BTOES Insights Official
November 21, 2022

Customer Experience Excellence - SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT : The Role of Culture in Transformation.

Courtesy of GCI's Angie Burris, below is a transcript of his speaking session on 'The Role of Culture in Transformation' to Build a Thriving Enterprise that took place at Business Transformation & Operational Excellence Summit & Industry Awards.



Session Information:

The experts have left the building, now what? A journey of transformation and continuous improvement

The recipe for successful business transformation initiatives is the right blend of people, process, and technology.  Culture is a critical success factor, but is often overlooked.  

Key Takeaways:

  • The role of culture in transformation
  • Who drives culture
  • How to leverage process and technology to accelerate transformation 

Session Transcript:

So we're gonna make some chips to that thang before I could get too deep into my talk Alaska has anybody here been to Alaska okay so so there's a few common questions I always get about Alaska so I wanted to kick off with that first of all the big question is how do you deal with the light and the light being the fact that during the general summer we have these really long days in fact our longest day is June 20th and it's over 19 hours of daylight.

So what this means is that you actually get like this bonus day after work when you come home from work you can go out for a jog their mountain biking or whatever is why now all of a sudden if it's you know 11:30 at night so you gotta kind of save up on your sleep during the winter one thing that's interesting as a parent is if you know you said okay be home by dark because you be rolling in about 3:00 in the morning.

So nothing else now the flip side of that first is that in the winter where I live in Anchorage are sure to stay at about five hours and so it's dark when I go to work in the morning if it's dark when I come home in the evening but also all good no problem you just really need to make sure to get out and have some fun during the winter time so whether that be going out and skiing or have a winter break on the trails and the snow or as the last times we call when they leave the state going outside so we may go outside to Hawaii for a couple weeks to get some vitamin D.


So that is one of the main questions I always get the other one is how do you deal with the extremes of the weather and the answer that was actually a lot more simple and the answer to that question is that there is no such thing as bad weather there's just the wrong gear and the wrong attitude and that is kind of a condition into the fact that I think there's not a place in business as well
and so I want to tell you the story of an Alaska born and raised company and how we use the right gear the right tools and the right attitude to drive business results for our company.

So I mentioned that my original title the role of culture and business transformation culture drivers who are we business results what can we do and bring it all together and abling transformation literally the most boring non informative title of a talk ever all right I apologize for that but upon further reflection and thinking that a better title for this is hunting for unicorns in your organization that can help you get stuff done ready because frankly they're there and after we get done with this talk.

I hope that you actually will know yep we have some unicorns organization that's typically who we turn to to get stuff done and and give them the right tools to get the job done and really help to nurture a culture that unleashes some of their beautiful and magic as I like to call it so my goal for this presentation is that first of all if nothing else you're going to see some lovely pictures of Alaska because I've got a lot of great images and so you can see that's a great place to visit we want to come up and visit now you have a friend it is and then also that the right people will help you drive results in your organization by giving them the right tools is does matter and finally having a culture that really nurtures.

These unicorns of your organization will help you to drive out results so who are we at JCI we have four key brand attributes so we are trailblazers we are theatres were connected and we're neighbors so I'm going to dig in a little bit to these because that really kind of defined so actually one of our founders name's Ron Duncan in 1977 Rhonda and another gentleman named Bob wolf actually started GCI as a competitive long-distance carrier.

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So back in the days when there was money to be made in long distance so starting there you know that we are a company that knows a little bit about trailblazing because we're really seeking to elevate the experience but we also know a little bit about transformation because of first 40 years later we're still in business and long distance is not driving the bottom line Ronald one of Alaska's first tech entrepreneurs and he really kind of helped us helps me think about my uniform trade number one and that is he was willing to take some risks a word.

That's really popular today is vulnerability Rene Browns work right we all know about the importance of being vulnerable and that means taking a risk it also means potentially being willing to fail and that is my Trailblazer trait number one and you know country number one is that you're willing to fail today we are a company with over 2,300 employees based in Alaska Seattle and Denver and we have some remote workers the United States.

