Posted on Wednesday 4 August 2010 by Ulster Business

eircom Northern Ireland has been making waves in the local telecommunications market with its fresh, highly-skilled approach and strong service ethic. Ulster Business spoke to General Manager Darren Lemon to find out how the company is able to fully exploit available communications technologies to maximise efficiencies for Northern Ireland businesses.

Dark clouds spoil the view from Darren Lemon’s fifth floor office at eircom Northern Ireland’s headquarters in Belfast as he contemplates the next move in the telco’s continuing growth since it entered the market place several years ago. Working closely with both the public and private sectors, eircom NI has rapidly become a major player in the delivery of integrated communications solutions. But every cloud though, they say, has a silver lining, and perhaps in the months and years ahead it is to metaphorical skies that businesses and public bodies will look as they seek to reduce cost in an age of austerity. Darren Lemon, General Manager of eircom NI, certainly believes the growth of so-called cloud computing will have an undoubted impact on the way companies go about their business and the way the public sector generates efficiencies. More about that later. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone that the growth in Northern Ireland of the Republic’s indigenous telco has been anything other than an on-going success since it made its first calls here about 30 months ago. A market, starved of genuine competition for years, today has several major players, and businesses large and small, as well as government departments, have plenty of choice when hiring new suppliers or embarking on ambitious projects. “That level of competition has to be good for everyone,” said Darren. “Indeed it’s that sort of competition which keeps costs down and in such an ubiquitous industry as telecommunications that’s especially important.” The telecommunications industry has always been a vital cog in the wheels of Northern Ireland commerce but now, as our ability to utilise the latest available technology increases, it is fast adopting an even more essential role in the day-to-day running of our businesses. In addition to fixed telephone lines, providers also act as internet service providers, mobile phone services and often take responsibility for installing their own infrastructure in the form of fibre optic cabling. “And now we’re entering a new era. Where we used to talk about convergence as the rapid integration of all of these products and services we now look to the development of cloud-based services as offering businesses the opportunity to significantly reduce IT costs, provide greater integration and avoid huge capital expenditure.” said Darren. “These are services where the hardware you would normally find in a business disappears and is replaced by internet-based services that are off-site or up in the clouds, so to speak. “However if companies, and indeed the private sector, are to take advantage of what cloud-based services have to offer then they have to have absolute confidence in their network and its ability to support their mission critical business applications. That’s where we come in!” Two-and-a-half years ago eircom came to Northern Ireland in an effort to supply two sectors it felt were under serviced: government and medium-to-large businesses. The former currently makes up around 70% of the company’s business and covers many different areas of the public sector including a £70 million Network NI contract for the Northern Ireland Civil Service along with others for Northern Ireland Water and power provider Viridian. Products range from managed network services for LAN and WAN to Unified Communications and High Definition Video Conferencing solutions. “We initially got into the public sector on the back of an innovative commercial offering which has huge expansion capabilities,” Darren said. “Government demands move fast and we have the inbuilt capacity to meet that if the need arises.” Along with keeping its technology and its capacity ahead of the curve, eircom NI has also invested heavily in high-end skills within its workforce to provide an innovative and intelligent service to back up its system capabilities. This means it is able to deal with the most thorny problems as a matter of course. “The greater the complexity of the requirement, the better the fit for us,” he said. “That’s the sort of business we thrive on.” For any business servicing public sector contracts, the obvious worry is the expected cut in government spending in the coming years but Darren said eircom NI’s technology can offer savings across the board. “So for instance, a recent report from the Northern Ireland Civil Service showed that Network NI has reduced the average cost per megabyte of information by 45 per cent,” said Darren. “Imagine then what impact this could have if for example all schools in Northern Ireland were connected via Network NI? The savings would be substantial. “Of course our experience in delivering savings and efficiencies is encouraging us to expand into other areas of the public sector. There’s the new Department of Justice and many other more established parts of government where we can help make a considerable difference.” eircom NI is also making waves in the private sector, most notably with Hastings Hotels, United Dairy Farmers and Northgate Managed Services. Proving its capability hasn’t been difficult – “our biggest endorsement is that the government relies on us,” Darren said – and the private sector has welcomed its service-led approach. “We’re delivering service in a different way by tailoring and designing it to suit the customer’s needs and managing it from right here in Belfast,” he added. “Our investment in service provision is managed in a way which supports our clients’ business demands.” In these ever changing times for the economy, this means being flexible when it comes to contract terms and keeping in close contact with customers to gauge their needs; taking the lessons learned in the public sector and replicating these with private companies. While quality and service are an integral part of the eircom NI business, being able to deliver cost savings to customers is also paramount. “There are clear cost challenges and we’re in no doubt that we have to deliver solutions that help our customers reduce costs and improve the effectiveness and competitiveness of their operations,” Darren said. eircom’s commitment to Northern Ireland business is demonstrated by its recent investment in local infrastructure where it initially spent £10 million installing a fibre cable network. Recently a further £1.5 million was invested in the construction of Next Generation MPLS technology which provides customers with high bandwith connectivity allied to low latency. Using its own infrastructure such as this - along with that already in place in Northern Ireland – to the optimum, is a key part in boosting the capabilities of businesses here and, crucially in these straightened times, cutting costs. “Northern Ireland is starting to reap the benefits of significant investment in communications infrastructure by ourselves and others over the last few years and the economy is now ready to take full advantage of it,” Darren said. “The key now, as far as choosing a provider is concerned, is service provision, and our effort to innovate in this area of the business is as intense as the way we go about developing and introducing new technologies. For us, you can’t talk about total or unified communications without talking about quality and flexibility in how we interact with the customer. “It is not cliché at eircom NI to talk about the needs of the customer. It is at the very heart of our thinking and around that we place our technology!” A good example of this is the company’s Telepresence video communication technology. A visit to the Telepresence suite at eircom NI’s Belfast headquarters dispels any cynicism toward this type of technology through its lifelike, high quality picture and crystal clear sound. In conversation with an eircom employee in Dublin, even Ulster Business got over early camera shyness and soon forgot the 100 mile distance between the two offices. The uses for this type of conferencing are too numerous to mention and it is surely a piece of technology that should be seriously considered by local companies, particularly in light of the recent disruption to air travel, the need to keep costs to a minimum and a desire by all companies to reduce carbon emissions. This is just one of the services optimising the improved telecoms infrastructure on offer in Northern Ireland which eircom NI believe can not only save money for Northern Ireland’s businesses but also improve the efficiency of their processes. By replicating its success in the public sector, Darren believes the company has considerable scope to help in the recovery of the local economy by delivering enabling technology and allowing businesses to reap the financial benefits which follow. If in doubt, just look to the clouds!

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