Stefan Rupp is the chief digital officer of Swisscom Event & Media Solutions AG, a division of the operator that specializes in event production for entertainment and sports. In his role, Rupp is responsible for overseeing the growth, structure and development of the company, and for supervising and expanding on the financial turnaround of the business. Rupp has spent more than 23 years in sports and concert event production in Europe, focused on marketing and technical innovation.
Rupp wasn't initially focused on virtual reality (VR), but as part of a larger organizational restructuring, he created a flatter, more innovative team. And some members of that team pushed for Swisscom to engage with VR/360-degree video. That led to the operator's early forays into this space, and Rupp is very clear that the operator's success is due to his team members rather than himself.
We caught up with Rupp to better understand Swisscom's journey into VR.
Telco Transformation: You have mentioned the initial interest in VR came from members of your team. How did this all come about?
Stefan Rupp: I joined Swisscom in 2012 in September. The goal was to create a profit center out of the events and media business, a small legal entity within Swisscom. The group focused on providing ICT infrastructure for music festivals, corporate shows and such events, with an end-to-end solution for digital infrastructure.
As a CEO, I was certainly involved with innovation but virtual reality was not something on the horizon as such, though it did come up. Meanwhile, [to drive innovation] I was looking at the organizational structure of the team. I felt it would be better to restructure the organization from a more traditional "pyramid" structure to a flatter structure. I passed on the CEO role and some of the innovation responsibility -- I passed it on to the team.
We can talk about a small hierarchy [even in a pyramid structure], but in a pyramid it takes longer to create innovation. The employee has to go through to the top to get permission, which takes time, to go through all the layers. But now, the individual can move forward faster, has both authority and accountability. Because that is also the case -- the individual must also be accountable for the role, they must fulfill their responsibility.
We want to create a sales-managed organization. It's all still new, we need to fully transition, and the structure is still in the transformation stage. But we are moving more authority, responsibility to people.
It provides more motivation, gets ideas out faster, otherwise it can be difficult to get people [to take initiative]. Some people can drift within an organization, not adding value. But here they get identified sooner, because if they are not doing something that is clear.
I gave away some prestige, gave up my CEO position. That can matter to some people. But I think it is cooler to build something, to create something new and innovative.
TT: What drove the initial interest in VR?
SR: At the beginning I was against it. I didn't want to jump into VR. This shows why the new organizational structure is necessary. I didn't "get" the technology, didn't see the revenue in it. [Frankly] there's still no revenue today really, each company has to figure it out … other than the hardware guys maybe.
All I had was trust in my people, faith that they knew what they were doing. I also wanted to give them the chance to make mistakes. I make mistakes, I give myself that chance, so why not them?
But I was wrong, and they were right. VR has come up very fast. Companies are asking us to help them with VR. I am lucky I backed my team or we would not have gone with it.
TT: Is there anything you would have done differently, in retrospect?
SR: [In retrospect] maybe we should have taken a platform path from the start, rather than looking at production. Initially we started down the production path, and we are further down that path, maybe a little less on the platform side. But platform is what a lot of the big guys do -- Facebook, for example.
But we are getting a lot of interest. A lot of companies are asking about VR content, but they are all different. Events, retail companies, sports -- very different, and very difficult [to cater to each of their production needs.]
But all of them have the same problem when it comes to distribution -- how do I distribute? So we have developed platforms to give structure and distribution to multiple outlets. We are not competition for Google or Facebook; in fact we work with them to get our customers content there [to Facebook and Google web properties.]
Again, it's important you mention that the idea came from the team. They made it possible. If it had just been me, we would not have gone anywhere. I was not the right guy [for evangelizing VR.]
In part two of this interview, to be posted shortly, Rupp discusses some of the key initiatives that Swisscom has undertaken in this area, and also shares his thoughts on the future of VR.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation