Q&A: How will new technology affect the UK’s businesses and their telecoms providers?

General Manager at TalkTalk Business, Kristine Olson-Chapman, discusses new technology in UK's business.

What are the biggest challenges facing business broadband providers such as TalkTalk Business at the moment?

“Many of those in the industry, including TalkTalk Business, have evolved to become more than simply providers of broadband for businesses. After all, most businesses usually have much more complex needs than this, and require much more help and support. This is especially true when you consider the coming together of systems which require updating to support the way businesses are operating – for example there are much higher requirements for remote working than in the past. Many businesses now need a partner, not just a provider. The challenge for the industry is how best to adapt to these new expectations.” 

What can and should businesses be doing to future proof their telecoms?

“The pace of technological change in the time I have been at TalkTalk Business is nothing compared to what we will see in the next decade or two. The next wave of change will completely transform the way people work, forcing businesses to completely re-think how they future proof themselves. New technologies are developing at breakneck speed, and businesses are increasingly expected to stay up to date, especially when it comes to telecoms.

This means that businesses need to continuously monitor and assess new standards and technologies, making plans for what technologies to adopt and when. Some are clearly more urgent than others. For example, the UK’s ISDN telephone lines will be switched off in 2025, so businesses should start thinking about which Voice over IP or SIP alternative they might use. In addition, demand for data and faster speeds is also only going to increase so the UK’s businesses can’t afford to be left behind because of sluggish internet speeds. Organisations that want to stay ahead of the curve should continuously monitor data usage, map out what it will look like in the short, medium and long term and upgrade their systems, before additional bandwidth becomes a critical need.”  

Are the UK’s networks able to keep up with the rising demand for more data and faster speeds from businesses?

“It certainly is true that the UK’s networks will come under increased pressure in the coming years as demand for much more data and increasingly faster speeds rises. More video conferencing, further adoption of telepresence and much larger files (such as high-quality video) mean networks could struggle if not properly invested in. In the even longer term, businesses might be using virtual reality, or new tech that hasn’t even been developed yet. The UK’s networks will be able to cope, but only if there is the necessary investment to increase capacity. We’ve been investing in our own network, and are encouraging the rest of the industry to do the same.”

With Ofcom’s consultation on Openreach completed, can you explain why you supported full separation of Openreach from BT?

“We spearheaded the campaign to Fix Britain’s Internet because we believe that full separation of Openreach from BT is the only way that the UK’s internet network will get the investment that it needs so that every business has fast and reliable internet. From the moment a business signs up for an internet connection, it can take weeks, if not months, for Openreach to send an engineer to get the business online. This wait is unacceptable, as the internet is critical to the UK’s businesses, schools, and the public sector.

BT’s ownership of Openreach allows it to exploit an unnaturally dominant position in the market. This puts it under minimal pressure to innovate and provide the next generation of fibre optic services Britain needs to remain competitive. As it stands, Openreach is not able to meet the needs of UK businesses, and full separation is the only way to be sure to unlock the potential of the UK’s communications infrastructure.”

Why are installation waiting times for businesses so long and is there anything you can do to reduce them?

We’re doing our best, but ultimately we’re reliant on Openreach – and we’re as frustrated as everyone else with the increased delays to Ethernet provisioning. While there are a variety of reasons why installation times might be longer than expected, one major source of delays has been due to bad organisation and poor communication between Openreach and internet service providers. Openreach engineers until recently would often not inform out customers as to when an installation might take place, meaning that they might miss their installation slot and be sent to the back of the queue. For our part, we’ve tried to tackle this by having an open channel of communication with Openreach and daily calls with ring-fenced teams within both TalkTalk Business and Openreach. 

By being in direct contact with Openreach on a daily basis, and having conversations that focus on the status of open orders, we can help process any cancellations and make sure that Openreach does not lose focus on orders that are over 100 days old. This is something that benefits all Ethernet customers across the UK, not just our own, although this small change ultimately helped to bring installation times for our customers down by an average of 11 days. 

How can technology help the UK economy to become more productive?

UK productivity is below the average for the other six members of the G7 group of industrial nations. Clearly, there is a problem that while complex to solve, can be helped by technology. Automation of business services such as the delegation of helpdesk tickets, for example, can help employees focus on the high-value tasks and activities that make a real difference to their productivity. 

Technology also plays an important role in productivity when it comes to improving processes – collaboration services, for example, can ensure projects stay on track and get delivered on-time and quality of service is maintained. Likewise, video conferencing can now make attending meetings much faster and easier. These are just a couple of the myriad ways technology can help improve the productivity of British businesses.

Is new technology more generally helping small businesses to better compete with big ones, or is it simply entrenching the big corporate players?

New technology has huge potential for small businesses that want to enter the market quickly. For example, if someone has an idea for a new product and an internet connection, they can start selling in a matter of hours. Small businesses no longer need particularly in-depth tech knowledge to build a website, set up an ecommerce platform, manage their accounts or communicate with their customers from around the world. 

Small businesses also have much more flexibility when it comes to adopting new technologies, and can often do so faster because they don’t have the burden of having invested in older and more aged technology. Some of the world’s biggest businesses have to deal with technology which is only getting more and more out of date. Integrating or replacing it takes time and so bigger businesses can actually be more likely to fall behind if they don’t handle this process properly.  At the same time, it’s getting easier for small businesses to harness technology to compete on a leveller playing field with their bigger rivals.”

How will increasing automation affect the UK’s business?

“Automation will allow British businesses to let go of the tasks that are mundane, repetitive and take too long to complete, and focus instead on doing the work that will really get them noticed. More than ever, businesses will be able to place a service-oriented focus on the activities, tasks and processes that make up their everyday work lives. Instead of focusing on singular activities or projects, businesses will start thinking more in terms of service and value.”

Kristine Olson-Chapman, General Manager, TalkTalk Business
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristine is General Manager at TalkTalk Business, having joined in 2009. Kristine has spent over 15 years working in general management and brand marketing at major multinationals including American Express and Unilever.