The Sun also rises on perfection says Swantee

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Switzerland’s Sunrise wants to be fault-free, says CEO Olaf Swantee. It has followed a network outsourcing deal with a second deal to outsource IT to the same company

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Olaf Swantee: CEO, Sunrise
Sunrise CEO Olaf Swantee has one overriding ambition for his Swiss mobile and fixed network: that it should be defect-free. Defects are an area uppermost in customers’ minds, says Swantee, who has run Sunrise for almost a year after long spells at Orange and the UK mobile operator EE. 

“If I ask anyone on the street how they find their current network, they think of their last dropped call,” says Swantee.

“We want to create a world where we have a defect-free network. I am also very confident that Sunrise is the best network in Switzerland.”

And that’s not just a target for the network technology but also for the associated IT. “Our objective is to create a defect-free world, and that extends to IT. In IT we have had more defects than in the network. I can be very transparent about that. That’s our primary objective.”

A laudable aim, but how do you achieve it? Partly, he admits, because Sunrise is relatively small – certainly smaller than the outfits he ran in his two most recent roles. “There was a more complex history and legacy in EE that made it difficult to standardise the architecture,” he says. EE was initially a combination of Orange UK and T-Mobile UK, though since early 2016 it has been owned by BT. 

“We were lucky in Sunrise that the starting point was easier. But that’s not just size,” he says. 

Sunrise has 6.3 million customers, making it the second largest in Switzerland behind Swisscom. It was once a subsidiary of Danish incumbent TDC, then spent a period owned by private equity, and now is quoted on the Swiss stock exchange. 

One of the key tactics he has introduced is outsourcing: network and IT are outsourced to Huawei, and the Sunrise team is responsible for overall strategy. The network operations centre is run by Huawei from Romania. As Sunrise CTO Elmar Grasser says, “It only gets to my desk if you have something that’s not working.”

This gives the top management team a very different focus, and it also means the infrastructure team, now transferred to Huawei, can focus on the infrastructure. 

The original network outsourcing deal dates back to 2012 when Huawei became sole managed services partner for Sunrise’s fixed and mobile network in a five-year contract. Then, in October 2016, Sunrise and Huawei announced a further five-year partnership covering IT managed services, including IT networks, field operations and spare parts management.

Most of Sunrise’s technology staff were moved to Huawei, with a key Sunrise team able to “look ahead to make sure the network is compatible with what’s to come”, says Grasser. “I believe in the split – the focus on the defect free network.”

Swantee pays tribute to the relationship. “I’ve worked with Huawei in different capacities,” he says. The company has “not only great technology but a very strong sense of partnership. They understand our objective, and they’re focused on our success. That’s something I cherish very much”.

Grasser is candid about the benefits to the infrastructure people of working in an environment that is concentrating on infrastructure. In the past the top team, he admits, did not spend much time on infrastructure. “In the past, infrastructure was only important when something was not working.”

How does Swantee manage the relationship? “If you want a defect-free environment you have to have critical functions in-house.” And the partnership must be rock solid, he says.