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28th June 2017

Interview Part 2 with Alex Stewart: Get to know our new head of Technical Support, Helen Blake, and her new team

In the second instalment of our interview with Satcom Global COO Alex Stewart, we find out more about the new UK based Technical Support team, which has been developed and expanded to better support customers and new services around the clock.

  • We hear Satcom Global has a new head of technical support. Can you tell us more about Helen Blake?

"Helen has been a mainstay of technical support, running the EMEA support as team leader for several years now.  She has played a pivotal role in supporting our customers since the company was originally AND Group, and has excellent technical knowledge across our full product portfolio. As a team leader, Helen is very capable in terms of best managing our ticket queue, is well respected internally and also has a very good relationship with some of our most demanding customers.

Helen’s hands on approach to leading our team is essential, and in many cases she is often the first point of contact for some of our biggest customers who have met her here at North Shields, know the face behind the name and like to speak to a familiar voice. As head of Technical Support, Helen delegates support tasks out to the wider team, but the first name basis relationship she holds with many of our customers is highly valued.

With a great outlook and vision on how she wants to drive Technical Support forward, Helen has been instrumental in setting up new more efficient processes with the team. The new set-up is very much Helen's brainchild and she has a very good plan as to how she wants to enhance the support function over the next few years as the business continues to grow and diversify."

  • How have the new support technicians been recruited?

"The focus for us in terms of supporting products and services going forward, is based around Cisco IP type skill sets and that’s a common requirement across the industry now.

We are encountering more complex IP network issues that need to be resolved over the phone, with a captain in the middle of the ocean, where English may not be his first language. So it’s quite a niche skill set we have been looking for.

We’ve employed a few people locally who have fitted that bill, and they have been from a mixed range of backgrounds, from VSAT, through to fixed telecoms basics, but with a focus always on IP. Satcoms experience isn’t really the primary driver here, as IP is IP, so it doesn’t really matter what it is running over."

  • Where have the new team members come from? What are their backgrounds?

"We have recruited the new team members from a wide variety of sectors. We have some with a telecoms background, others who have worked for ship owners and ship managers, someone who worked for a VSAT network operator and companies similar to ourselves.

What we focus on, is the IT skill set, and that variance that gives us a good balance. We like to take people in from various tech backgrounds, whether that be the customer or supplier side of the fence.  Someone who understands what our customer is thinking is an advantage. The same situation applies from the network operator perspective.

The majority of the team are local to North East England, as it’s important to us and our CEO to support our local economy. That shouldn't distract us from ensuring we always have the right people, however, but luckily there is a good supply of the right skill set here."

  • Is it difficult finding staff that have the right skills and experience to support such a wide range of products and services?

"Not at all. Firstly, as I have just mentioned, there is a good pool of well trained and skilled individuals up here in the North East England. Secondly, we have a very comprehensive training regime that makes sure we get team members with the drive and qualities we admire, up to the right technical level quickly.

To a certain degree, we ease people in to the role, but there is no hiding as team members are on the front line very quickly. Thankfully we have no problem bringing in staff with the skills we require and the recruitment process has been pretty quick."

  • You have launched a new VSAT service last year; Satcom Global Aura. Has that placed additional demands on the support teams?

"Yes of course. VSAT requires a different skillset in comparison to our traditional services. Plans and ambitions with regards to Aura are significant, and volumes we would expect to see will increase exponentially over the coming months. So as we bring more customers into the fold we need to make sure we have the support function in place to support it. It is a team that will be growing, and it has to, as our VSAT service also grows.

That said though, Aura is built and designed to minimise the amount of human interaction in terms of support. I don’t mean we stand back and let it run itself, but online tools and remote access systems allow the teams to properly investigate what is going on on-board a vessel, and we can pre-empt most problems before they become a major issue. One thing we do that most operators don’t, is as soon as a failover happens from Ku-band VSAT over to L-band back-up, we will proactively work to find out why the back-up needed to kick in.  Many other providers wait for the situation to resolve itself. We have a notification system that means we can address failover as soon as it happens, and we are always striving to be as proactive as possible to minimise a problem.

Also our ‘high data consuming’ customers on VSAT tend to have more sophisticated demands, and therefore often have greater technical knowledge than our more traditional L-band users who consume less data. The technical issues with VSAT that we see most frequently tend to originate around the use of applications and associated technical hardware. The more bandwidth, the more you can do with it, so we need to make sure we are pre-empting requirements.

We have good relationship with our major customers, so take quite a consultative approach regarding the hardware they put on their vessels, making sure it is cost efficient, type approved and appropriate to use over the network. That said, we don’t place restrictions on the network like other players do; we need to be flexible to a degree on that front, so that customers are not pigeon holed into sticking to a certain configuration. To all intent and purposes, customers are free to put what they want behind the rack on the vessel. It is important that the technical team understand what other solutions will be tapping into our VSAT hardware, and that interaction is completely reliant on good communication from the offset, and ensuring we understand customer requirements.

So, yes it will place additional demands on the team but we’re certainly geared to address that. "

Please stay tuned for the third and final instalment of our interview with Alex, looking more closely at new systems which are assisting our team in providing quality and proactive support every day.


Looking for Satcom Global Support?

Update your address books with the details below:

For technical troubleshooting, equipment and remote support, please contact Technical Support  (Previously Service Desk) at [email protected]

For airtime support and service provisioning requests you can contact Airtime Customer Services at [email protected]  or [email protected]

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Helen Blake
Helen has played a pivotal role in supporting our customers for many years. The first name basis relationship she holds with many is highly valued."
Alex Stewart, COO