O2’s Alan Brown on how the cloud ushers a brave new future for telcos (video)

10 Oct 2012

Alan Brown, business director of Telefónica's Irish subsidiary O2

It is an interesting time in the telecoms world. Demand for mobile data via devices like smartphones and tablet computers is one thing, but adding intelligence and robust services for businesses is really where it’s at for telecoms firms with an eye on the future, says Alan Brown, business director of Telefónica’s Irish subsidiary O2.

A few years ago at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, I recall Google chairman Eric Schmidt being peppered with questions from anxious telecoms CEOs about their future in a world where internet giants like Google and Facebook held sway. Their anxiety was that their network capacity would see them relegated to providing ‘dumb pipes’ to the rest of the world.

As we talk in the comfortable surrounds of Wayra in Dublin, Telefónica’s start-up incubator, Brown jokes that actually now telecoms companies see the value of having this capacity and if anything the power is in their hands to provide the intelligent services that makes opportunities like the cloud and big data relevant to business leaders.

Brown points out that cloud computing is already in use in most Irish organisations, whether owner-managers of SMEs realise it or not, citing research his organisation had published in May involving SME owner-managers.

“One of the statistics that stood out for me was that 20pc of owner-managers said they were using cloud services. However, when we asked them what apps they were using in their business, the actual fact was 48pc of them were using cloud services.

“That to me was a prime indication that people don’t quite get what cloud is yet, and they are a little bit afraid of it.”

Cloud – just a new way of consuming essential IT services

Brown points out that cloud is really just an evolved way of consuming IT services and that it is potentially more secure for an SME to host its apps and data in a secure cloud data centre managed 24 x 7 by professionals rather than putting the company server under the MD’s desk, as has been the case for many SMEs.

He points out that consumers’ use of the cloud in terms of social media, email and services like Evernote and Dropbox is ahead of that by small firms mainly because consumers don’t see the cloud as ‘the cloud’, but rather a set of apps that add value to their lives.

“Whereas with a business you quite rightly have to start with what’s different, what are the dangers, so it usually starts with a negative attitude, particularly in terms of security.”

Brown says the key, especially in terms of security, is the kind of partners SMEs can enlist when it comes to the cloud. The prerequisites are good security, robust and reliable data networks and the right set of apps and services that add value to workers in the office, in the field or at home. In O2’s case, it is a partner with Microsoft and provides businesses with the software giant’s Office 365 suite of services.

Data is protected and backed up with a 99.999pc uptime guarantee and users can affordably access email, calendars and productivity apps, as well as interact with colleagues and customers via audio, video and desktop sharing.

“Your data will be secure provided you do it properly in the cloud and with the right kind of partners.”

Fear factors around cloud

Brown says the fear factor is there so the key is education and understanding.

From the perspective of a mobile operator, the cloud is a crucial component in an array of network-centric services that prove mobile operators are becoming anything but providers of dumb pipe services.

As the fourth-largest telecoms provider in the world, Telefónica is investing heavily in developing new services and working closely with start-ups.

As well as sophisticated cloud offerings, O2 is gearing up to provide machine-to-machine (M2M) services – also known as the internet of things – where mobile connected devices and sensors provide firms with data on the go 24 x 7. For example, firms pioneering M2M are using M2M in fleet management roles with M2M boxes enabling real-time location updates, for example.

Data everywhere

“That is why the cloud is so interesting and exciting for a company with a heritage in mobility and telecoms. It is really about enhancing mobility for customers, talking to customers and understanding what they do with their business, what their sales guys want to be able to do on the road and what tools might make a difference.

“It is interesting in the current economy, where the focus is on cost but the really interesting stuff is what you can do with cloud to drive your business.

“For example, your salespeople can take an order, including an electronic signature, and have it back in the back-end system before he leaves the customer’s premises. That’s where it gets exciting. It really is the cloud and mobility coming together.

“From a network perspective, the vision is to enable businesses to do anything, anywhere, and at any time. It’s data everywhere,” Brown said.

Join Alan Brown and Ireland’s digital leaders who will gather to discuss cloud computing and the big data revolution at the Cloud Capital Forum on Friday, 23 November, at the Convention Centre Dublin

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