Agility, simplicity and speed are the main themes currently running through the entire BT Group, as it fights against the dual threats of increasing competition and yet more regulatory compliance.

Maria Pardee, CIO of BT Retail, says the organisation is currently undergoing a transfer of business initiatives around core convergence. “BT is now having to be agile in ways not typified by an old style telecoms company. The telecoms industry is now a lot more than voice – it is about flexibility, communications and even entertainment.”

The move from wire lines to mobiles is what is really driving the whole industry now, according to Pardee. “The company is not really a network business now – the software is the network. Selling and driving services are vastly different from what they were even five years ago. IP, mobility and value added services are important now we have moved to a different model,” she says. “The competition has changed too, and is very busy. There isn’t room for everyone, but communications devices will be all pervasive. Think of the typical executive who has at the very least a mobile, and probably a wireless PDA or laptop of some sort. This will increase, and BT wants to be at the centre of it.”

It does seem to be on its way. This year BT’s third quarter earnings fell to £1.38 billion from £1.4bn for the same period last year, but the company said that growth was driven by a 42 per cent rise in revenues from ‘new wave’ services that now account for a third of its business. Broadband wholesale connections have now reached seven million, and BT has between 23m and 24m customers.

"“BT is now having to be agile in ways not typified by an old style telecoms company. The telecoms industry is now a lot more than voice – it is about flexibility, communications and even entertainment”"

Maria Pardee, CIO, BT Retail

Pardee says from a technology point of view everything concerns competition in the face of a very fast changing business environment. “It has to be fast and innovative to continue to earn trust and additional business. Currently speed, agility and innovation are critical,” she comments. “Everything is about agility now, and how to get the product to the customer faster. This is affecting BT’s methodology and means it is looking at closer business alignment, reusable tools and assets.”

Business alignment is, of course, key. Company IT departments are either backoffice providers or work closely with the business, according to Pardee. “BT’s IT is obviously side-by-side with the business,” she says. “We achieve this by having senior skills, a good understanding of business and having a seat at the leadership table.”

Transformational projects include the extensive CRM systems the team is working on. “We are adding value through the infrastructure and want the experience for customers to be pleasant and easy, whichever service they are using,” says Pardee. But there is a great deal of legacy work to be done, she says.

“We are working on a mass simplification of a very complex business. We have thousands of systems that are over five years old and simplifying these legacy systems is not for the faint hearted. We have made some very hard choices in this, but we must simplify or drown.”

BT is building applications that are flexible and reusable, based around a service oriented architecture. “The biggest push is in simplifying the business. BT’s history means it is wildly complex. Customers shouldn’t have to, and don’t, care about all this. It should be simple. As Henry Ford said, the car may be complex but the customer just wants to put the key in and turn it,” says Pardee.

The company is also concentrating on the new Ofcom mandates, which are a huge regulatory hurdle to get over, according to Pardee. “They are like Sarbanes-Oxley on steroids,” she says, “and we have taken a lot of energy to demonstrate that opportunities in the business are equivalent to the competition.”
She adds: “However we are turning the compliance requirements into something positive. We adhere to the law but also we get to rethink the way we are delivering service. We are taking a methodical and measured approach to compliance.”

BT is a world-class company, so these changes will be ongoing, according to Pardee. “For everything we put in place today, there will be a better solution in nine months. So the ethos now has to be ‘do it fast’. If it isn’t working, we’ll move on – we are promoting innovation and fast thinking, prototyping has been speeded up, and this is a new way of thinking for BT, which after all was originally run as a civil service monopoly.”