We provide voice data wireless and Internet services to customers all over the state of Alaska as well as managed services to customers in the Northwest and as I mentioned we had a merger in 2017 with Liberty interactive which tripled our value so so our second trait is that we are leaders we're engaged for boundary-pushing professionals who thrive on doing the impossible and this is a unicorn trait number two and that is that there are people who are out of an organization who are pushing the status quo who are striving to do better and the gentleman on the right and this picture is Bob Wolf's.

It gives our second founder he really believed that people in rural Alaska deserve better connectivity options and then the seventies this was a really a groundbreaking concept so when I talk about rural Alaska I mean places that as recently as you know the last several years are still using tiny buttons I think you cannot access these places by roads you have to fly in there.

You know from vacation in front from some of the rest of the world by weather extremes so this is a really really challenging environment and we had these leaders who said but how can you serve these people we can do better and that's my unicorn egg trick you're current rate number two is challenging that status quo number three were connected and that means that we strive to be intuitive and forward-thinking in terms of our technology trends and innovating and this is my treat number three for unicorns is that they're curious right.


They're always striving to learn something in their organization you might find them reading industry publications they're probably asking a lot of questions they might be studying for an advanced degree but this is a these are a unicorn trade that you look for an organization finally were dealers so per liter or Trailblazers Lear's connected and neighbors the neighbors are these friendly people who sees opportunities to make a difference in our community and our company and the way that you'll recognize this in your uniforms is that they care.

So simply put they're the ones who are going to be putting in the extra hours to really you know make a project happen to drive a pretty success they're also probably the ones that you're you know that you turn to when something when you have a question or when you're saying hey in the organization how do I do this who knows how to do this right unicorns are going to be able to help you with that because they care and they are so we are what do we do what results of meeting have you accomplished because of this long-distance carrier with the largest most diverse network in Alaska.

We connect 140 communities we have bested three billion dollars in the state pretty good and this is my notes here this is where I give you a little hand map perspective of the area that we serve so right now last week that's about seven hundred and forty thousand people that live in the state this is the state of Alaska and looks like it so I like very encouraged this if you let overlay this on top of the United States st. Louis would be about right here this would be the border with Canada in Minnesota right so we serve customers from here which would be in Jacksonville Florida to here in San Diego California and right but only seven hundred and forty thousand people.

So you can imagine you really have to chew we have to get good at you know at being efficient at the way that we would deliver our services oh and just first Isaiah Bay from Texas California Montana California right so Alaska is bigger than Kalin Texas in Montana all put together so Stillwater sighs we now deliver in addition to wireless internet local phone and cable we also deliver long-distance services as well as managed services to customers with the cific Northwest foundation as well as supporting our friends in video.

So first of all we have great wireless network we've invested more than a hundred million dollars in the last bit since 2014 and he's a big market makes Road Truckers okay so so there's 115 miles stretch up to the North Slope of Alaska and this year we actually just installed a cell site at Coldfoot camp which meant that we actually cut that distance.

So again it just kind of really started to drive these results we're doing things that probably shouldn't be possible and shouldn't make sense because we had those kind of Athena Park traits we provide one big Internet service to a higher percentage of residential customers in Alaska than in most major cities less than 20% of Americans have access to one internet service and in most like major urban areas it's around 50% in Alaska we have 70% of our population.

That we provide one gig internet service to now those things are all really great but a lot of talk to you about what happens when we really push the envelope and we do big things you need and this is a tariff project and so that's my map of Alaska I like going on the Bering Sea this is Discovery Channel shows so out here in this Western Alaska.

Those customers had previously been served only buying really expensive low bandwidth satellite and Internet service and so it made it impossible to do. Things like have access to telemedicine or like educational divert diverse educational opportunities and so as part of going back to that spirit that we had from our founders those initial leaders they we decided to build out this network called Terra and it stands for terrestrial every year rural area in Alaska.

