In discussion with Gerry McQuade, CEO, Enterprise

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Gerry McQuade is CEO of BT Enterprise, the division responsible for delivering communications and IT services to around 1.2 million businesses and public sector organisations across the UK and Republic of Ireland, and providing network products and services to more than 1,400 communication providers (CPs).

Gerry was formerly chief sales and marketing officer at EE responsible for the business, wholesale and product development which he had overseen since the merger in 2010 of Orange and T-Mobile. He joined the board of Orange in January 2008, and prior to Orange he was founding director of Virgin Mobile. We sat down with Gerry to ask him some of the hot topics around world news and the impact it is having. He also shares his views on BT Ireland and its potential as a business.

How do you think Covid-19 will impact on commerce and trade globally?

I think it’s already having a significant impact. It’s clear that there are some economies, industries and sectors more affected than others; for example, service industries and the hospitality and travel sectors, but every business will be experiencing disruption of some form.

For some businesses, the challenge is about how to fundamentally pivot their operating model to enable a workforce to work from home, and to interact with and serve customers online. For others, it’s about cash flow and being able to manage their finances to stay afloat. And for many, it’s about the skills they and their employees need to stay connected with customers and each other during the period of social distancing. Global trade will recover in time, but you might see different players in many markets and clearly, if the pandemic triggers a recession either at a country or global level, that will have a much greater impact on trade.

I do think we will also see innovation – the old adage of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is certainly holding true when you see distilleries manufacturing hand sanitiser and the production of PPE using 3D printers.

What will be the long-term impact of Covid-19 on how we work (e.g. remote working, video, mobility)?

I think the changes will be dramatic and far reaching. Many businesses who haven’t explored remote working as an option previously, will revisit their operating models and costs based on how they’ve been working during this period. The same is also true for selling and serving customers online – many businesses who haven’t embraced this as a means to reach their customers will be adopting it as a key channel going forward. I also think many individuals will look for more flexibility in how they work having had extended periods at home with their families which will require businesses to consider their flexible working policies.

We can already see a big increase on video traffic on our networks, which tells me that more people are switching their cameras on than ever before and I suspect those habits will continue beyond the end of the pandemic.

What portfolio investments do you see as hugely strategic for BT and will help the evolution of the communications space?

Leaving the technology challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak aside for now, both communications providers and businesses need to embrace the fact that we’re on the cusp of a huge generational shift which will transform the face of every industry. Networks are becoming more intelligent, controlled by software rather than hardware, and we see a future where fibre only, 5G digital voice and cloud services will soon become the norm. This will drive huge opportunities for businesses and the public sector, but also challenges in navigating the complexity of this change. So our mission is to help our customers on this journey by investing in these technologies and by making the complex seem simple and by adding value through managed services.

For example, in the UK we’re investing in the best, next generation fixed and mobile networks. Our aim is to help businesses work faster and be more productive, with high speed connectivity supporting the transfer of rich digital files, streaming video, high definition calls and access to applications hosted in the cloud. Our portfolio investments in this space include Full Fibre with ultrafast speeds of up to 1Gbps and ultrafast Ethernet services complete with business grade security for businesses which need a dedicated, private connection.

We’re also investing to enhance products that help customers on their digital transformation journey as they increasingly look to adopt intelligent networks, cloud and digital voice services. Our managed software defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solutions for multinationals are a great example of this. So, whether the business need is best met by a neat overlay solution, or a branch solution with global coverage, or a solution for more complex global networks; we continue to invest in a range of options to best match business needs.

Combining the best of BT’s capabilities (design, security, global logistics, project management, technology validation, global monitoring, service optimisation and lifecycle management) gives our customers much more than the technology you get as standard from a supplier. And using our investments in pre-built connectivity into our cloud partner eco-system gets our customers reliably to the multi-cloud with a level of visibility and application control not seen before with traditional networking.

By creating our SD-WAN Centre of Excellence (CoE) we bring the best of shared network migration learning and supports our customers throughout their network evolution with skills, systems and processes developed specifically to deliver the speed and agility expected from software-defined and virtualised services. This team provides expertise in both customers’ “underlay” networks, for example their existing MPLS and Internet services, as well as their overlay SDN-based services.

Globally, we’re moving to a more asset-light model because of the shift to this new generation of software-defined and cloud-based services. These include a whole range of functions used to create and control multinational customers’ networks. Increasingly, we’ll no longer need to install new devices at customer sites around the world every time they want to make changes to their corporate network, be able to alter data traffic priorities or deploy new firewalls. We’ll be able to do this with software, managed centrally and deployed remotely with unprecedented speed and agility. APIs are a key technology too. They’ll help us monitor and control data flows end-to-end for individual applications, all the way from the cloud, over a customers’ core network, through 5G, Wifi or the LAN right to end-users’ devices. This will give people more reliable and engaging experiences when using their company’s applications and digital services, helping them be more productive.

What are your views on the wholesale market and how it is evolving?

Now more than ever, our Wholesale customers need to evolve their business models as the market matures and as the business climate transforms. We’re seeing the reseller community re-shifting their focus to new profit and revenue streams within emerging markets and as a result they are reducing their investment in legacy technology and portfolios. As a result of the market shifting their needs, we’re seeing a rise in demand for retail sell-through and turnkey services, which in turn is leading to a rise in bigger VARs and aggregators who can seamlessly create a dynamic solutions portfolio in response to this.

But, as with all of our business customers, our Channel Partners are looking for support with digital transformation and automation tools, to help them provide a better customer experience to their customers, and to reduce their costs.

Our Mobile Operators are also seeing an unprecedented growth in demand for increasingly data hungry customers and this will only continue. The norm has become >60% year over year growth in consumer and enterprise bandwidth for operators, clearly not following the trend for revenue.

What’s your view in terms Brexit and the opportunity it brings for markets like Ireland as the gateway to EU markets?

Brexit is a big topic and, not unlike COVID-19, I think there will be those that do well and those that won’t.  I think Ireland has demonstrated over many years that it has a phenomenal ability to attract large companies and foreign direct investment based on many factors like the education system, quality of skills and a progressive approach to grants. I see no reason for that not to continue and I think Ireland is well placed to continue to benefit from a strong trading relationship with the UK as well as the rest of Europe and the world.

What’s your view on BT’s Irish business?

The Republic of Ireland business is a solid business with immense potential. It has an experienced leadership team who understand the market well and I have always been impressed at the emphasis the team, under Shay Walsh, have placed on customer experience. The strength and quality of the customer relationships are testament to that effort and something we can learn from across the rest of BT.

It has a strong track record of delivery, and the team is adept at leveraging the strengths of BT Group in order to support key programmes of work.

I also think BT Ireland has a unique place in the social fabric of the Republic of Ireland through the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. The work the team do to champion and support the STEM skills agenda is very inspiring and makes me very proud.

Gerry McQuade