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BW Businessworld

‘We Are Connecting The World To India’

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It's his first trip to India since the change of government at the Centre. For Luis Alvarez, chief executive officer of  BT Global Services, India is no longer just an arbitrage opportunity. It has technology, skills and capabilities that are second to none. Alvarez, who heads the largest business unit within BT, was also responsible for growing the company’s footprint and revenues across the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) market unit, and continues to lead BT’s services operations in Latin America. He spoke to BW  | Businessworld on a wide range of issues. Edited excerpts:

Global Services is currently the biggest business unit in BT. Now, with BT looking to get back into mobility services after almost 14 years, how do you see that impacting the Global Services business?
We have been providing mobility services to our customers in Global Services for some time and we have been very successful. We manage the telecom expenses for several large global companies. Mobility is an integral part of our group. The capabilities that we are going to have in the UK will help us in launching business services. We have launched a one-point solution, and we are providing more and more services on mobility where you can use the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that we have. We are also increasing our Wi-Fi presence and are also going to use our 4G licence.  So, we have very strong plans on mobility.

There are reports of Global Services being put on the block. Is there any truth to that?
Global Services has strategic plans and we are not selling it. We have improved the performance of the unit. It has been very well recognised in the market. With the support of the group, we are now the global leader in business communications. We are growing at double digits in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. I think Global Services is doing well.

Even today, the focus of Global Services is largely on the UK and continental Europe.Do you see that changing over the next few years? If so, how?
Yes, traditionally the majority of our business comes from the UK. The UK accounts for 40 per cent of our business, and around 30 per cent comes from Europe. The rest of the world’s contribution is increasing. That’s because of two reasons. First, companies are expanding their businesses in new markets. Companies like Unilever and Fiat are investing more and growing at a rapid pace in these regions. We are helping companies that are increasing their presence in new markets. Second, we are helping Indian multinationals become truly global. This is what we call connecting India to the world and the world to India. This is our main job. The contribution of this market is getting bigger and bigger.

How are you planning to expand BT Global Services over the next few years?
The biggest investments will be on expanding our network. We recently announced that we have increased the number of companies where we have Ethernet by nine.

We now have 65 companies with Ethernet coverage; we have extended Internet solutions to 170 companies. We have expanded the number of data centres with cloud capability to 20 globally. We continue to increase security services. We have started a service called ‘Threat Monitor’ because cyber security is one of the areas of growth in the market and is a big opportunity for us. We are also increasing contact centres, where we have 15 global airlines, Latin American banks, oil and gas companies. We link that capability with our strong conferencing solution.

What have you specifically introduced for Indian users?

We have a very good platform in India, offering solutions in areas where only we possess the capability. So you get the same experience in a conference call that you would if you were in a cinema. You don’t have to listen to a dog bark or a child cry as it is filtered out by the solution we have put in place.

How do you see the Indian market evolving? 
I come to India regularly and experience a very positive spirit. That is the impression I get in all my conversations. Basically, India has the determination to grow, and BT believes in it. This is one of the places where we have been investing and will continue to invest. Five years ago, India was considered a place for global arbitrage. Now, there is technology, skills and capabilities that go well beyond that. And the professionals that you find here match the best in the world in terms of quality. The third thing is that it is a market that is becoming more and more open to business. I think it is going to benefit companies coming to do business here, and will give the opportunity to Indian companies to become bigger internationally.

India has an amazing set of companies in the IT environment. And, in manufacturing, it is competing with the best companies globally.
 
What about your investments in India?
We are already present in 120 cities. India benefits from the overall investment that we make for global services, which is £400 million a year. The other area that we are growing in is creating customers. We have created a very strong unit to provide outsourced services to our own customers for their contracts. We have plans to scale up to 7,000 people over the next 18 months. That would be doubling the size of the unit. That also shows the commitment that we have for the Indian market.

You have rolled out many cloud services globally. How many of those can be introduced in India?
On cloud services, there are two things that are important. One, what the technology allows you to support. For example, computing power and storage are the services that you can provide. And this is already available in India. Second, the regulations and data privacy legislations that India has in place. These are of great importance. Some global cloud providers do not know what they are doing. In our solutions, you decide the data centre and the location where you need the service. All data centres are connected to our network that is global. In cloud services, technology matters. We have created what is called the cloud of clouds.

There has been some talk of BT Global Services engaging with the Indian banking network. Apart from financial services, what other areas do you see as being significant growth drivers in India?
We are a global leader in business communications. As a leader, we are in the strongest position in some of the verticals. In financial services, we have the largest network that covers 15,000 entities, including companies and banks. We see a big opportunity in India and will continue to supply services to the financial services industry. We are also launching another service HiTouch Netrix. It has a screen for the trader, where he can tap into multiple phone calls at the same time. By clicking, he can change from one customer to another. It’s a very powerful tool and we are rolling that out in India.

The second area where we see a huge opportunity is in the pharma sector. We have something called the Life Science Cloud, by which we are able to provide pharma companies the ability to connect with software vendors. So if you are a pharmaceutical company, you have people doing research. We have some customers in India who are doing research. In Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Science is a very good example. Then we have been doing things on health as we have a lot of experience on the subject in the UK. We have also been doing things on smart cities. Here we adopt more of a consultancy approach rather than selling or implementing a solution. And the last area relates to security and cyber security.

What kind of consultancy work are you doing on smart cities?
We have a very interesting project in Milton Keynes in the UK. It serves  as an example of what
a smart city could look like. I personally believe that a smart city is a generic concept. Each city needs to think about what its big problem is. So in some cities it is about managing traffic better; in others it is about the use of electricity or water. I personally think there is no solution that fits everybody well. But the challenge for smart cities is who is going to pay for the service. Is it going to be the local water supplier, or citizens? We need to think this through. We are talking to people in India, although we don’t have a proposal right now.
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 09-02-2015)