Reducing Customer Delivery Times by Over 50% by Ditching Spreadsheets and Embracing BI


Openreach is the UK’s digital network business. We’re on a mission to build the best possible network, with the highest quality service, making sure that everyone in the UK can be connected.

Openreach is a wholly owned, and independently governed division of the BT Group—working on behalf of more than 620 communications providers like SKY, TalkTalk, Vodafone, BT and Zen.

Over the last decade, we’ve invested more than £13 billion into our network and have made huge strides on service, but in 2016, the performance of our premium Ethernet product for larger business customers wasn’t where it should have been. The end to end process was taking too long–ranging from three months up to two years in certain cases, and the overall customer experience wasn’t great.  

BI at the Heart of Our Company

Access to good internet is critical in our world. Almost everything relies on connectivity. 

As a wholesaler, any communications provider in the UK, large or small, can access our network to sell their services directly to consumers and businesses.

Our network doesn’t just connect homes and businesses for everyday internet access, it also connects hospitals, schools, MOD sites, and nuclear power stations.

To provide a better experience for our larger business customers, we decided that business intelligence (BI) needed to be at the heart of our operation.

I head up the Business Intelligence team within our Fibre & Network Delivery (FND) unit, which is responsible for building our fibre network and serving our larger business customers. My team is made up of data engineering experts who curate data, an analytics team who take the data and turn it into useful reports and visualizations, and data scientists who do more complex statistical computation modelling. I also have people working on regulatory analytics. 

We’ve embraced BI and have used the power of analytics to revolutionize our systems and turn around our service performance over the last year.  We're striving to make analytics part of the everyday conversation in operations and to help the wider organisation make data-driven operational decisions.

The Dark Ages Before Data

Back in 2016, our Ethernet performance wasn’t where it should have been. Our delivery times were too long and the end to end experience for our customers wasn’t great. A lack of data insights meant we were unable to keep up with demand and tackle some of the trickiest orders early on. 

In 2016 our average delivery time to install an Ethernet circuit was around 70 to 75 working days. In some cases where the build was complex, it took 2 to 3 years to deliver a circuit. We knew delivery was taking too long, but without the data, we had no way of understanding what the issues were. 

Like many organizations, we were using spreadsheets, but that wasn’t enough. We needed a true BI solution.

The introduction of minimum service levels by our regulator acted as a great catalyst for change at Openreach. The new minimum service levels required us to deliver within 46 days. So, we had to make huge improvements in a short space of time.  

To help focus our minds and overcome some of the challenges we faced, we enlisted a consultancy to help us find the right BI solution. They recommended Qlik as the right fit for our BI needs. 

A Shift in Focus

We started to use Qlik to help us visualize our data, and that’s when the magic started to happen. We started to generate a huge amount of information and could see the entire distribution of our enormous work stack. It was suddenly very easy to bucket jobs into different brackets by age of orders. 

The results were amazing. Qlik was starting to empower our people. They began asking questions about the data and started to realize the benefits of looking at data differently. They started to think about how the data could help them to increase the efficiency of their operational teams.

Spreadsheets might be simple, but they’re limiting your company’s ability to get actionable insights.

Relying on spreadsheets to analyse the thousands of data points we needed to look at wasn’t great. Our operational engineering teams were also unable to interpret the data and understand which orders they should focus on first, to make the biggest impact for customers.

That's where Qlik helped. 

By using the analytics tool, we were able to see the end to end delivery journey and the key dependencies along the way—highlighting why some orders took longer than others.

Senior managers were now able to drill down through different levels of data and see which orders needed to be prioritised at a team-level and a company-wide level. They knew which areas were performing better than others and we had clear visibility of some of the oldest jobs in our workstack. As a result, we were able to tease out issues and zero in on the oldest orders. Then we helped shift focus and get some of our oldest orders completed for customers across large segments of our service region.

Driving Adoption and Reducing Installation Times

From the outset, we worked closely with our senior management team to make sure they were using the data dashboards. We also held knowledge calls, where we took people through the different bits of analytics specific to their area. For example, I could bring in the south of England team, filter down on the dashboard, and give them a live demo on their particular area, and share some of the insights.

While it was helpful, that approach proved to be too resource-heavy. The approach we use now is a blend. We still have the knowledge calls, where people can drop in and ask questions, but we record a lot of videos which people can use when and how they want. The videos are much more user-friendly and convenient for people. The downside to videos is the lack of accountability. You don't know whether they're actually fully engaging with the content or using it at all.

Recording training can help you scale your adoption efforts. But you’ll need to ensure your staff actually watch them.

Qlik has helped to spread data literacy across Openreach. Managers are now able to identify problems on their own and are engaged with their teams, without our help. 

My objective was to inspire people to ask the next question—the why question—and to follow that track,  to come up with a solution to improving their operational performance.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen installation times come down from 75 days to 35 days. In the same time, we’ve seen our order intake almost double. 

Data analytics has helped take our performance from being one of the worst in Europe to now being one of the best, which is a massive change.

Looking to the Future with Qlik at Openreach

One of the things we're really passionate about at Openreach is driving cultural change. We want to empower our people to make more decisions for themselves, instead of managers making decisions for them. We think Qlik can play a massive part in that.

Qlik is very user-friendly. It's hard to break, friendly to the eye and easy to drill down into different visualizations. Ease of use is critical. Especially when you’re looking to deploy something at scale.  

The next step for us is rolling out data analytics to our engineers in the field. We're looking at what it could mean for them to have access to analytics out in the field and the associated benefits. 

Having a great data analytics tool relies on good quality data – which is something we need to invest in. We've spent over a year improving the quality of our data and we’ll be working hard over the next year or two to complete the process.

Once you've invested in a great software tool like Qlik, don't forget about servers and other hardware. In the end, if the program runs slow, no one's going to use it.

Working with Qlik has significantly improved both operational efficiency and customer service and encouraged our teams to embrace data analytics.