Interview

Cybersecurity concerns slow down digital transformation: Bas Burger, BT

Bas Burger, in an exclusive interview with CIO India, talks about the scope of 5G, the changing roles of CIO’s, and how digital is at once an opportunity and a threat to businesses.

Bas Burger, CEO of global services at BT, feels that in the future more CIO’s will move on to become CEO’s of the company as their role changes into business creators. Burger, in an exclusive interview with CIO India, talks about how India is the focus for many companies due to the skill set it provides, the scope of 5G, and how cyber security can slow down the digital journey of companies. 

Edited excerpts:

What is the scope of 5G for BT? 

5G for us as an organization is really important. However, currently, it is more important in the UK for our mobile network. We are very aggressively looking at what we can do to implement 5G in the UK. We are looking at specific latency protocols around 5G. We are also looking at how 5G can do slicing so that we can give different types of priority to different types of channels within the 5G network. This will be very helpful for future technologies that need very low latency or need either very high priority, or lower priority at a lower cost. While I am no specialist in it, I believe it will unleash a lot of new ideas that we do not know today.

I think it is going to be bringing not only more bandwidth but it will also enable us to do a lot more mobile communication and very accurate communication for which low latency will be the key. Like, for example, for driverless cars which everybody talks about, you need 5G and really good and fast technology at high bandwidth and low latency. Also, for many IoT type of environments where you communicate high bandwidth and low bandwidth type of information but in very high frequency. I don't think we have even scratched the surface yet on what we can do with 5G but I think it is technology that is going to take us a lot further. 

Globally, 5G technology can also help us deploy wireless solutions in very remote areas. These are areas where currently we have no fixed network or mobile network from anybody else. However, you do need to have a device connected to a network.This WiFi does today; I think 5G will be a good addition to that. But our strategy is to do it in the UK mobile market first, and when we get used to the technology, we will probably move to other places as well. 

2. There is a huge transition taking place currently of companies going digital. According to you how far have companies reached and why does it become so important with each passing day?

Not only in India, all our customers globally are talking about the buzzword of digital. This is because for large companies and large multinational organizations that we focus on, Digital is an opportunity and digital is also a threat. The threat is that smaller companies can compete with very big companies easily because they are more agile, more flexible and they can use the scale of the internet and technology very very quickly to compete against big companies. Some of the examples for this is Amazon or Uber or Facebook. There are many such companies competing successfully in various industries. So large multinational global organizations, want to become digital really quick to do three things. 

1. To make their own organization more efficient.  

So when you transform into a digital company, you make the manufacturing process more efficient with robotics and AI and automation. You make better use of data to become more efficient and that is the way they hope to compete. 

2. Digital employee 

The other thing is to work better together. So the digital employee. This means large companies need to get skills from different places in the world. Companies need to have digital tools that help employees collaborate more on not only phones or conference call but video, collaboration tools in general, call center, agents in every place with data is available etc. 

3. Digital customer 

Everybody wants to become more digital in the way they deal with their customer. Retail outlets are an easy example. Big global retailers have brick-and-motor stores; but they also have an online environment. They want to make sure they connect with their customers online better. Companies like us as well, when we interact with customers, increasingly they want to do it through their mobile phone, through an app, or across the internet. They want digital interfaces. Companies want to use the data they get from the customer, to serve the customers better. 

These three areas all our customers are busy with and I think in a few years time every company will be a digital company.  

3. What opportunity do you see in India currently?

The opportunity for us in India has many dimensions. First of all, I think companies like us and our customers want to tap into the skill set that will allow them to become digital. This very often means getting their legacy environment into a new environment that is more in tune with digital. The skill set to do that is very large here in India. If you look at how we innovate in our global networks, how we move from the legacy environment, how we build platforms etc, we do a lot of work with people here in India. We have many people working here in India; we also utilize many Indian companies to do this for us.

The environment here is uniquely positioned with many engineers, many technical people that have the knowledge; many young, enthusiastic, eager-to-learn, people who speak good English as well. This has been one area of opportunity in India. The other thing is as the world becomes more digital, India is going to play a very important role in it. All our customers around the globe are looking at India. All our customers have environments here that they need to connect into.This brings us here because we deliver their network, we very often deliver their services here as well.

So in India, we work very closely with all the international customers that we have and that have sites here in India. As well as the big Indian companies that go across the globe that we provide a network for and cloud services. The third thing is that we have a lot of big Indian partners that we work together with. So our customers buy a network, some cloud services, and security from us; but they don't buy the application from us. They don't buy big data centers from us, they buy that from other companies. There are companies in India that are very well positioned to do applications and we work together with them for our customers. 

4. How is the role of CEO and CIO changing or working in collaboration? How do you see that turning out now that Digital is the business driver for companies? 

Today, if you are a CIO, you are under a lot of pressure from different angles because your CEO says we need to go digital and we need to go fast. The CIO also gets a lot of information from their customers internally, that says if you do not fix it for me, I am going to buy it myself because I have looked up on the net and it all looks very simple. Then the CFO says that you have to spend half the money next year because you are spending so much money on IT, it needs to be halved. This the dynamic a CIO operates in today.

But the influence a CIO has on the performance of the company has increased dramatically. For example, if a company would have 10 years ago, had no network in a particular factory they would still be able to run the factory for at least a week. Today, for some companies when the network is down, the factory stops within an hour. This is because they need data from outside, they need trucks and their machines. So the impact of IT not working in an environment is huge today. Currently, the instances of a CIO becoming a CEO is less, but going forward this will be much more. Also, CEO's these days are more tech savvy. 

5. What is the one thing that can slow down the digital transformation journey of a company?

One thing that sometimes slows down digital transformation is also a thing that every CEO and CIO spend half their time on-- that is cybersecurity.  All the digitization gives a lot of opportunity to companies; but also gives a lot of opportunity to people who want to do bad things. It dramatically increases your vulnerability across your organization if you have more IP addresses, more devices connected or your tech surface increases a lot. So we spend most of our time, our energy and most of our investment in the field of cybersecurity. This is something that will slow down development because the risk of a breach is huge to any company--be it on the basis of image, liabilities or compliance.

Nowadays everybody is aware. There are only two types of CEOs.There are CEOs who know they have been attacked and do something about it. And there are CEOs who don't know that they have been attacked but they are. That latter group is getting very very small because everybody knows that every single company is under threat. Every consumer has the ability to be compromised.