The Art of the Possible - COVID-19 Learnings


On this episode of TELUS International Studios, we're joined by Jim Radzicki, the Chief Technology Officer of TELUS International, who shares the many pieces of the digital transformation puzzle during these unprecedented times.

Adapting to a work from home model takes more than just sending employees home. From maintaining corporate culture and employee engagement, to enforcing the power of the cloud, to the need for new security posture - there's many areas of learning to examine after the last eight months. And above all, Jim urges companies to consider the 'art of the possible' as we all continue to navigate this unfamiliar terrain.

To learn more about TELUS International and our digital CX solutions, contact us today.


Intro: TELUS International Studios where customer experience meets digital transformation.

Patrick Haughey (PH): And you are very welcome to TELUS International Studios, the podcast series where we meet the world's top companies and leaders in CX and deep dive into their customer experience, ethos and insights. I'm your host, Patrick Haughey and if you are enjoying this series, if you find it helpful to your goals, if you think others should hear it, then please help us share it with even more people by clicking subscribe or follow, by giving us a rating or even giving us a review that would really, really help. We would greatly appreciate it. Now, since the outbreak of Covid, we've heard a lot about heroes, particularly unsung heroes. The people in our communities and our workplaces who have always been there working hard at what they do, but who I guess suddenly came right to the fore during the pandemic. To make sure that the rest of us were set up to get through such a tough period. I think a very good example of who I'm talking about is that person within a large organization in charge of ensuring that hundreds or even thousands of team members were able to suddenly stop working from the office and start working from home virtually overnight in many cases. The technology, the training, the security challenges and much, much more were immense. And time after time, we watched IT managers, CTO's and their teams overcome those challenges. So in this episode, we wanted to get under the hood of what all this change involved from the perspective of a Chief Technology Officer, to find out what the biggest challenges and the lessons have been and to learn how organizations can move forward even stronger into the future. So I am delighted to be joined today by TELUS International CTO Chief Technology Officer Jim Radzicki. How are you, Jim?

Jim Radzicki (JR): I'm doing very well, thank you, Patrick.

PH: Good. And thanks so much for joining us here today. So look, before we kick off, you've got a sense from the intro there about what we'd like to talk about. Because I know you've been through an incredible few months and looking forward to hearing all about it, because I know that from a business perspective, there's so much to learn. It's a really interesting story, but there's also so much to learn in terms of how to handle big changes like this going forward. But before we kick off, maybe just a brief description of your role, what do you as CTO do within TELUS International?

JR: Sure. As the Chief Technology Officer, I look after our Digital Solutions portfolio and really how we assist companies in their own digital transformation, whether that be from the design phases and just trying to understand, you know, what their goals are, what they look like for maybe the sense of a customer journey map or employee journey map through building those solutions for them, whether that be cloud-enabled technologies or AP Migration technologies, these types of things, to finally delivering those. So once those systems are up and running, they need assistance and support and keeping them that way, well, we deliver services to support them in that fashion as well.

PH: So, of course, before Covid, your job is busy enough, but then suddenly it just sort of went onto a whole new level. So, look, just to set the scene. March of last year, let's say February of this year, I mean February of this year, how many people, how many team members within TELUS International would have worked from home?

JR: Yeah, from a frontline team member perspective., we didn't have anyone. All of our team members, all of our staff were really driven out of our sights. And we're really proud of those locations, you know, and what they look like, how we deliver from the most part, those frontline team members where we're all on the site. We very much supported our back-office employees. So a good portion of the back office team members were enabled from that perspective. But frontline was pretty much none.

PH: And of course, just to clarify, those team members who you're talking about are positioned globally.

JR: Correct. We have, you know, nearly fifty thousand employees around the globe now, pretty much in every region you can think of. From the Americas through Europe and Asia Pacific as well.

PH: Ok, so very, very suddenly things had to change very quickly. And I want to hear a little bit more about that. And I guess you can tell me about that by telling me about what twenty-two in twenty-two is and what it means.

JR: Yeah, it's a catchphrase that kind of kicked on pretty fast here. So if you think about, you know, the beginning of March, each of the countries that we're starting to deal with, with Covid, now it seems it's clearly everywhere. But back then it was what's going on? Is this only something in China? You know, is it spreading out? But it happened to happen in the Philippines where the government had decided that they were going to lockdown and implement some stricter standards. We have a fair few of our population in the Philippines. And we looked, I guess you could say, out our crystal ball at that time and said, "Hey, this is going to start happening in all of the regions that we operate in really quickly." So twenty-two in twenty-two is this we took twenty-two thousand frontline team members who were working in the offices and in twenty-two days had transitioned them all to being work-from-home employees. So it was an incredible initiative. And, you know, we're up to more than thirty-eight thousand of those are working from home now. So lots of effort throughout to get that done. But twenty-two and twenty-two.

