Connecting cantons and managing mobility – Swisscom

11 November 2012

A pioneer in the field of corporate mobility management, Swisscom incentivises sustainable modes of transport, embraces teleworking and has even developed its own in-car technology. Nigel Ash discusses all this and more with Ueli Dietiker, head of group finance and controlling deputy CEO.

With almost 20,000 employees, 6.1 million mobile customers and around 1.7 million broadband connections, Swisscom
is Switzerland's leading telecoms provider. The company serves an almost exclusively Swiss market and since 2008 it has been rolling out an optical fibre network to private homes in more than 40 cities, municipalities and cantons within Switzerland.

Through its real estate subsidiary Swisscom Immobilien, it has a portfolio of more than 1,300 buildings, including data centres and offices covering a total of around one million square metres across the whole country. The same subsidiary also manages Swisscom's 3,500 fleet vehicles.

While the company's physical infrastructure is situated across the cantons and in Italy via its Fastweb subsidiary, employees and executives need to get from A to B in a cost and time-effective manner. For CFO Ueli Dietiker, when it comes to the mobility management agenda, the members of the senior management team need to be role models for the company.

"They have to be an example," he says. "You have to drive the agenda, you have to support it. Otherwise, I think people would be sticking to their old behaviour."

Top management backing is particularly evident when it comes to car entitlement. There are no large sleek limos on offer at Swisscom, and because the vehicles are supplied by the company, they carry its branding on the rear. This lack of status vehicles is a legacy of Swisscom's state ownership until 1998. Dietiker reflects that when it became a public company, it retained the same conservative vehicle award policy.

"So, as the sustainability agenda advanced, we didn't have the problem of top executives complaining that they did not want to lose their executive cars," he says.

A fresh approach to mobility management

As surprising is Swisscom's mobility management approach when it comes to telephony. As a leading telco with telepresence suites in 18 different locations in Switzerland and Italy, it would have been expected to embrace teleconferencing. However, there is no longer a single fixed-line telephone in any Swisscom office.

"I have a speaker in my laptop" explains Dietiker. "I have the same number wherever I am and I can be reached all over the world. That is a replacement of the fixed-line telephony. For example, I can share my screen with my investor relations colleague, who is in the Netherlands half the time. We share presentations for quarterly releases on the screen of my laptop and we can work on it together in real time. So I think this technology has allowed us to avoid travelling. I think that is one of the most important components of mobility management - actually cutting out travel."

Top executives hold weekly meetings with the management of Swisscom's Italian subsidiary Fastweb, which is headquartered in Milan. The majority of these events are held using teleconferencing, explains Dietiker, with only one physical meeting each month.

He accepts that there are occasions when face-to-face encounters remain important. However, as staff have become more accustomed to using voice over internet protocol (VoIP), either on their own camera-equipped computers or in dedicated teleconferencing rooms, the number of physical encounters is diminishing. At the moment, over 10% of all Swisscom meetings are held online, but the proportion is growing. Recent independent research indicates that 30-50% of all meetings in corporate Switzerland could in fact be held 'virtually'. Swisscom is pushing toward that target.

"For me, certainly, physical meetings are decreasing," says Dietiker. "Sometimes I go home early, and I have my calls on my PC at home and show slides to my colleagues in Milan or wherever. I have really cut back on the amount of travel I do to meetings. If I am in the same building, I may propose a physical meeting. But by and large I try and avoid travelling to other buildings."

On the occasions when travel is unavoidable, staff have a choice of pool vehicles. Swisscom's total vehicle fleet, including engineering and maintenance vehicles, has fallen from 4,200 to 3,500 in the last three years, while staff levels have remained the same. 84% of the fleet is made up of vehicles in the top A and B categories in terms of energy efficiency.

It includes a minority of hybrid, natural gas and electric cars, and in Zürich, Berne and Lausanne, this also includes 45 electric bicycles. By 2015, says Dietiker, the plan is to have a quarter of the fleet using alternative energy. The fleet managers are under an obligation to cut CO2 emissions year on year, year after year.

Swisscom's mobility management achievements contributed to it being ranked among the top five European telcos in September 2012 in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

In-house technology and the modal shift to rail travel

Swisscom manages its pool vehicle fleet with technology developed in-house. This 'mobility solution' product has subsequently been rolled out to the marketplace, where it has already been taken up by the largest car-sharing operator.

A would-be user sends an SMS to a device in the vehicle, which then checks with the network centre that the drive is authorised. The central locking opens and the ignition key is already inside. Dietiker notes that staff that require pool cars are, more often than not, anxious to take an electric vehicle, for the 'amazing driving experience'.

"We never went to hybrid and electrical vehicles for tax reasons. We did it to play a leading role as a sustainable company."

Switzerland, says Dietiker, is fortunate in having a regular and efficient railway service. To encourage employees not to drive to work, Swisscom gives them season tickets for the train, which is also the preferred method of intercity travel, if that is deemed absolutely necessary. Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest share of train travel.

Since everyone now has their own VoIP number and identity, it is easy for staff to work from home. In many departments, employees spend at least one day a week out of the office.

Because vehicle taxation varies from canton to canton - Berne, for instance, exempts electric vehicles from all duty - it is not straightforward to assess the savings associated with fuel-efficient vehicles. However, Dietiker is impatient with the idea.

"We never went to hybrid and electrical vehicles for tax reasons," he says. "We did it to play a leading role as a sustainable company. That was always our goal. We have been driven by our corporate social responsibility. Not only that, but we set these goals because we think it is very important for the future of the economy and of mankind. We think that as an important company in this country, we should take a leading role. That was what was behind it."

Nor does Dietiker subscribe to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda and its mobility management component as being merely a piece of corporate window-dressing.

"The public are very intelligent and they realise when people are just paying lip-service to these issues and when companies are being real about the business of sustainability," he says. "And in the end, it all comes through on the bottom line."

Electric dreams

Swisscom now uses electric vehicles for short-range movement of staff within a city. However, Dietiker recognises that it will be a while yet before electric vehicles come into their own.

"We still have problems with the battery, the limited range and the high up-front cost," he explains. "But then, this is true of every new technology, which is very expensive until it goes to the mass market. I think we are far away from a mass market for electrical vehicles yet - but the electric vehicle will be an important part in the mind change of energy.

"We are starting to have a mass market for hybrid vehicles," he concludes. "A lot of the major car manufacturers are offering hybrid cars now, whereas only four or five years ago it was just Toyota and Lexus."

Ueli Dietiker, head of group finance and controlling deputy CEO, Swisscom.