Service is the real challenge

2 Jan 2007

With the availability of more telecoms services in the Irish market than ever before, businesses will have higher expectations of quality customer service. This is the considered opinion of Cable & Wireless Ireland managing director Noreen O’Hare (pictured).

It emerged in recent months that Ireland’s third-largest telecoms operator is to invest an undisclosed sum in a multimillion expansion of its existing network in Ireland. The rollout will see the company invest in over 40 10GB circuits, otherwise known as STM-64 lines.

O’Hare explains that the investment is part of an overall strategy that will see the company’s customers move in the direction of pure-IP (internet protocol) communications.

“As well as the latest in connectivity, we will be endeavouring to raise the bar in terms of what defines a customer service experience in the Irish market,” says O’Hare. “As businesses get to grips with the new services I think that companies will look at how a converged telecoms infrastructure can help to drive down costs, improve productivity and the way they interact with customers.

“For example, with the advent of remote working there will be a lot of people on the road. How can they continue to be productive out there? A good, well-designed telecoms infrastructure can enable that.”

O’Hare explains that the investment in the company’s network is being made possible through the sale and leaseback of its Tallaght-based building. “The sale proceeds of the building will go into the company’s development in terms of staff training and the upgrade of the network.”

Cable & Wireless acquired the Irish and UK operations of Energis in a transaction valued at around €914.6m in September 2006. As a result, Cable & Wireless is now the third-largest telecoms operator in the Irish market. Following the acquisition, the combined company currently employs 140 people in the Republic.

In terms of the combined company’s market strategy in the Republic, O’Hare says the company will focus on the higher end of the market such as corporate enterprises and public sector.

Asked whether the company will follow the trend that sees telcos evolve into ICT providers, O’Hare says Cable & Wireless will work with business partners to roll out business applications such as SAP.

In particular, the company will work with Northern Ireland-based IT services firm Steria. “Steria and Cable & Wireless have worked together on implementations in the past such as the Electronic Data Record Management System, which is the biggest public sector project in Northern Ireland to date, and we intend to continue in this relationship.

While voice over IP (VoIP) has been a fixture of the Irish telecoms market for the past two years, O’Hare believes that only lately are big businesses switching on to the technology. “At the higher end of the market in particular, adoption is happening at a much faster rate. This is why we are making the investment right now in the capacity of our transmission network in Ireland.”

O’Hare says that deciding on the right areas to invest in is paramount. “A few years ago investing in CRM [customer relationship management] systems was all the rage. Looking back, however, many businesses are asking if after all that time and effort did they get a business benefit? Unless a customer is very clear about the cost benefits from investing in technology and the return on investment, there will be disappointments.”

O’Hare says the company wants to leverage existing assets such as its 50,000 sq ft data centre in north Dublin as well as its Solas fibre network around Dublin to take advantage of opportunities posed by the arrival of major internet giants like Google, Amazon and eBay into Ireland. “We believe that the IDA is planning to bring more of these projects to Ireland and are ready.”

She points to the company’s Clonshaugh data centre which is currently at less than one third capacity. “Data centres across Ireland are nearly maxed out. Some are reaching 80pc to 90pc capacity. At present, only 15,000 sq ft of our facility is occupied. We have all that power and connectivity and can build out additional capacity as required.”

She says the company is prepared to make use of the Irish Government’s €170m metropolitan area network (MAN) capacity in more than 120 towns on a “case-by-case” basis. “We intend to expand to get close to regional towns and cities and will connect up to the various MANs on a customer-demand basis.”

“As well as linking up Cable & Wireless’s points of presence with the MANs we are also investing in our managed services portfolio that will allow us to remotely manage a business’s local area, wide area or storage area network.

“But fundamentally we will be investing in people to make sure that the customer experience is what it needs to be. I look at all the various capital investments announced by the operators at present and my thought is: ‘Gosh, there’s a customer at the end who has to pay for the return on that.’

“Our approach to our network upgrade is to invest where appropriate and offer it in a seamless way to customers no matter where they are in the country,” O’Hare concludes.

By John Kennedy