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Kordia boss caught on tape promising not to outsource tech support

Kordia NZ CEO Scott Bartlett was caught on tape* promising not to outsource tech support – a move his company made just seven months later as 50  helpdesk jobs were shifted to the Philipinnes.

An audio file was sent to NBR ONLINE of Mr Bartlett addressing a small group of people.

The sender said his remarks were made to new employees in March, 2012 - a time whe Mr Bartlett was CEO of Kordia's ISP business, Orcon (a recent restructure saw Mr Bartlett put in control of the state-owned company’s entire NZ operation, now called Kordia NZ).

A rep for Kordia said the recording was made by “a disgruntled former employee” (the sender would not confirm if they were a current or former employee. They described themselves as "disappointed" with Mr Bartlett.)

On the recording, the Orcon boss appears to be justifying the outsourcing account enquiries – a move his company made in February, 2012, a month earlier.

Mr Bartlett asks  “[Would customers  rather be] dealing with someone in a different land, or being on hold for 10 minutes? And what would upset me more?”

But he adds, “What I will never do is outsource our competitive advantage. And I believe our competitive advantage is great tech support.”

In October last year, Kordia said just that. It announced that over the next four months, 50 Orcon tech support jobs would be outsourced to NZ IT services company Datacom, which in turn was offshoring them to Manila (the same arrangement that saw account query roles shifted to the Philippines earlier in the year).

Earlier, during an NBR Ask Me Anything session, he answered "No" to the question "Do you recall telling your Auckland helpdesk (when you outsourced the accounts portion of the calls) that it would never be outsourced and that you pride yourself on our NZ support?"

Today, the Kordia NZ boss conceded his answer should have been "Yes."

“I don't recall the statement, but obviously it was made listening to that recording,” Mr Bartlett told NBR today.

“In February 2012 Orcon outsourced its accounts queries. At that time, I had no intention of outsourcing technical queries,” he explained.

“However, we operate in a dynamic and changing business environment and the decision was made to further the outsourcing programme at the end of last year, alongside another body of work to integrate the Kordia Networks and Orcon businesses. This decision was based on rapidly changing business conditions and market pressures to ensure we remained viable for all our stakeholders.”

Although Mr Bartlett did not push the point himself, a Kordia rep later added that Manila is handling "first-tier" or simple tech support queries. More complicated questions were still being fielded by an Orcon office in Auckland. 

Earlier, Kordia Group CEO Geoff Hunt told NBR he had no remorse about the state-owned company offshoring helpdesk roles.

“Call centres take a lot of energy,” Mr Hunt said. "Datacom do call centres better than us." The $400 million (revenue) operation needed to focus on skills higher up the food chain. His focus was on creating  as strong company to provide certainty for staff and clients and "an appropriate return for our shareholders" (Finance Minister Bill English and SOE Minister Tony Ryall).

Mr Hunt said the 50 people laid off were “good people with good skills," and would be attractive to new employers.

Some may find a degree of situational irony in Kordia’s drive to find work for the displaced 50. Mr Bartlett said he was confident many would be placed at the Auckland outsourcing operation of Australian ISP iiNet. 

During his NBR AMA last week, Mr Bartlett said the "vast majority" of the 50 had now found work with iiNet, or Datacom.

He added, "As I said at the time, we didn't make this decision lightly. It was the right decision for our business."

Shifting outsourcing trends have seen Telecom (reasonably smoothly) and Yellow (painfully) shift helpdesks to Manila. But Vodafone brought 125 jobs home after political trouble disrupted NZ calls outsourced to a Vodafone regional hub in Egypt. It says it will also repatriate support roles at its recent acquisition, TelstraClear - which caused a stir when it sent 80 jobs offshore in 2010. Across the ditch, Telstra relocated a small business customer call centre from the Philippines back to Australia. 

* Or a digital recording, in point of fact. NBR is being colloquial.

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

Typical CEO these days? Bullsh*t all the way...?

Say you are not going to outsource your competitive advantage and then you basically throw it away? That's not good. Internet providers can have a few core competencies; technical, service, and low price. Soon Orcon will have none.

Ho hum. A pretend CEO trying to run a government-owned "business".

Things the government should sell, it doesn't.

Consumer says that Orcon is nearly the worst ISP in NZ on all measurement factors - so what competitive advantage did they have anyway - they are bleeding customers like there is no tomorrow and Mr Bartlett will soon be put out to pasture...

Probably with a golden parachute

Did he sacrifice 50 employees and competitive advantage for a pay raise and a new title? I think so.

Seriously, Orcon's customer service is rubbish. Problem with my wi-fi i in Glendowie after I shifted into my new home, and all the undertakings I got over the phone were NEVER fulfilled. Give Orcon a wide berth, guys.

Scott Bartlett also misled when recently he claimed Orcon’s customer satisfaction level is at a record high. As a long-time customer I can say without any doubt that Orcon’s customer service is currently at its worse, to the point where I am looking at moving to an alternative ISP.

See, out of principle I would never consider Orcon now.

Welcome to the Wide Boyz Club, Scott.

There's some seriously hurt people in this comments section. No-one's jobs are safe in this day and age. These people weren't owed anything and, by the sounds of it, they were given a much better deal than a lot of other people who are made redundant. Whoever released this audio obviously has a chip on their shoulder.

I have a business colleague on Orcon in AKL and whenever we talk on the phone his phone disconnects at some point in the conversation nine times out of 10. Why does the government own this?

So that universities can use it as a 'case study' on why the government shouldn't attempt to operate a commercial business. Sell it now!

I agree that Scott misled people when he said service satisfaction was high. Inside sources reveal this is far from true.

From experience, I know that the problem starts at the very top!!

Anyone who's dealt with Scott Bartlett will know that he often says one thing and then does the opposite, so this isn't a surprise.

If Datacom tech support is better than Orcon's then Orcon does have problems.

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