Vodafone innovation chief: It’s not about devices

Juan-Jose Juan Vodafone global enterprise innovation leader

Juan-Jose Juan Vodafone global enterprise innovation leader

When it comes to defining innovation Vodafone global enterprise innovation leader Juan-Jose Juan puts improving the user experience in front of cutting-edge technologies. This means he sees his role as finding transformations that improve the ways people and companies work.

He says: “Innovation isn’t just about gadgets. It is about understanding what the future of business looks like. It’s about improving the things that matter. In the West that might mean productivity, in Africa it means saving lives.”

To illustrate, Juan uses the example of an SMS service set up in Tanzania. Malaria is a huge problem in the country. Medicines can be the difference between life and death. The problem is distributing the medicines, sick people might trek for hours to a village clinic only to find there are no stocks of the drugs.

Vodafone worked with the drug companies and health authorities to create a simple service using SMS messages to track stock levels to improve distribution and stop stocks from running out. It’s a simple application, but makes a huge difference.

Global footprint

Juan works in Vodafone’s global enterprise group. He describes it as the part of the company established when Vodafone’s management realised it needed to deal with multinational organisations that “had a bigger international footprint than us”.

Vodafone operates mobile networks and other telecommunications services in many countries around the world, but it isn’t in every key market. Many of its biggest customers are. The global enterprise group has the job of seeing these customers get a consistent, seamless experience wherever they operate.

This can mean innovative technology, but it also needs fresh thinking about how tools are used. Juan says one of the biggest challenges facing the large companies the enterprise group works with is that they can spend vast sums on large-scale systems only to find they are too complicated for most users to make sense of.

What Angry Birds teaches enterprise systems

He says few people have trouble working out how to use games like Angry Birds, so Vodafone has brought in games developers to create easily understood user interfaces. Juan demonstrates a dashboard to help telecommunications executives manage complex processes through a series of simple, easily understood screens on an iPad.

Juan says machine to machine communications – M2M – is one of the hottest areas of innovation worldwide, but a lot of the early work on that was done here in New Zealand.

Vodafone has made it simpler for large companies to deal with fleets of m2m kit by introducing a global Sim card that can work anywhere in the world – it doesn’t have to be a Vodafone network. If necessary these Sim cards can be soldered directly into devices.

The idea is that customers can make millions of devices in, say, New Zealand, then ship them anywhere without having to worry about breaking boxes open and installing local cards. Vodafone has also simplified the pricing of global Sim cards so customers know in advance how much it will cost their devices to access mobile networks.