PH: That's pretty impressive. And did you have a playbook, so to speak, was there like a well worked out strategy that in the case where we will have to do this, these are the five to ten steps that must click into place immediately?

JR: Yeah, I think I'd say we have, of course, you know, disaster recovery planning, we had business continuity plans. We had a structure of, you know, how we roll up incident management and emergency management procedures and things. But I don't know that anyone could really say we were everyone was fully prepared for a global pandemic, you know, to hit it once. It was, you know, how do you move from one side to another? How do you take some folks home? That said, we had always positioned ourselves as if we needed to have a work-from-home program, we knew that our technology and our infrastructure and framework, the decisions that we had made, were capable of this. And if our clients indeed were requesting that we, you know, took advantage of that, we could. But we hadn't really needed to. That that day in March, everything changed. I think a lot of folks I love the meme that says, you know, who led your digital transformation? You know, was it the CEO, the CTO or Covid-19? This was clearly an example where many of our clients were saying that, you know, we need to be at home now. So we took advantage of the technologies that we had, the processes we had in place to get there. But we also broke a lot of new ground. You know, the flexibility and agility amongst all the teams was a key part of that success.

PH: And I would like to talk to you in just a couple of minutes about that and about the when humans meet machines and the sort of human element in the role, the successful rollout of a new technology or a new system or process. But in terms of your role within this period of time, did you have to sort of lead the way in terms of kicking the strategy into place and getting things moving?

JR: Yeah, there was a lot of folks involved. Obviously, I particularly have a global strategic account that I look after that we came down to the daily hourly meetings on how are we going to take advantage of this technology that we have in place already? How, you know, what do we need to get this done? What are the procedures that need to be in place? How do we do so is an hourly, you know, overnight meetings, weekend meetings, everyone in place so very much at the lower level of, you know, then filling in the gaps. What technologies don't we have? What do we need to bring these forward on that strategic account? For sure. Globally, also supported by CIO organization and the technology enablement groups and teams there. So I absolutely had a play in it. But it was a team effort for sure to to get this done.

PH: It's probably worth putting in context the kind of technologies that customer experience providers like TELUS International use. I think a lot of people working from home means just having a decent Internet connection on access to their emails and ability to do teams calls. But would it be fair to say that the kind of technology that team members in, you know, call centre in a customer experience provider environment, that it's quite different and quite a bit more complex?

JR: Yeah, as a matter of fact, a few years back, one of the larger technology companies out there had actually said the most difficult position that they saw on the technology perspective was management of the data centres that are required to run the contact centre business. And one of the challenges that comes with it is you're not just running your own right. This is not, you know, the size of our company with fifty thousand people. You're supporting your own employees, but you're also connecting to every one of those clients and every one of those lines of business. So it gets exponentially more complex in each of these clients with their own network designs, their own infrastructure, their own application standards, their own physical equipment standards to bring those to generalization and then to be able to move it from an office to the home environment. On top of that, you know, heavily focused toward communications where, you know, home technology is starting to get there. But different than just flipping on your iPad, having secure communications. Having the confidence that, you know, data that stays in the right place is still there. Whether it be payment card industry or health care standards or personal identifiable information. All of these things come into play, all while trying to make a seamless, you know, experience for that customer as well. So almost make the technology not seen from that perspective.

PH: With the technology being so complex, I guess something very simple has the ability to trip things up, and that's the availability of a decent Internet connection. Decent Wi-Fi, decent broadband within the team members house. Was this a simple yet very significant hurdle for some of you?

Yeah, definitely was not simple. What I will say probably, you know, learnings from this and there are a lot of learnings that everyone is taking away from this experience. We're rolling through now, but the power of the cloud really came into play and those that adopted cloud strategies and in particular leveraging omnichannel strategies. So the ability to switch between channels saw and were the easiest in quotes, I use the word easiest, for technically to move at home. And the reason being was, and I'll give you a great example as you said, you might have an Internet connection in your home, but maybe you're in a country where delivering voice-over that Internet connection or video over that Internet connection is not as stable as some other countries are environments and such. So when we sent the folks home, programs that were already omnichannel enabled, we decided let's switch in cooperation with our customers, let's switch some of those team members over to a chat channel for a couple of days. Let's get them home, get them settled. They can still service the customers via chat. Then over the course of the next week, we will introduce newer technologies, different technologies, virtual private networks to their home, stabilizing techniques and tools, configuring the devices better.When those things then settled in, we turn back on those more bandwidth-intensive applications or bandwidth-intensive channels or customer applications. So those clients who had adopted and to be honest, even our own internal corporate functions. So whether it be IT or H.R. or training in Finance, we had already embraced the Cloud. So it was quite easy to move those from home. And then those clients who had already adopted omnichannel, they went first. And then the ones that took longer and took more time and were harder to work through, those needed things like virtual desktops and VPN technologies and, you know, configurations specifically to support their voice or video channels, these types of things. So it took some time definitely to work through. And that home connectivity, you definitely see the value of countries and places that have invested in the infrastructure to look for that. And that is something that we look at when we go back to the future operations as well.

