The telecommunications sector has endured something of a white knuckle ride since the dotcom crash and has only just stepped off the rollercoaster. The legs are still a little wobbly but there’s a feeling that its fortunes have changed.
Part of its new-found confidence comes from its role in a changing business landscape. The convergence of voice and data over a single network has played into the hands of telecommunications companies like Eircom and BT. They have responded to the opportunity by developing internal skillsets to help customers leverage new benefits from converged networks.
A case in point was Clive Ryan (pictured) joining Eircom from Microsoft as director of the telco’s newly formed Advisory Services consultancy. Aimed at medium to large corporates and the public sector, the new division recognises that telecommunications and IT are all part of the same puzzle in the converged world.
“We aspire to being at the business front-end, giving professional insight into how technology can be best brought to bear. We try to articulate the business benefits of IP-enabling the enterprise,” he says.
This moves the discussion on, according to Ryan. “What drove IP uptake was predominantly a cost-saving but once people have it bedded down and have gone through the buzz about VoIP [voice over internet protocol] they begin to click into what it might mean from a business capability perspective.”
Ryan’s role is to position Eircom in their customer plans and make the telco part of an ongoing strategic partnership. But are customers ready to take the journey?
“I wouldn’t say we’re at the cusp of a change but we’re trying to put a plan in place for a market that looks likely to change in the near timeframe. Until recently organisations were running to stand still. They have gone through tremendous growth but now they are beginning to catch up with themselves,” he says. “They haven’t had the capacity or time to think strategically about where there business could go but they are beginning to get there.”
The economic environment is encouraging them to think about new investments, according to Ryan. He says that ICT budgets had typically increased by around 7pc on last year and that telcos were on the receiving end of a good proportion of the money.
For Eircom, the challenge is persuading high-end businesses and government customers that IP doesn’t just deliver savings but can transform what Ryan calls ‘process blocks’ around communication intensive processes.
“There are communication and collaboration strategies that can extend throughout the organisation, beyond employee-to-employee and employee-to-customer communications,” he says. “Once you get to the customer and supplier it brings into play converged next-generation call centres. Then there is supply chain innovation at the back-end.”
Having created a ubiquitous IP environment other benefits emerge as Ryan explains. “The amount of information that is available to the organisation in terms of customer behaviour, customer queries and employee interaction can lead to very rich business intelligence if you can visualise and mine what’s there.”
He continues: “The IP-enabled organisation facilitates all sorts of new ways of working to better leverage its workforce and get more from highly paid and highly valuable people.”
It’s a compelling endgame but many organisations are still at the first hurdle not least because of confusion in the market as different vendors regale them with different propositions. When so much of it impinges on areas associated with IT companies, why, for example, would someone look to Eircom as the service provider?
“It’s a proposition that Eircom wouldn’t traditionally have been associated with in terms of giving value-added advice. But we think we can help IT departments articulate the benefits of investing in convergence solutions to their business owners.”
He points out some of the Eircom strengths that reinforce its proposition. “Despite our new ownership we are an Irish organisation and we’ve been here for the long haul. We have very strong and long-term relationships. We think we can play an aggregator role and an advisory role to help navigate the abundant choices out there.”
To illustrate his point he describes how Eircom’s hosting capabilities can let customers source innovative solutions, like a collaboration platform, for example, without huge investment in terms internal skills and resources.
“Rather than have it put in on their premises they can leverage the intelligent network that we have and let us do it for them.”
The role of Advisory Services will be to steer the customer relationship away from pure-play technology. “The transformational impact of what we can do should be thought of in terms of a business process rather than clever technology,” he says. “You have to understand the impact the technology will have on the organisation, its customers and suppliers.”
Eircom’s biggest competitor is BT which is also delving deeper into the IT heartland of its customers. As a global operator it can bring an international dimension to the mix that Eircom would struggle to match. Does BT’s scale pose a threat to Eircom?
“Not really. Our presence in Ireland [the Republic] is much bigger than BT and we believe we’re better positioned to deliver the quality of service to an Irish customer. We’re a big Irish company but a small telecommunications company yet we can put together a proposition, regardless of international locations, for any Irish organisation.”
By Ian Campbell