BT gets intimate with business customers

IT departments are likely to see more of their BT sales reps as the supplier seeks ways of adding value to their relationship.

Some may view this as...

IT departments are likely to see more of their BT sales reps as the supplier seeks ways of adding value to their relationship.

Some may view this as a mixed blessing, but BT is bent on getting closer to its customers. "We want to behave like a small company," chief executive Ian Livingston told delegates at BT's annual general meeting this week.

What he meant, and the message was clearly aimed at staff too, was that BT wants to create the same intimacy with customers and the same responsiveness, agility and speed of decision making enjoyed by smaller suppliers.

It is easier to see what this means for BT's customers by looking at what is happening with BT Global Services. Next month BT Global Services will sign a multimillion-pound deal to outsource the routine running of customers' IT applications provided through its managed network services business.

This will free the division to concentrate on its core business of running networks. BT Global Services chief executive Francois Barrault says the deal reflects a new direction for the £8bn firm. "When times are good, you want to own everything when they get harder you reassess what is your core business," he says.

Barrault wants to see BT Global Services move towards value added services. These could include giving customers early warning of research breakthroughs from its labs and markets, and working with customers to bring the ideas to market. "We prefer to work with people rather than firms," says Barrault. "This is about sharing risks and costs and mutualising benefits."

Part of the plan is to use technology to build a closer relationship with IT departments. BT is developing a FaceBook-style front end to a Siebel customer relationship management system. It will store names, responsibilities, incident records and call reports and other details about every contract it holds.

"It will also help us to remove the emotion when things go wrong, because it will help us to be proactive in identifying potential problems and raising them with customers before they become serious," says Barrault.

BT intended the system to be for internal use, but Barrault says customers are clamouring for a commercialised version for their own use, which will be available next year.

Barrault hopes he can develop more collaborative relationships. He wants to get away from the competitive, sometimes adversarial relationships between buyers and suppliers. He wants the buyer and seller to trust each other enough to share the risks and benefits of joint product development and exploitation.

Some IT departments maybe sceptical, however. "In the present economic climate I would not want anything that reduced my options. Long-term contracts do that," said one CIO.


Read more on Voice networking and VoIP