PH: Does that mean does that suggest that companies who have that omnichannel, who do already provide chat, voice and some of the other channels have are subject to less disruption when it comes to situations like this?

JR: It definitely gives them more flexibility, you know, as an example, as you brought up, right, you know, going home, thinking that your Internet connection was fine, you know, for personal use. But suddenly when you decide, hey, I need to do this for a business-critical application, and it the customer is more sensitive to disruption in those type of things, maybe jitter on the line or something like that. You don't want that to happen in a business environment. The whole, "Can I hear you? Can you hear me now?" type thing. So in the case of these companies that adopted these technologies, again, it allows you to switch to a channel that maybe is a little bit less video intense or voice intense, like a chat. You can deal with lower bandwidth for that until you sort of catch up. So absolutely. Those had adopted those technologies. And the more they adopt those technologies, they have an advantage for sure in providing services.

PH: I suppose getting people set up with the technology at home and, you know, training them up on it is one thing. But then the real job starts that they actually have to perform well using this new technology or this new method of these new systems and processes. Was this an entirely new layer to the whole situation and how do you approach it?

JR: Not entirely new, but absolutely a focus for us for sure, one of the things that we're really proud of, you know, at TELUS International is our culture and our employee engagement. We think it drives so much of who we are. That was obviously facilitated quite nicely by, you know, our beautiful facilities and locations that we were operating from. And you see people every day, you know, you have these great conversations and you do training and chairside sessions and engagement activities and fun stuff. Well, we sent everybody home. So the next question is, how do you leverage this technology and almost create a new focus on employee engagement technology? So I recall a great story. It was Tuesday. We had decided we're sending the team home. The team happened to be in Montreal. Right. We're sending them home on the accounts and we got the technology working. Like you said, the base customer technology was in place. But then we used our social tools, like in this case, Google Meet and the chat sessions that we have. And by Friday, so just four days later, and this is the incredible power of humans throughout all of this as well. By Friday, the teams were already doing things like dress-up day and, you know, sharing their cameras and their home, decorating their rooms or wearing tuxedos to work with, you know, all of the fun things that they were trying to do in the office were now happening over the video sessions and over those connectivities that were taking. We saw that and we were aware of it, you know, what the power of this is going to be and the strength of our culture that within just four days, you know, transferred to the home. But we also recognize that we're going to need tools and technology to continue to support this, because the next round of people we hire may never have gone to our office. They may have never been indoctrinated into our great culture and such. So how do we make sure that someone who's never been to the office has all that great experience, has the training capability to, you know, take training, whenever they want to. Has access to their team leaders and team members and coaches and counselors, you know, all those things? How do we make sure they're engaged in the activities? How to change those activities. So, now we do, you know, virtual online cooking courses or, you know, teams are meeting for book club, you know, over these technologies and things. So you really have to you know, that work-life balance that we're all experiencing that in a lot of ways is better. We're sharing a little more personally. Having technology enabled that, again, in a safe way for a huge, huge part of and we'll continue to be part of, you know, driving that employee engagement and corporate culture, which I think is helping us all, to be honest, get through the situation we're in.

PH: Yeah. And has it had to evolve necessarily? Because at the start there was definitely a honeymoon period. Yes, Covid is very serious and terrible. But, you know, in the early days, those sort of dress up. So those Zoom calls in those team coffees and stuff like that were a novelty. And there was certainly a honeymoon period. But, you know, the longer this has gone on, the, you know, the less maybe they are happening. So have you from an employee and a culture perspective, had to evolve how you are trying to maintain that engagement and trying to maintain that strong culture?