And so I mentioned you know what does rural Alaska me they talk about the honey buckets this is an area where say for example and gallon of milk might cost you two in fifteen and twenty dollars right this is is just it is so different and we set out to say we're going to give them high-speed Internet access okay and to really try and change the lives of the people who introduced this was a huge undertaking the project by the end of the project was a 300 million dollar project.

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There was fifty million dollars of that came from the economic Recovery Act in 2009 but the other 250 actually came from from DCI investing in our state and the people that we serve if there are 103 towers 108 site miles of invention it provides access to 4500 Alaskans which means to about six percent of our population a huge project for a small percentage of our population but it makes a big difference to those to those folks just for a little exercise.

That's actually further than then I flew a couple days ago getting from Seattle to Orlando which is only like 20 miles actually 30 2013 hundred and eighty-nine mile and 44 days to hike it yeah we take 11 days on a dogsled let me just watch the Iditarod just finished and we would take four and a half days on a snow machine if you went non-stop and that's 30 you guys it's an Alaskan word.

That I'm teaching you today it's a snow machine become snow machines not snowmobiles and it might take you 25 hours if you do not stop in a floatplane so it's big but what it means to the people that we serve it means access to telehealth so if you have a person living in you know in a village right they're able to work with their rural health aide and they are able to get connected with health care providers from urban areas both around.

The state and around the country it saves them money it saves them time to get some faster access to health care educational opportunities in a lot of these rural areas of course we don't have the ability to have you know a physics teacher and a calculus teacher and you know foreign language instructors the kids in rural area is now through distance education are able to have access to those opportunities.

It makes a difference to them we have helping our safety friends so being able to actually provide communication services for like our rural search-and-rescue teams and it opens up some Economic Opportunity whether it be for things like hey I'm gonna order you know my paper towels from Amazon right my Senate grams on prime murder my paper towels from Amazon if I had to buy those paper towels at the AC store.

Which is the store that's in most rural areas that what might cost me 20 bucks for for paper towels thank you for four rolls paper towels order those from Amazon now it makes a difference for we're making a difference this was an ambitious project but back to my story about the unicorns and that
is that's.

How we did this right so that's what we did it's a big deal and I really wanted to tell that story of that it was a big deal but how did we do it then it started with their leadership and they have a vision right but there was a uniform that really made it happen and this is Rebecca Merkley so Rebecca still works at DCA she is what I would call a super unicorn.

She's a trailblazer who's not afraid to take risks she is a leader who is you know as always asking how can we do more how can we do it better she's connected on the cutting edge of technology she's definitely a curious person and hopes to learn and finally she's a neighbor she really truly believes that serving to people in rural Alaska is something that she was meant to do and you know partnering with her colleagues around the company and the vendors that we work with suppliers was how she was going to get so I do you think she's a super unicorn but she started at UCI in 2002 as a customer service representative.


She had been a stay-at-home mom does she have a degree in computer science but she had been a stay-at-home mom and I'm traveling with her husband and she started as a customer service representative she moved into project management and by the time that we were starting this project in 2010 they had asked Rebecca because she had some great knowledge of these rural areas because it was an area that no one else actually really wanted to work on the world project.

So in 2006 when she went to Israel area was good there were cool projects right and she said okay well I'll take it on I'll take it on well by 2010 when the cool project was the fill there this huge thing they have their girl but she was there she was already there she knew the people she knew how to do business in that area so they brought her in now at that time.

She was on the project manager one or project manager two they said nope she's the right person for the job about a year and a half later the VP who was leaving that project retired and so they sent here Rebecca we think you've got the skills to take it on so our super unicorn took it on its monitor to a director role and kind of the rest is history she made it happen super unicorn powers and a lot of teamwork and vision and she now today is actually our miss president Network program operations so she now I didn't wear uniforms to training them and leave them and on that topic she actually started she's with her one of the board members of our GCI women's empowerment network it's a cultural initiative that we have been accompanied to really seek to build opportunities for women and GCI Rebecca started our first mentoring program and so have had a neat story but it's just a story about how one person can really make a pivotal difference and understanding who those uniforms are in your nation really can contrive results so here's another okay.

