring and as with all of my colleagues and and that’s that’s one challenge. Another one is I’m leading large being part of large Scout scale projects is, I think finding finding the right way to work when we’re first launching that that project. Vodafone is very big. And that means there’s a lot of stakeholder holders involved when launching a project or when working on a project. IoT is different to the traditional telco business. And it means some of the ways we work it we’ve worked in the past, we’ve had to adjust that for the IoT business, and aligning everyone aligning such a large business aligning such a large project, even our vendors, our centre of competencies together is very hard into N solutions. For example, when we first started the project, it was we didn’t have a common way of working with our different vendors, we didn’t have a standardised way of saying okay, this is how we’re going to determine whether this solution is coming from a vendor is secure enough. Or if it meets our Vodafone standards, whether the hardware is compliant, whether the certifications are okay, we didn’t have a common way of doing that. Now we do and we’re moving more and more towards an aligned way of doing that. And, um, by doing that I really feel positive for the industry, because it’s a large company saying this is the minimum we will accept for you to become a vendor and Vodafone and that lifts the quality of the solutions in the ecosystem. I think so. Yeah.

Katie White
That that. Thank you, Christine. And then another question. Where do you see the future of IoT at Vodafone?

Christine Chen
So it like I said, I see it as it will become an in Vodafone sees it as an operational asset to businesses in the future. A couple of things that I think will also be quite exciting to see in the coming year in IoT is the impact on 5g on IoT. So 5g, 5g isn’t just going to be for mobile phones. If anything, it’s it’s probably one of its smallest impacts on mobile phones. Its impact on IoT means huge amounts of data, huge amounts of traffic’s that will be enabled for IoT, we’re no longer looking at just small assets, you know, like battery constrained tracking devices, we’re looking at things like virtual reality mixed into IoT autonomous vehicles, those use cases. And so 5g, the way we see it, as 5g will make 5g will make IoT autonomous, it won’t be something that it will be even more low touch than what it was meant to be. It will really enable us to be able to monitor crops at a distance monitor businesses and production lines at a distance with as much data we need. We also see anticipate the impact of hyper scalars on it. So Microsoft, for example, is getting into the IoT space. A lot of the big players Vodafone, like Vodafone is getting into this area. So I think more and more you’ll start seeing the impact of hyper scalars. I’ve been I’ve worked for startups in IoT, and back then it was mainly driven by startups by small companies, startups, and it was very exciting in that sense. One challenge we’ve always had though, in IoT is Scout and quality solutions. We can’t scale without quality solutions and without scout it will never be a thing. And that’s why it’s taken over 10 years to get it off the Grand with hyperscale has come into the play, you were playing with the big boys, I’m sorry to use the boy boy in a conference. But but but it’ll be exciting to see how that impacts quality, the quality that has demanded in industry standards being unified across industry bigger and bigger projects coming into industry. And that means Scout, you know, the sort of scale we’ve been looking forward to.

Katie White
And so we also have another question, what do you do or not do to have higher than average diversity and inclusion numbers individually and company wide, specifically around disabilities rather than gender slash ethnicity?

Christine Chen
Okay. So on disability, it’s just a Vodafone wide policy. And I have to I do think this has to be driven from the top down. If if there’s a company wide policy mandate that says you have to make it accessible and available to anyone, then it will be. And in Vodafone, we do have that mandate, we do not discriminate between disability, especially in engineering, like it doesn’t make sense. Most of the times we’re just sitting in front of a laptop tends to discriminate anyone. So for for us, we’ve been very lucky. And we do have the resources to put in place infrastructure that allows for accessibility so that that that part I do, I think I really appreciate the fact that it is top down driven, so mandate, same as gender and ethnicity, diversity, HR, we have a policy that every time we we open up a roll, we have to depending on depending on the role itself, we have to interview or consider a minimum number of candidates. And I think that’s quite a good balance between like some companies mandate a quota on how many women you have to hire, which then sort of goes the other way and leads to arguments like Oh, is that fair? And is that a meritocracy? The fact that we have to consider women means we make extra effort to make sure. Like, for example, if my I opened up a role and it doesn’t have any women candidates, I’m going to ask myself, Is my job description written? Well, in a way that doesn’t seem appealing to women? Can I reword it? Or can I advertise it in media or platforms or channels where women more have more access to rather than the typical channels that maybe recruit recruiters go to? So it forces us to think in a different way on how we recruit. And through increasing our diversity in our recruiting pipeline, we’ve managed to increase the diversity in the team as well.

Katie White
Thanks for that, Christine. We’ve also got another question about 6G. So there’s already talks of 6G. Any idea of what this could look like in terms of IoT?

Christine Chen
Honestly, I don’t know. And I’m going to pull the Scooby Doo.

Katie White
New card it’s okay, so So I guess at the moment, it’s just talk talks on 5G? Yeah, yeah. Okay. Well,

Christine Chen
Yeah, well 5G is launching it is coming away. And I think it’ll take a few years before we start to see it mature in the IoT industry. 660 has started from my understanding very early stage talks. So it’s to be seen what its impact on it will be.

Katie White
Well, thank you, Christine. I believe that’s the questions. I know we have our next speaker after that, and I know that you would like to announce her talk. So the floor is yours for this one.

Christine Chen
Yeah. So the next speaker is Alexa Kumada. She’s a global tech influencer and thought leader. She was the she won the women in whole I’m gonna get this wrong. So I’m gonna refer to my notes. She won the woman of the year last year in the IoT Premier League. So very exciting speaker she’ll be talking about the gentle invasion breaking the barriers for women in it. So move on to her her session.

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