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Mobile Communications

BT man charged with networking the world

Outside the day job, Kevin Taylor holds senior positions with Hong Kong Rugby Union and the Jockey Club there. “Rugby is my passion and horse racing is my vice,” he laughs. “But I’ve lived here for 20 years and for me Hong Kong is home really.”

It hasn’t always been that way. Born in rugby-mad Cardiff, Wales, Taylor’s interests probably aren’t surprising but the Hong Kong perch he occupies is as good as any to oversee a vast domain. He covers – and… breathe - Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa & Turkey, and the Eastern Mediterranean in his role as regional president for BT Global Services, the communications and IT services wing of the UK-headquartered telecoms giant.

Taylor has been in outsourcing and ICT services most of his career after spells with Capita Group, James Martin and firms that were eventually subsumed into the modern-day IBM and Fujitsu. Today his customers include Air China, Wipro, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, HTC and many others and he argues that today’s challenges are well suited to BT’s enormous network and skills.

“I’ve come all the way from the mainframe days and what you’re seeing now is a huge focus on managed services,” he says, speaking by conference call from his Hong Kong desk. “Security is also a huge focus and it’s very difficult to manage your security around the world without the latest knowledge.

“If you look back 10 years ago it was ERP solutions, before that Siebel [and CRM] and before that IBM DB2. But if you look in the last six years, telecoms and connectivity has become the heartbeat of what everyone does. Everyone wants to be connected all the time and the application tends to be a secondary dialogue. We’ve been very, very lucky to have a huge network here which is the base of things.”

And of course there’s the cloud where Taylor expects a boom as companies in the regions he serves loom for low-risk, low-capex projects.

“There were 1,000 different variations about what the cloud is and now it has settled down and companies are relaxed about sharing noncritical data in the cloud,” he says.

Business, he says, is brisk with BT hiring “across the board” to add to the 5,000 people under Taylor’s aegis, growth is in double digits and operating costs are flat thanks to big investments already in place.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. In 2009, BT Global Services wrote off £340m ($511m), blaming lax cost controls. Today, however, having invested in acquisitions and growth strategies to spread its capabilities and geographic options, Taylor is bullish about his company’s role in a globalising business world.

“It’s an immense opportunity,” he says. “We’ve seen huge investment from multinationals into the region and the vast majority are investing in AsiaPac one way or the other. India is looking interesting from a domestic perspective, and then there’s the UAE, Oman, Saudi, Qatar. Australia is very strong; Hong Kong and Singapore remain healthy. We’ll follow multinationals as they invest. In Africa we have a new fibre network South Africa, we see Nigeria growing for sure and then there’s Kenya and Tanzania. There’s no ‘tiddler’ country, they’re all on a growth path apart, maybe, from Japan.”

China remains a curate’s egg scenario with BT lacking a licence to operate as a carrier there.

“China has had its up and downs but we’re still seeing growth,” Taylor says. “Xiaomi [and the growth of other Chinese tech firms] is amazing [but for us] China is probably not going to happen as quickly as we would like so we partner with China Telecom and China Unicom.”

Taylor shrugs off the idea that collapsing oil prices will lead to caution.

“As of today people haven’t put their foot on the pedal in terms of watching costs but energy and oil have had a terrible time, obviously. We’re still seeing a very high level of confidence.”

Even the Edward Snowden affair is not casting too many shadows, Taylor insists.

“Lots of companies are becoming a lot more protectionist about data and obviously we need to be on top of that. It’s becoming hub-and-spoke rather than the old star models. But we’re seeing more and more countries open up in terms of their regulatory positions. Global companies trust the integrity of what we’re doing and unless we’re issued a court order to do something, we don’t do it.”

Even the rather precarious state of geopolitics is just a reminder to be conservative.

“We’re guided by governments as to where we can and can’t operate. If things get too problematic we would scale back where our people are at risk. We don’t get involved in any politics whatsoever and just try to be sensible. Our security department says where it’s safe.”

I suggest that his empire must make for lots of air miles but in fact Taylor says his most recent trip was a Dubai holiday and, like a good telco man, says telepresence can ease the burden.

“Growth is double digit and we have record orders but we’re growing from a very small base of 10 years ago. There are 500 companies we focus on across the whole region and it’s a big, big region. And if you cut that down it’s probably 15-16 companies per country and two or three decision makers per company. So that’s about 1,500 people that are customers or potential customers.”

But Taylor is confident that “globally we’re very far in the lead” of other telcos, despite the best efforts of multinationals like AT&T, Verizon and Orange or regional players like Singtel and Telstra.

Most people might still know of BT as the British carrier but in fact it’s very much an international concern and Taylor says the race to capitalise on a fast-changing world has just started.

“The network is the heartbeat of organisations today and companies need to collaborate and communicate more than ever, all over the world,” Taylor says. “That gives us incredible opportunities.”

 

See also: Luis Alvarez, BT Global Services CEO interview BT Services CEO sees a world of opportunity

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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