The five-minute CIO: Chris Cochrane, BT Global Services

8 Jan 2016

Chris Cochrane, CIO, BT Global Services

“The old definition of the CIO as backroom IT manager has gone forever. The future CIO is a board member who is very much part of enabling the digital transformation of the entire business,” says Chris Cochrane, CIO of BT Global Services.

Cochrane heads up an IT organisation of more than 3,000 people and is, in effect, the CIO’s CIO, insofar as he works with the CIOs of more than 6,000 multinational organisations, including 98pc of the FTSE 100 and Fortune 600.

BT Global Services masterminds and facilitates the delivery of communications infrastructure and services in more than 170 countries worldwide.

Prior to taking on his present role in September, Cochrane spent three years as CIO in charge of service delivery for Openreach in the UK, which had thousands of engineers in the field tackling around 200,000 jobs a week.

Prior to joining BT in 2003, Cochrane was a software engineer with celebrated Belfast mobile technology company Openwave Systems.

Cochrane was in Dublin this week to attend the 52nd BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

This year, more than 2,048 projects from 396 schools were entered in the annual BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and this was whittled down by the judges to 550 projects that took part in the exhibition.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of the technology rollout across your organisation and what improvements it will bring to the company?

The old definition of the CIO as backroom IT has gone forever. The future CIO is a board member who is very much part of enabling the business transformation, with trends and changes that communications has brought about.

My job is end-to-end responsibility for the systems and infrastructure typical of a standard CIO, but there are three parts that lead to my team.

The first one is interfacing into customers. Whenever a customer comes to us with a solution they want I have the design team that designs the communications solution that is best for them. Once we secure that business we then design and deliver that solution for our customers. I have a team of 3,000 people all over the world and we work with customers on every continent on building those solutions for them and then delivering them. That is one big part of my role and spending time with customers to figure out what they need.

The second area I would be responsible for is the technology strategy and our roadmap to build the capabilities we use to build communications for customers and what you call our technology vision – the cloud of clouds – how do we give CIOs of our customers a practical route into cloud computing that meets their needs for choice and flexibility and security.

The third area is in the development of my team. I am looking forward to seeing what the new skills that will be required in the future, investing in training and also driving a learning culture in my team as well. If you make a mistake you don’t make it twice but, also, how do you make sure you stay fresh and keep innovating?

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

I first focus on the outcome and outputs we are trying to achieve. Where are we trying to go as an end vision and what is our journey? Focus first on the outcomes and then decide upon a set of programmes that is consistent with our strategy in the short and long term. Then I would look at how to best optimise the supply side of the equation, right-shoring effort to optimise cost, ensuring the critical or new and emerging differential skills are attained within the team. In today’s world, keeping a balanced view of the cost of legacy and taking advantage of new technologies like cloud to minimise ongoing costs frees up budget.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

If I look at what takes up my time, it is in three areas. The first one is just with our customers, and those discussions are either making sure we are defining the right solution that meets their needs, is it already done or delivering, and we go wherever the customer wants to go with that.

Another third is with our technology strategy and do we have the right technology strategy moving forward. I will have a deep dive on the future of networking, concepts like NFC, software-defined networking (SDN), virtualised networks, that’s where networking is moving in the future. With SDNs, we are defining our strategy and plan and we are going quite deep into the technical detail to set the strategy for a three-to-five-year timeframe.

The third area would be, because of the size of the team and importance of design skills, how are the team engaged and are we investing in the right development

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

It is a fixed team, it is all core IP to us in terms of what we design for customers and those 3,000 are all our own people. A month into my new job I opened a design studio in Budapest with the Hungarian government. I also visited our teams in two hubs in India, Delhi and Bangalore. We have to have a ‘follow the sun’ model. For customer design and delivery and also for defining and delivering the technology transformation, those 3,000 people are hardwired into me.

We are a matrix organisation and I have a dotted line to me from another part of the organsation with another 2,500 people who do our systems platform. They design and develop and test deployment and that team would have a percentage of BT employees vs subcontractors. In that area of system design, development and test we would use third-party subcontractors. For example, for the testing cycle, we would use a subcontractor to run that for us.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

It was interesting to see Mark Zuckerberg reveal his plans around artificial intelligence as a project this year and coming up with a virtual butler like the Jarvis character in Iron Man.

There are two trends that I would say are front and centre in every conversation with customers. The first one is the increase in cloud services. Spend on cloud in 2012 was $110bn and that will grow to over $210bn this year, that would be one big trend. That, combined with shadow IT, there is a big element there for the CIO to embrace that. It can be seen as an opportunity or threat. Whenever we have discussions with the best CIOs, they see it as an opportunity to come in, embrace it and lead it.

The second trend I would point to is the internet of things. By 2020, I’ve seen numbers ranging from 25bn to 50bn in terms of the numbers of internet-connected devices. The next four years offer almost unlimited opportunities for what you can get from that in terms of innovation, creativity and optimisation, but it also presents technical and security challenges.

A mining CIO I spoke with recently told me they have driverless trucks all over the world. These trucks weigh 500 tonnes fully loaded, have GPS accurate to 3mm and there’s five terabytes of data coming from those trucks every day. Can you cope with that data? What can you do with it in terms of security, big data management analytics and developing the right applications to benefit business and society? Those are the big trends that every global company we work with have front and centre; these are things that are happening because of the impact communications is having on the world and how can they best take advantage of that.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years