IBM and Coronavirus stories

A Spanish Telco Company Adjusts on the Run

As governments around the world have issued stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, human communication has moved en masse to digital networks. One big complication is that many telecom workers are under the same stay-at-home orders. So phone companies must grapple with unprecedented traffic while mobilizing thousands of their own scattered employees on collaboration platforms.

This is an especially steep challenge in Spain, a hot zone for COVID-19 that has completed its second month of a rigorous national lockdown. Orange Spain, Spanish affiliate of Orange Group, is the second largest mobile telephony provider in Spain with more than 25 percent of the market. As part of its digital strategy, Orange late last year had begun building capacity for remote workplace collaboration. It was designed to enable work from home an average of two days a week.

That gave the company a head start for the current crisis. Still, on March 10, when the Spanish government instituted a remain-at-home order, Orange had to extend its remote capabilities, doubling its capacity for Orange’s more than 5,000 employees in Spain, raising its ceiling from 2,500 to 5,000 simultaneous conferences.

Network traffic, in both calls and users, surged following Spain’s March 10 shutdown

In addition to running its own teams, Orange had to sustain the smooth operation of its national network, which was crucial for everything from medical services to food delivery. The company was particularly concerned about operations in its call centers. It had 1,200 agents in Guadalajara, near Madrid; 900 in Oviedo, on the north coast; and another 1,200 across the Atlantic Ocean, in Colombia. Call volume was sure to skyrocket, and the employees needed to move seamlessly and securely from the vast call centers to their laptops. 

As soon as he heard the remain-at-home decree, Javier Albardiaz knew he was in for some long days and nights—he is the IBM Service Manager for Orange. Based in Madrid, he had already been working with Orange on remote workplace collaboration.

Working from his improvised home office in a suburb south of Madrid, Albardiaz and his dispersed team amped up in a hurry. The call center transition was especially urgent. The IBM team used BigFix systems management software to distribute the new VPN infrastructure for the remote connections.

In addition, the IBM team created a list of simple procedures to help Orange employees who were not used to working from home connect to the system, and provided a Service Desk to answer their questions as they made the transition. IBM created a portal for managing Orange employees’ domain passwords, with a direct connection to the IBM Service Desk. Within three days, the Orange call centers were redeployed to thousands of homes, all of them working in concert to support sales and service for Orange’s customers.

“It was complicated, but we did it fast,” says Albardiaz.

At the same time, IBM was able to help Orange manage the rising call volume. Amid the rush to implement remote work, they carried out the upgrade. It enables phone company customers to reset passwords on their own—without asking for call center help. “This reduces traffic,” Albardiaz says. “It comes at a good time.” And with Spanish customers, like much of the rest of the world, battling the virus by staying at home, the connectivity provides vital connections with the rest of the world.

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