How BT has transformed itself to meet the needs of its customers

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What are customer priorities when they go looking for a service provider?

They still want more for less because of the cost constraints that the recession put on everybody, but we’re starting to see a much more positive outlook. Organisations are gearing up for the future and looking to give their businesses more capacity and greater reach to respond more effectively to customer needs.

How has the role of the telecommunications company changed?

The single biggest shift has been towards convergence, the merging of network know-how with IT skills to deliver complete solutions. Telcos used to say it was all about the network, which is still true in terms of bandwidth and global reach, but now it’s also about what you carry on it and how you manage the totality. We label the two sides of our business BT Connect and BT Compute, which tells you all you need to know about how seriously we take our new role. We put the two together to solve business problems for people.

BT has evolved to become a one-stop provider. How did you manage that transition?

We spent the last decade broadening our skills through innovation and acquisition, enabling us to blur the lines between the role of telecommunications company, systems integrator and IT provider.  Today, we prefer to talk to customers about solutions rather than technology. Customers don’t care about technical details; they want to know what we can do to help them run their businesses more efficiently.

What’s the next big step?

We’re already seeing it with the cloud. The elasticity and on-demand computing that we’re building in data centres is a physical iteration of convergence. The network gets you to a place where we can run your IT infrastructure and applications, letting you draw down the compute power you need, as you need it.

Any other trends a business should be watching?

I used to spend a lot of time at seminars with public as well as private organisations, highlighting how important it is to monitor what people are saying about you on social media. That has moved on now, just having agents sitting in contact centres waiting to take calls is not good enough; you have to be proactive and participate at all levels. Our customers have to engage with consumers through social media channels as well as call centres and traditional sales and marketing channels because there has been a paradigm shift – people don’t buy services off web sites any more, they buy based on word of mouth and recommendations.

Will the trend toward Managed Services continue?

Yes, we remove day-to-day headaches by monitoring and managing customer infrastructure and applications, providing a level of service that lets customers get on with their day jobs. A full outsource is valid for certain types of large enterprise, but for most of the rest, including reasonably big Irish businesses,it’s more about selective outsourcing, handing over parts of the infrastructure rather than the whole thing.

Any other predictions?

Expect the ‘Internet of Things’ to take off, where connected devices – rather then people – create new business models and radically change the way many services are delivered. It’s a very strong area that plays to BT strengths, connecting different machines and devices intelligently over Wide Area Networks.

Can you sum up what makes BT different from its competitors?

Aside from the issues I’ve talked about – our ability to bridge the two worlds of communications and IT so seamlessly – the single biggest differentiator is our global footprint. We have invested heavily in fibre and data centres in Ireland, but our global capability strikes a chord with an increasing number of customers who want to expand into overseas markets. They need to know that connectivity and compute power will be available from someone they can trust. And when we come across a problem, there’s a good chance that we’ve come across it somewhere else in the world before and have the expertise to find a solution. We have global prowess and local knowledge –the ability to translate and morph an international solution into something slightly different that will work better in the Irish market. That’s a really unique selling point.

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Alex Campbell