JR: Yeah, I think the good news story is I think they're actually happening more as people are settling in now and they realize the art of the possible. I would say the variety is definitely increasing as well. You know, at first it was, OK, let's just get on and have a conversation. You know, let's just talk. And now we're thinking, OK, you know, there's a lot more we can do with this. One of some of the great things I see is some teams will, for example, will pick an ingredient of the week and then they'll have these sessions where people will share recipes around that ingredient, you know, and then they'll get online and they'll share. Here's what I made using this ingredient in such. And virtual lunches now where people are getting a little more savvy and all ordering lunch to be delivered at the same time and having a session, sharing lunch together in these type of things. The tools themselves being completely virtual enabled. So from a training session as well. Some of our trainers, as a matter of fact, even call out. A lot of times they feel a bit closer because in a classroom environment, you know, you don't necessarily see the person sitting in the back row of the side. But everybody's in the row when you do a virtual training session right. Everyone. The access, the engagement. Many of the team members have said they're actually in some ways closer to the team leaders because they have this ability to, you know to get a hold of them at any point. So so it is evolving for sure. I don't know that's, you know, decreasing. That said, we are aware of fatigue. I think we were very humble in the beginning. All metrics were great. Everyone, you know, every metric that you could possibly measure around customer satisfaction was higher. Employee engagement was higher. But now that we're, you know, eight months in, we have to work harder at it. You have to work harder. You will get a lot more fatigue as in many countries now, right? You can't go more than five kilometers outside of your home. That starts to wear. So we're very conscious of that and reaching out and leveraging the tools and technologies to keep the engagement levels up.

PH: For anyone listening who has a large amount of employees and they are out there watching this happen and they are conscious of fatigue. Can you recommend any particular tools or pieces of technology that will help them to maybe detect this or, you know, measure engagement on an ongoing basis?

JR: So we, you know, we're very heavily engaged with Google and our environment here. So for classroom trainings, for example, Google Classroom and Google Meet technologies that we use for each of the team meetings and such. And obviously, the G suite in of itself, they're the entire workspace of applications that come with it are already, as I said, sort of cloud-enabled and available on multiple devices. So, that cultural aspect of leveraging those tools, you know, that are in place already. And then continuing the human aspect of it. So leverage those suite of services. Leverage those collaboration tools we have again. We're on the Google Suite, but there is other good ones out there as well. And staying, you know, staying focused and understanding, you know, that these are people. They are the team member. They crave. Everyone is craving that personal touch that they had and and and making sure you reach out. And to be honest, look for things like who is not connecting? Who is not participating? Who's not actively in it? That's probably more of the flags to look for. And again, trying to engage those folks in it.

PH: So I guess using technology to enhance the human touch, not replace it.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it does create much more opportunity for folks to communicate, either passively or inactively as well. So the video aspect is great. That is one of the challenges in our environment, though, right? Bringing a camera to everyone. And that probably brings a good segway if we go into sort of the new security postures that need to take place as you move everyone home as well. Camera being one of them. We'd love to give everyone a camera, obviously, but there are some challenges that come with that as you, you know, are in people's homes now.

PH: Well, you must have been reading my mind because it literally was my next question. You're good at this Jim! Has Covid thrown up a whole new set of challenges around security?

JR: Yes, it absolutely has. I think, you know, in those very early days, most clients were, "Hey, how do we just get this up and running?" A certain level of security obviously needs to be in place. But as I mentioned, it's similar to that omnichannel path . Let's get the basics. But very quickly, let's move to the fact of what do we need to do to really secure this environment. Things like adding virtual private networks all the way to the home, even with some Cisco, some devices in and of themselves. We use the Cisco Meraki devices as an example to extend it physically to the person's home and such. But the concept will continue to grow even further. This idea of zero trust, which sounds so negative, but it's actually a positive thing, you know, treating every location, every person the same and requiring the same levels of security, whether you're at home, in the office or, you know, wherever you're accessing from. And we really do look at it as a work from anywhere. And then enabling those technologies to really think about what was it that I truly needed. A great example of this is, you know, folks get concerned about PCI data payment card industry data at home, taking a credit card. Thinking about does the agent or team member really need to see that credit card number? And the answer in most cases is no. So using, again, these omnichannel or digital technologies. Pushing a form to the customer who's at their own home on their own device. They enter in the credit card number. The team member at home never sees it. They just get the message back that says, yeah, that that card was accepted. Great, move on with the conversation. So, eliminating data from that's not truly needed in the at-home environment is sort of this next level of new security posture, you know, for us to continue toward. And moving on. And the same thing goes for Biomatrix in ensuring those people who are doing the work are the people that are the ones who went through training. The ones that went through the background checks, you know, making sure what I like to call environmental awareness. You know, who's in the room with them? These type of things are all levels of security that need to come. So we've developed sort of eight different security postures that we offer to our customers today. But they will continue to evolve going forward to really down to only deliver what's truly needed to that home environment. And if you think creatively, there's probably a lot less that's needed than you'd imagine, you know, just eight months ago.

