Vodafone builds on its Google Cloud relationship with AI Booster

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Jul 6, 2022

  • Vodafone is doing a lot of application development on Google Cloud Platform (GCP)
  • The focus with GCP is data analytics and the automation of software developer processes
  • Vodafone is using GCP to develop tools that can be used across multiple operations
  • The AI Booster platform is reducing customer experience application development time by up to 80%
  • It’s all part of Vodafone’s shift towards being a ‘techco’ rather than a telco

There are a number of top-level, critical trends in the telecom industry right now, many of which are related to the development and use of cloud platforms (either private or public), the introduction of automated processes, and a smarter use of the data available to service providers. Just about every telco is trying to figure out how they can run their operations and businesses more efficiently and more profitably while improving the experience of their customers, and Vodafone is no exception. Like most telcos it has relationships with all three of the major hyperscalers, but it’s Vodafone’s work with Google Cloud that is reaping noticeable dividends from the combination of cloud platforms, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) and is a prime example of how that relationship is working is the telco’s AI Booster platform.

AI Booster is a unified machine learning (ML) system that has been developed using GCP’s cloud-native, serverless Vertex AI capabilities, which have been designed for ML developments. It has been in development for 18 months and is part of a broader relationship that Vodafone has with the hyperscaler.

Vodafone announced a six-year strategic partnership with Google Cloud in May 2021, noting then that the relationship would focus on “the use of reliable and secure data analytics, insights, and learnings to support the introduction of new digital products and services for Vodafone customers simultaneously worldwide.” The companies dedicated 1,000 staff to the development of use cases and the implementation of new working processes and practices that could help all of Vodafone’s operating units across Europe and Africa – see Vodafone and Google Cloud to develop industry-first global data platform.

Vodafone has already developed a pan-European network monitoring system, the Vodafone Unified Performance Management system, as a result of its work with Google Cloud – see Vodafone taps Google Cloud to unify network performance insights.

Now AI Booster is ready to be put into action and help multiple Vodafone operations. “Led by the Global Big Data & AI organization under Vodafone Commercial, the platform will use the latest Google technology to enable the next generation of AI use cases, such as optimising customer experiences, customer loyalty, and product recommendations,” notes James Ma, head of technical account management for telcos covering EMEA at Google Cloud in this blog.

Cornelia Schaurecker, global group director for big data and AI at Vodafone, adds: “To maximise business value at pace and scale, our vision was to enable fast creation and horizontal/vertical scaling of use cases in an automated, standardised manner. To do this, 18 months ago we set out to build a next-generation AI/ML platform based on new Google technology, some of which hadn’t even been announced yet. 

“We knew it wouldn’t be easy. People said ‘shoot for the stars and you might get off the ground’. Today, we’re really proud that AI Booster is truly taking off, and went live in almost double the markets we had originally planned. Together, we’ve used the best possible ML Ops tools and created Vodafone’s AI Booster platform to make data scientists’ lives easier, maximise value and take co-creation and scaling of use cases globally to another level,” she says.

According to Google Cloud and Vodafone, the platform is speeding up development enormously, with the time taken to move from proof of concept to production down by up to 80% to just four weeks. That’s due, mainly, to the tools embedded in Vertex AI. “With tools like Cloud Build and Artifact Registry for CI/CD, and Cloud Functions for automatically triggering Vertex Pipelines, automation is at the heart of driving efficiency and reducing operational overhead and deployment times. Today, users simply complete an online form and then, within minutes, receive a fully functional AI Booster environment with all the right guardrails, controls and approvals,” notes Ma.

And it’s not just time efficiencies being gained here. Vodafone figured out that, across the 11 markets in which it does business in Europe, the “customer needs are not very different from each other,” noted Ahmed El Sayed, the operator’s UK CIO and digital engineering director for Europe, during a recent media briefing in London. “One of the problems we had before is that we would come up with a new technology and find we had been doing the same thing, or something very similar, 11 times” because there was a software development team in each country. Now there is a centralised pan-European Vodafone Technology team that is developing applications that can be taken and customised for local needs and regulations by smaller, country-specific teams. That approach is already up and running and is saving the operator time and money. “This is saving us 1,000 software engineering hours” already, noted El Sayed. “Just imagine if I reinvest this 1,000 engineering hours now in even further innovations, developing new things for the customer, then I can be ahead of the competition... [and] satisfy our customer needs in a much quicker way.”

There are more details and insights in the blog, including the role that Google Cloud data and AI partner Datatonic have played in the development of Vodafone’s ML development processes.

Historically, telcos have often gone down a particular strategic route then changed direction or even reversed their decisions completely as circumstances change, but the relationships and co-developments with the hyperscaler partners, such as Google Cloud, look very long term and fit in with the overall and seemingly unstoppable trend towards a reliance on distributed, cloud-oriented, software-driven systems for many day-to-day operational functions. And in Vodafone’s case, this is part of its current effort to become what it calls a ‘techco’ (tech communications) rather than a telco, a transition that also includes hiring thousands more software engineers for its recently created Vodafone Technology team – see Vodafone creates pan-European tech team, plans to add 7,000 software experts by 2025 and Ahmed El Sayed on Vodafone’s ‘techco’ transformation.

“Vodafone’s flourishing relationship with Google Cloud is a vital aspect of our evolution toward becoming a world-leading tech communications company. It accelerates our ability to create faster, more scalable solutions to business challenges like improving customer loyalty and enhancing customer experience, whilst keeping Vodafone at the forefront of AI and data science,” notes Cengiz Ucbenli, global head of big data and AI, innovation and governance at Vodafone. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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