Leading the pack

BT Group might lack its own national telecommunications infrastructure in the Middle East, but the company has gained a strong presence by offering managed services and consultancy to local operators.

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By  Roger Field Published  March 25, 2009

BT Group might lack its own national telecommunications infrastructure in the Middle East, but the company has gained a strong presence by offering managed services and consultancy to local operators.

For many Gulf operators, the idea of a genuinely liberalised telecoms market remains a daunting prospect. But this is also something that many Western incumbent operators were forced to confront years ago.

For UK operator BT, the end of monopoly status back in the early 1980s marked the start of an evolution that would lead the operator to become a multinational company with a presence in more than 50 countries. Olivier Campenon, BT's president for EMEA, tells CommsMEA about the company's operations in the region, and why regional telcos should welcome greater competition.

The temptation for incumbent operators to push for protection is high. But the more you do that the less you are allowing your company to be prepared for the full competitive situation.

Tell me about BT's operations in the region. What exactly does the company do?

Campenon: Our activities internationally are split between dealing with very large companies and also dealing with the other telecom operators. For telecom operators, we are really focusing on what they should do to be more efficient, what type of products they should develop, and which platform they should use.

We work with large multinationals who view ICT as a key tool for becoming more efficient and see us partly as a consultant that can help them to pick up on the right technologies and practices to make their operations more efficient. In the Middle East, BT works in a partnership role, so we are not intending to compete with operators such as Etisalat or STC.

The non-telecom multinationals we work with include Unilever, ThomsonReuters and Procter & Gamble. We also work for the local headquarters of locally-based multinationals, such as Dubai World, which have enormous needs across the globe.

For this type of multinational we provide services including project support and expertise and all of their telecom management.

We also work with companies and organisations from this region including government agencies. We have already started work with the Abu Dhabi government, which has experienced huge growth in recent years. It is a very dynamic government that wants to create e-government capabilities.

We are also involved with deploying the telecoms infrastructure for smart cities. These are new developments where telecommunications is about setting the right services for existing and future customers, from hotel guests who want to be able to access the internet and TV, to small businesses that need all of the latest ICT tools at their disposal.

How should operators react to the development of a competitive market?

The temptation for incumbent operators to push for protection is high. But the more you do that the less you are allowing your company to be prepared for the full competitive situation. That is something we have seen in many places in Europe. With BT, competition was imposed, but we said: ‘Okay, I have been forced by the regulator into very open competition, but I am going to transform and adapt to it.' And on the other side you had some the large operators such as in Germany, which said: ‘We are going to protect ourselves'. Now that the market is open, they are facing a situation they are not prepared for.

The benefits are clearly on the side of competitive markets. If I look at BT, without that push, without that competitive environment, we wouldn't have transformed as quickly. It forced us to be innovative in order to always be ready for competition.

Innovative momentum is something that we have worked on. What we have done since then is to ensure innovation is a key driver to the point where we have a division called BT Innovate, which is there to be able to attract and consolidate all of the ideas that we have and put them into service.

How is the downturn affecting your clients?

In the current economic climate, many people are thinking short term and therefore feel they are entering into a very gloomy environment. Whether it will be a year or two years, no one knows, but it will get better. We are in a role of making sure that the companies we work with are as effective as possible in their own business. We are also making sure that we give more time to our customers to focus on the core business while we are taking care of their ICT.

Everyone's first reaction to the downturn is, ‘Wow, this is a difficult time, we must cut costs.'. That is absolutely rational, but that is only the first round, and it is not enough. But what if these companies need to overhaul their systems and processes to become more efficient and perform better in the market?

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