PH: Yeah. So it's kind of almost an opportunity for a little bit of housekeeping and a rethink on security and information going forward anyway.

JR: Yeah, as mentioned, Covid-19 has been the great, you know, the great, the great push to our digital transformation for sure, cleared a lot of red tape. I like to think anywhere from five to ten years of advancement and at home and remote worker technology is kind have been crunched into this last eight months.

PH: When just, my last question on security there, is it very important to note, and now I guess you did in a way, but just for anyone listening to drive home the message that technology and the security technology that you can introduce for a work from home environment is not a silver bullet. It's important to remember that a lot of the mistakes that happen from a technology perspective is human error. It's not that as some whiz kid has just tapped into your system. It's very much about the person operating the machine at home. So the sort of human training is very important alongside that piece of technology.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. You know, this is I'll tie it back to our other comments around corporate culture. This is yet another reason, I think, of why that corporate culture and employee engagement and, you know, people who really enjoy the company they work for and what they're doing to realize and recognize of their role and the importance of their job. Of being the custodians of the customer's data and what that means so we can deliver as all the technology to make that easier for them and keep it safe. There's a lot of really great technologies out there today to lock desktops down and provide, again, virtual desktop environments or VPN networks, secure communications, you know, throughout no matter where you are with it. But you're right, you know, a person now is working from their home. Again, we're not in the closed-door facilities and such. So the environmental factors around them as well if they're students working in apartments or things like that, you got to really make sure you know who's around you and who's available as well. So there's lots more to continue on this front is what I'll call environmental awareness of the technology. Looking for things like is there a camera in the room with them? Is there a person standing behind them? Was there is sound recognition of someone else talking in the room, you know, these type of things. So there's a lot more to come as we continue to look at how to secure these environments at home.

PH: Finally, Jim, you mentioned a little bit earlier these words, the art of the possible. What do you what is the art of the possible and what do you mean by that?

JR: Yeah, so, you know, as you look back and like I said if this was January or February, I think many businesses would have said, "No, there's no way we can do this work at home. You know, our tools won't allow us. Our security teams will never let it go by. Our applications aren't set up that way." You know, these type of things. So as it became a mandate and I think, you know, the saying necessity is the mother of invention. Right. Necessitated that we need to do this. And then all of a sudden it's like, "Hey, you know, we can do this." So, you know, as we progress through this conversation, things like, hey, maybe we can move to this omnichannel environment. Maybe chat is a good channel for us. You know, performance is actually better at home. I never would have thought that, you know, this program would have actually performed better from an at-home toolset. And on top of all of that, we didn't talk much but in using digital enablement technologies to help those customers out, even when the human in the loop, you know, is not available. So increasing as bots and robotic process automation and smart knowledge base is a visual IVR's, you know, is all of these tools get better and better the art of the possible of what we can deliver on a 24/7 basis to keep customers and employees engaged just is there's no limit to it. And every time I look at a technology, there's another one that's coming right around the corner that even takes it a little further than we thought. So I think that's what I mean by it. You know, that we put a lot of, I think, artificial blockage in front of ourselves when we look at how we operate today and if open mind and sometimes it's forced us to be an open minds, really creates a lot of opportunities.

PH: Well it's very exciting. And, you know, you as CTO of TELUS International must feel very proud of what you've achieved. What your teams have achieved. And you sound very excited for what's to come.

JR: Absolutely. You know, I can just I can honestly say none of the success of what we were able to do would have been possible. This rapid business transition during Covid without the extraordinary efforts of the team players. You know, acting truly for the greater societal good. I think people realized, hey, I'm not just going to work at home. I'm keeping gainfully employed. I'm keeping my customers, you know, happy and purchasing things. You know and that continued focus on employee engagement was really critical to our success as a team. So, excited how strong we were as a team to kind of get to where we are. But even more exciting as we look at, you know, where we can take this coming up here as the future, the future got a lot closer, if you say it that way.

PH: Well put! Well, a lovely place to leave it. Jim Radzicki, TELUS international Chief Technology Officer, thank you so much for joining us here in TELUS International Studios today. And of course, thanks to you for tuning in. We will be back with a brand new episode very shortly. Again, if you like what you hear, if you think other people should hear it, please help us share the TELUS International Studio's podcast by hitting subscribe, giving a review, giving a rating. Anything like that really helps us share it. And of course, if you would like to find out more about TELUS International and the global and disruptive brands with whom we work, check out Until the next episode, take care!

We can help

Be in the know

Get the latest insights and resources delivered right to your inbox.

Subscribe now

Proven formula for results

See how the Culture Value Chain can transform your customer experience organization.

Experience the Culture Value Chain