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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

IT Leaders: O2 UK CIO Brendan O’Rourke on using GDPR to win customers’ trust

In the last 18 months, O2 UK has gone from being “almost acquired” by Three UK owner Hutchison Whampoa in a £10.25bn deal, effectively enabling Three to become the biggest mobile operator in the UK, to having the deal slammed shut by the European Commission.

This meant that the organisation had to re-evaluate its business and consider its next steps carefully – particularly because the telco market has been shifting, with consolidation across the world, and with new types of M&A activity – such as Verizon buying Yahoo – bringing media, tech and telco companies even closer together.

O2 UK’s CIO Brendan O’Rourke explains that the company’s strategy is driven by the customer and is mobile-led.

“That’s what we believe in, and so our technology strategy and how we develop IT underpins that,” he tells NS Tech.

O’Rourke’s team has been focused on three key areas: making IT more efficient and effective and thereby allowing the business to be more competitive; the customer experience and “end-to-end digitalisation” of it; and then a review of the company’s operating models for IT.

On the first area, O’Rourke has been running a huge optimisation programme over the last six months. After years of working with many software and hardware partners, the telco wants to consolidate this and work with under 10 providers that can provide it with its IT services going forward. The plan is to be executed over the next six to nine months – and the company has been looking at this in a different way to other businesses.

Instead of looking at specific IT services that it needs such as application development or operations, it plans on working with partners in each of its domains: whether that be B2B, business intelligence or consumer.

“That allows us to maintain business and industry knowledge in IT and leverage domain expertise from our partners,” says O’Rourke.

The crucial ingredient

O’Rourke insists that data is fundamental in the company’s strategy and in building what he calls a “new customer relationship”.

He suggests that there are several ways data can help. Firstly, he says that the company is working on making data easier to access, which requires “end-to-end digitisation”. Examples include offering simple voice interfaces to generic questions, and making graphical interfaces more user-friendly.

The second area that O2 is focusing on with regards to data creating tailored content for consumer interactions.

“A good example of this is where we can anticipate that a customer might be going to run out of data; by looking at historical usage and recent activity we could notify them ahead of time and offer them intelligent options, whether that is a better suited tariff, more data for that particular time, or just a way to manage their data better – it’s about enriching the customer experience at every point by making it personalised,” O’Rourke explains.

But both of these uses of data need one critical element from the customer – trust.

“Through simple tools we want to give customers complete control of their data but trust is the most important thing,” he states.

And the perfect opportunity to gain this trust has come about through the incoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

“Unlike many companies, GDPR for O2 is a marketing-led programme. It is an opportunity to get our customers’ trust and is part of the proposition we offer to the market,” he states.

“The only way to deal with the lack of understanding and lack of trust in regards to how data is being used, is to educate consumers, and give them support and control over their data,” he adds.

Finally, the organisation is also using data in a far more technical way; using artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor performance of the infrastructure, discover faults and automatically fix them.

O’Rourke emphasises that each and every aspect of this data strategy is geared towards the customer.