Vodafone’s Debbie Power: ‘Without IoT, digital transformation is not possible’

5 Apr 2019

Debbie Power. Image: Vodafone

Vodafone’s Debbie Power believes in the positive impact of automation and says that 5G, M2M and NB-IoT will be pivotal to Ireland’s industrial future.

Debbie Power is Vodafone’s country manager for internet of things (IoT). She leads a team of specialists who manage Vodafone’s IoT services and solutions across Ireland.

Since the launch of narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) in 2017, Power has overseen the roll-out of the network, and her team gives Vodafone customers access to the NB-IoT network.

‘5G will be a game-changer for industry and for the country in terms of how we will live and work’

Prior to joining Vodafone, Power spent a number of years with BT in various roles. She holds an MBA from University College Cork and a HDip in management and marketing.

In recent weeks Vodafone published its annual IoT Barometer, which found that more than a third (34pc) of businesses now use IoT. 70pc of these adopters have moved beyond pilot stage and 95pc of adopters are seeing the benefits of investment in this technology as it moves into the mainstream.

According to recent ComReg quarterly figures, in Q4 2018 Vodafone Group had the largest market share of machine-to-machine (M2M) subscriptions in Ireland at 50.7pc.

What does the IoT Barometer tell us about how the technology is being adopted by mainstream businesses?

For me it is very positive that 34pc of the surveyed people have adopted IoT. It is obviously going in the right direction and increasing significantly. It was not surprising that the biggest uptake was transport, which traditionally would also be the biggest user of M2M.

I think the most interesting one for me was that stat around 8pc of businesses dependent on using IoT. What they are saying is that if IoT wasn’t part of their business, there would be no business.

When I look at that in relation to the Irish context and from my own customers here in Vodafone, it is quite interesting. I looked across my customer base and I believe uptake and deployment is much more significant in Ireland because I am certain over 30pc of my customer base wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for IoT and the capabilities it gives them.

That suggests the opposite to what people are saying in terms of the idea that automation is taking jobs.

I agree. It is a different time. It is a different evolution or revolution, and I think the jobs we will be looking at tomorrow have not even been thought of today, and that will all come from technologies like AI and augmented reality.

I wouldn’t look at automation in a negative way, I look at it as a positive thing.

Tell me about your own role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

I am IoT country manager for Vodafone Ireland and my team looks after existing customers who have IoT solutions deployed by Vodafone Ireland. Also, in an acquisition environment we talk to new customers about what can be done and how they can evolve their businesses using IoT.

I am Cork-based and my team is nationwide. That fits into the whole ‘Gigabit Society’ strategy that we have both in Vodafone and for the country. Seeing and doing is believing. We can work from anywhere.

How is IoT feeding into the narrative around digital transformation?

The barometer has a stat that says 72pc of adopters said that without IoT, digital transformation is not possible. That is very essential. We talk about digital transformation but people don’t think IoT and digital transformation are on the same page, but it is interesting that people are saying it wouldn’t be possible.

My team and I are responsible for a whole suite of products across IoT but they all are dependent on the connectivity of which NB-IoT will be a significant part [in] our roll-out and strategy.

If you look at Gartner Magic Quadrant for managed M2M services, we are in the top right-hand corner globally based on our vision and execution of strategy, and that is down to Vodafone and our interest and our early adoption. Ireland was the first country to get a cross-country coverage in terms of NB-IoT. Everywhere we have 4G we have NB-IoT, and that allows my team to make sure customers can learn how to utilise that to transform their businesses.

How is IoT helping Vodafone and its customers to digitally transform?

My team reports to the overall Vodafone Group and we have an up-to-date view on the use of IoT. Automotive is one of the biggest uptakes in terms of fleet management, tracking vehicle performance, return on investment, journeys of staff, health and safety, all fed back from telematics in cars, vans and trucks.

We have that in Ireland and that knowledge is being transferred out to the marketplace.

For Ireland, one of the huge sectors that I see a massive uptake in is in the agritech space. As a historically rural country and with a huge food industry, a large portion of our customers are in the agricultural space, using technology to develop their own businesses, solutions, and enhance their end customers. Companies like Moocall, Keenans and Alltech are all doing innovative things in the agritech space and are at the leading edge.

What are your thoughts on 5G and how that will impact digital transformation?

5G will be different and more so than the evolution of 3G to 4G, and it will lend itself to new applications. 5G will be a game-changer for industry and for the country in terms of how we will live and work.

I think that IoT will be one of the early use-case applications for 5G. In relation to the 5G accelerator programme we are working on with Ericsson and NovaUCD, we are looking forward to working with companies who will bring their ideas forward and see how we will develop those.

We are particularly interested in working with start-ups and SMEs to develop that roadmap to see what evolves.

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