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Spark mulls over re-training staff

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Spark mulls over re-training staff to cope with changing nature of work force

By Paul McBeth

Nov. 3 (BusinessDesk) - Spark New Zealand chief executive Simon Moutter says he's troubled by the changing nature of the workforce and is exploring how to best re-train people halfway through their careers to deal with the changing environment.

The country's biggest telecommunications firm wants to become the lowest cost operator in New Zealand through simplification, digitisation and automation, and Moutter told shareholders at today's annual meeting in Auckland that flattening management structures and giving units greater autonomy, known as an 'Agile' model, had achieved "terrific results in customer experience improvement and speed to market". Similarly, the introduction of artificial intelligence bots to help customers with poor broadband performance had cut call handling time by 40 percent and achieved high satisfaction among customers and staff.

However, Moutter said he had been troubled by the changing environment for staff where people are getting caught short without the right skills to adapt, and that Spark is "exploring mid-career re-skilling" to support staff through the shift.

"Most people would acknowledge technology is a force for good, but we need to put more work into ensuring it creates a better life for everyone," Moutter said in speech notes published on the NZX. "We'll be using our experience and voice to participate in the leadership agenda required to enable all New Zealanders to adapt to the changing nature of work that is likely to result from digital innovation over the coming decades."

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Spark kicked off a new programme to arrest margin decline in mid-May, where it will simplify its services and boost automation and digitisation to cut costs, use its suite of brands more effectively, and switch more customers on it higher-margin internet services, such as fibre and wireless.

Moutter today said the company is expanding its capability in cloud services, cyber security, data analytics, media, and Internet of Things, where winning in those markets "requires us to embrace an 'all-digital' customer experience".

He reiterated his concerns about the state of broadband retail, saying while "customers are getting more back for their broadband buck than ever before" it wasn't sustainable for the more than 80 providers in the market and he expects consolidation in the market.

"We are now at the point where it is likely cheaper to acquire a customer base from another provider through an M&A deal than it is to try to attract those customers through market efforts," Moutter said. "For that reason, we expect to see, and participate in, significant consolidation of the retail broadband industry over the next couple of years."

Vocus New Zealand, which owns the Orcon broadband provider with 192,000 customers, is on the block after its Australian parent decided to quit this side of the Tasman.

Chair Mark Verbiest, who retires from the board today, affirmed guidance for both earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, and revenue to gain by as much as 2 percent in the year ending June 30, 2018. Spark posted ebitda of $1.02 billion on revenue of $3.61 billion in 2017.

"The fact that as a company we've managed to maintain profitability and are on a modest growth path, despite operating in one of New Zealand's most competitive markets is testament to the hard work and strategic skill within the business," Verbiest said. "It is a result of making the big calls and instilling a strong cost management discipline."

Justine Smythe will take over as chair.

Spark shares increased 0.1 percent to $3.72, having gained 9.4 percent so far this year.

(BusinessDesk)

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