So sometimes our challenging especially a full picture here back here first again behind Rebecca about the sky cream it is this giant cream of the Dragonfly and that is how we put these huge towers on top of these mountaintops so the places where we put these towers are mountain tops in the middle of nowhere there's no power there's no infrastructure there we had to put a towel around the middle in the middle of nowhere she still manages like the fact that we have to get fuel out to these places and she still manages all that but that's a sky crane and it's a tool to do the job and I say that because so tender challenges don't require our table like this time frame but they might acquire us to make some changes right.


So we started out as just a long distance provider we now provide lots of services that meant that we probably did that through growth and acquisition which meant that we ended up with systems anybody experienced that in your organization okay it's painful painful and not fun and that's a terrible customer experience right so my job is in customer experience it's an auto customer experience to explain to a company to a customer why yes who needs pants for your internet in your phone bill on this one but your Wireless and your TV will hunt this way and I kind of thought that too until I enjoyed the project that told me no it's really hard to put all these things together right because it touches just about every part of your organization from the customer service from your provisioning of services to accent and the image mints it just it touches everything it's a huge project so for us this was a really transformational project because we have pushed it in a different way in many projects in the past like this we would have had this list and in our Polaris Project which was what this was called it was led by a group of business leaders and their support teams and IT executed on that vision now I've come to since learned because I'm kind of new in the VT space.

That really kind of looks a lot like an agile an agile model which is probably not shocking to anyone in this room right and and but it really worked for us and it worked well Wow one of the things that was great about this was that our vendor that we partnered with as they built up the system actually did some great documentation and of all of our business processes and it's fantastic you're super happy to have them like that and so I just tried doing the picture here is that I had brought on the project to find the equivalent of the sky crane to deal with less than XML that I had and to actually do something with them I like to follow the business process.

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Inspired because they had multiple starting points and stopping points and when all kinds of places in multiple different pools in a diagram that was yeah so we learned in a hurry but what we thought was that the right tool to the gentleman would make a lot of difference for us and for us it was important to find a way to be able to manage its information so we have been using and a vibration hub has a place that regions brought in this information to be able to actually manage that that work and be able to collaborate so that I can engage all the different subject matter experts on these business processes in order to actually have them be something of value in our organization now.

I'm gonna give a caveat that I was a newbie when I started this and I think I'm probably still young and my maturity of understanding how to use this kind of a project and we jumped in with the tool we jumped in feet-first with the tool and we didn't believe necessarily the organizational changes to really support kind of a business process center of excellence and so if this is somewhere that you are in this journey I'd say learn from me and you know the tool is great no complains I think it's wonderful but now.

I'm needing to go back and actually make the organizational changes that are necessary in order to really get the most out of this and to get the most benefit and probably do differently next time so one good thing though is that I say this is a case of can her to be lucky than smart sometimes you're lucky than good and the positive thing is that now we do have this great catalog of our processes and so as we go back and we start it right it makes a lot easy for me to go in and I don't.


About the Author

more (12)Angie Burris,
Director of Customer Experience,

Angie Burris is the Director of Customer Experience at GCI, a telecommunication provider in Alaska.  GCI provides communication technology to some of the most remote and challenging locations in North America.  Angie is responsible for leading cross functional teams in transformation projects.  Following her participation in the 2018 launch of a billing system overhaul, she is focused on opportunities to improve the collaboration between IT and business stakeholders. 

Angie attended the University of Alaska Anchorage and holds a bachelor degree in Business Administration with a focus in Economics.

When she’s not at work, you’ll find Angie enjoying all of the outdoor fun that Alaska has to offer.  For the last 10 years Angie has volunteered as a downhill ski coach with the Alyeska Mighty Mites youth ski racing program.


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