Enabling virtual internet providers is fast becoming Devoli’s core business. Sarah Putt checks out the company working with new fixed-line market newcomers like
News-sites do it, power companies do it, so why wouldn’t you do it? Become a Retail Service Provider, that is. You don’t need a network, provisioning capability or an engineering team. All you need is a front-end website and someone to provide help desk support. And customers? Well, you need a few of them.
That’s the pitch from Karl Rosnell (or at least an interpretation of his pitch). Rosnell is CEO of Devoli, previously Vibe Communications. Established in 2008, it has 30 employees and provides wholesale services to customers in New Zealand and Australia. During its evolution as a service provider, it developed software that automates the provisioning and management of voice and data services. This is now its main product.
“Using a combination of in-house software, combined with our robots, a huge capability in machine learning and the advances of AI [artificial intelligence], we’ve managed to solve a challenging set of problems across diverse networks, and long distances, to provide a beautiful interface for our customers,” says Rosnell.
Rosnell says that although Chorus is currently the only fibre provider which has a complete set of APIs (Application Process Interfaces*), Devoli is able to provision the services of all local fibre companies using its automation software. It presents all the options it develops to its wholesale customers in a unified view or ‘single pane of glass’.
Its customers include Stuff Fibre, whose offering is provided by Devoli as a white-label service. Stuff Fibre offers two products: 100Mbps or up to 1Gbps. And it uses its association with the Stuff website (which, according to Nielsen, has 2.1 million unique visitors a month) to reach new customers. It is a virtual internet provider or, as Rosnell puts it, “an eyeball aggregator”.
In a case study on Devoli’s website, Stuff Fibre’s commercial director, Scott Brown, credits “a seamless on-boarding process” now provided by the company with generating its high customer satisfaction scores.
“Stuff Fibre now has one of the highest customer satisfaction scores in telecommunications at +55 compared with an industry average of -5.”
According to Devoli’s relationship manager, Sam Excell, provisioning telco services is time-consuming and monotonous, and a single mistake inputting an address can cause delay and confusion. Automating the process improves accuracy and takes away “all the chair swivels, all the keyboard strikes, all the bits and pieces that occur when you put a human in the process.”
Automation is also where Rosnell sees growth coming for Devoli. Shortly after becoming CEO of Vibe Communications in November last year, he led the “pivot to Devoli”.
The new name and steampunk branding are designed to express the company’s focus on developing software for automation purposes; the “evolution” of services that help propel businesses forward. It also differentiates Devoli from its competitors.
“I wanted to be 100 percent professional, but absolutely not corporate. Because, if you look at the players we are competing against, they are all corporate – as in slow-moving – in the traditional sense of the word,” says Rosnell.
The adoption of the Devoli brand has meant de-coupling the software element from the company’s network business, so both can be offered separately or in tandem.
“I consider Devoli to be the aggregator of Chorus, Ultra Fast Fibre, Enable and Northpower – so, if you’re an ISP or IT provider and need one interface to provision and manage your services, you simply log in to our portal. And, if you’re an existing network owner or telco, you simply bolt your own network on and use our automation tool to speed up the provisioning of the accounts you already have.”
“We've managed to solve a challening set of problems ... to provide a beautiful interface for our customers”
Sticky Telco Services
Devoli currently has two portals that are customer-facing. Vumeda is its Australasian telco interface. “You can log in to the Vumeda portal, or build to its APIs [write your own code to work with Devoli’s site], and perform address searches, price and quote, provision services. You can manage the entire build journey and perform diagnostic checks on installed equipment. And, once you’ve done that, you can use it to bill the customer and manage voice termination points, or port numbers. We’ve provided you with all the tools you need in one place, regardless of who your upstream provider is,” says Rosnell.
The second of Devoli’s tools is called Granulier. it is an elastic, bandwidth-on-demand platform that allows customers to dynamically provision bandwidth between data centres and cloud providers.
“We’re seeing more and more consumption of cloud services like Azure [from Microsoft], AWS [Amazon Web Services] and Google Cloud, so we built our platform to be able to take all the ‘heavy lifting’ out of that process, and also offer a smooth, transparent and dynamic ability to turn these services on as required.”
In addition to RSPs, the customers Rosnell is chasing are the IT companies, many of whom have seen their margins shrink over the years. Rosnell was previously CEO of Connect NZ, a business technology provider of unified communications, cloud and IT services, so has experienced these changes first-hand.
“We were selling lots of servers and phone systems, and sending engineers out to support them, which worked really well until cloud-delivered technology changed the landscape. We needed to find alternative ways to add value for our customers.”
Rosnell says that by providing businesses with telco services an IT company can “sell the internet and voice services, and charge for that capacity on top of its traditional business model and so get additional recurring income streams and make some proper margin over and above hardware.”
In addition, telco services make customers more “sticky”. This is why many electricity companies are bundling telecommunications into their service offerings.
Challening Australian Market
Devoli is also targeting IT companies in Australia, where, Rosnell says, the challenges are “tenfold compared with New Zealand”. There are five Australian network providers: NBN, Telstra, Optus, AAPT and Vocus. So far, only NBN appears to have a “repeatedly reliable set of APIs,” says Rosnell.
In New Zealand, the fibre network has been rolled out geographically but in Australia fibre is lit “building by building, so you can have any telco, or combination of telcos, in any building.”
Practically, this means plugging into five portals and understanding the results that come back from each one in order to provision a telco service. Rosnell cites the example of a pizza company with 40 locations around Australia. The provisioning manager would need to find who the network provider was in every location and then try to work out which telco, or combination of telcos, offered the best product.
“In practice, this can mean the provisioning team spending a couple of hours per address just to work out who provides the telco services. Multiply that out over many locations and all of a sudden this becomes a huge task,” says Rosnell.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity in Australia as I’ve met hundreds of really passionate business owners that ‘get it’ when it comes to recurring revenue streams, but they wrestle with the reality that in order to grow they need to keep employing people to do the ‘cutting and pasting’.”
Despite the complexity, Rosnell is bullish about the company’s prospects when asked about competitors in Australia.
“Notwithstanding the obvious geographical challenges, the telcos have a long way to go to get their systems to the point where the market can elegantly consume their data. They have so much competition internally and that rightly consumes their focus, so our current competitors are people who do it manually by outsourcing to call centres. These guys do a great job and we work with a number of them, but we’re confident that we deliver a faster, simpler and, ultimately, more economical solution via automation.”
Back in New Zealand, Devoli offers services for fibre, copper and wireless. And, Rosnell says, they aim to work more closely with the rural network owners, the WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) too.
“We see the WISPs as being a vital part of New Zealand’s technology ecosystem and we’re continuing to integrate tightly to help them build and deliver stunning solutions to the whole of the country.”
While Devoli is comfortable in the fixed-line world, and confident about facing the challenges in Australia, the company has yet to tackle mobile services.
“While we don’t have any desire currently to build a mobile platform into our network, we’re very confident that we could apply our tools to help existing companies that provide mobile services.”
*Not all of us are techies, so… an API (Application Programming Interface) is, effectively, the part of a server that receives requests and sends responses. An example: think about how appointments are set up automatically in Google calendar. Basically, your website’s server talks to (interfaces with) Google’s server to make this happen. This is just one example, but it illustrates how the automation of simple tasks can create significant efficiencies.