Belfast Telegraph

BT’s positive outlook in a competitive market

BT Group is fighting to recover from major losses at its Global Services arm, however Chris Clarke CEO of BT Northern Ireland says the local business is doing well

What has been the highlight for your company to date?

Northern Ireland enjoys one of the most competitive telecoms markets in Europe and its telecoms infrastructure is considered among the most advanced in Europe if not the world.

We are very pleased with the role we have played in getting Northern Ireland to this position, and a particular highlight was working with DETI to provide 100% broadband availability.

We have continually invested in our network rollout in Northern Ireland, bringing the benefits of leading edge communications to our customers, and also being the only company to allow every other communications provider in the market to openly use our network on a wholesale basis.

What are the long-term hopes |for the company?

The long-term hopes for BT in Northern Ireland are positive and we have had a solid start to our financial year.

Our industry has not been immune to the harsh impact of the recession but I believe we have struck a balance between rigorously managing our costs while investing in our future.

Market research shows that BT is still the most popular communications provider in Northern Ireland, and we are focused on having the right product portfolio, prices, skills and customer service to help us build on that success.

What technology are you |harnessing to improve business?

As an information and communications technology company we understand the immense benefits that can be reaped from harnessing technology to improve productivity and efficiencies. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems for example are vital to a company that strives to deliver an exemplary customer experience. Audio-visual conferencing solutions have also becoming increasingly important to how we operate. A reduction in travel has many positives — less costs and time spent on travelling, more time for employees to focus on customers and have greater work/life balance, all the while minimising our carbon footprint.

What advice do you have for someone hoping to use technology to expand their business?

Customer service is key in most industries and businesses should invest in technology that allows them to be more customer-centric.

It is vital that they communicate openly with their chosen technology partner so that they can best advise on the technology that will satisfy their existing requirements and future growth strategy.

It is also important to understand that technology investments can ultimately lead to significant savings and an increasingly efficient and sustainable business.

How are you coping in the face of increased competition, particularly in broadband?

The competitive landscape has been very healthy for years, with over 600 providers vying for marketshare and mobile operators claiming significant share. We are focused on being agile — developing innovative products and pricing and advancing our network with the introduction of technology such as Fibre to the Cabinet.

As the communications market evolves and companies move into adjacent markets — BT’s next generation television service as an example — we believe other companies should offer their networks and content to allow competition in those markets to thrive.

Recession is a challenge for businesses but it can also help companies emerge stronger when the economy returns to growth. What positives have you identified?

I believe in the theory that we shouldn’t let a good recession go to waste. We have managed to balance cost management programmes with ongoing strategic investments to keep our business on track. Corporate Responsibility is a good example — facilitated by BT, hundreds of our employees are volunteering in their communities which proves that companies can find ways in a recession to make a difference.

Have you any new projects in the pipeline?

We recently announced the latest of our network investments which means that Balmoral and Lisburn will be among the first areas in the UK to benefit from BT’s £1.5bn investment in superfast fibre-based broadband.

We are also preparing for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2010. While this exhibition is now in its 46th year, we have a particular focus on this in Northern Ireland and are working closely with schools to encourage them to enter projects.

BT Global Services has struggled, how is this division faring in Northern Ireland?

BT Northern Ireland is part of BT Retail which is performing well. We have significant credentials in the provision of IT services in the market, and while there has been a slowdown in business activity, there continues to be a demand for these services.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

BT has given me the opportunity to work with highly skilled people, in different areas of the communications and IT sector, in many great locations around the world. Certainly a recent highlight has been winning BiTC NI Responsible Company of the Year.

Have you any professional ambitions yet to be realised?

My ambitions are to help BT build on its strengths. I want to develop our employees to ensure they have the right skills and opportunities to grow, make our business more customer centric and also further build on the advances we have made in putting Northern Ireland at the top of the league tables for communications.

What is the best bit of advice you have ever been given?

The best career advice came from my late father who advised me to choose BT from the three employment offers I had after graduating. I really believe it has afforded me the opportunity to develop and progress to the best of my abilities.

Personal CV

Name: Chris Clark

Title: CEO, BT Northern Ireland

Age: 40

Qualifications: BSc Honours geography

Membership of professional bodies: IOD, CBI, NICC, BiTC

Company CV

Name: BT Northern Ireland

Location: Belfast

Sector: Information and communications technology

Trading since: BT plc formed in 1983

Workforce: 2,660

Turnover: ca £400m for year ending March 31, 2009

Belfast Telegraph