Orange: how it plans to deal with mobile data in future

by Ken Young | posted on 11 December 2002

Orange is possibly taking mobile data more seriously than any other voice network operator; Ken Young interviewed Richard Hanscott, who is VP of Business Solutions, to find out more about his plans and hopes.

Q: How did the Business Solutions Unit come about?

RH: I have worked at Orange for almost five years working in consumer and business. In June last year we created the Business Solutions unit which covers businesses with 50 or more employees. It consists of 1100 people (in the UK) and that includes sales force; marketing responsible for all product management, and advertising; we also have our own call centre in Darlington.

We are expecting to grow by 20 per cent this year measured by subscribers or revenue and we are very much ahead of market growth. My job is to create an environment that is particularly built for business customers. Historically we haven't spent so much money promoting to the business market and we are now changing that. Our current share of the UK business market is at least 25 per cent when measured against the other four operators and we are investing £2m per day on our network.

Q: Do you break out figures for subscribers, churn, revenues?

RH: All I can say is churn is lower and revenues are higher. Churn is lower than the average. Business customers are not so driven by the latest handset its more about service and we are focussing hard on bringing customers on from the other networks. We think we understand how to make customers very welcome.

Q: Do customers perceive a difference between buying from you direct and through the channel?

RH: I don't want them to perceive a difference. There are certain things that Orange needs to do, say if we are interconnecting our network with a large corporate network – that is something only Orange can do. But as a generality we don't mind how a customer comes to us.

Q: What is your current approach to the business customer?

RH: We are very much about trying to inspire businesses to mobilise their enterprises. We want them to understand that mobility can bring competitive advantage and bring them closer to their customers. For example we show people the value of something like voicemail – we think its very powerful. We provide a suite of services that includes: conference calling, group text messaging, group voicemail, and of course email. That's a collection of messaging systems that really help teams work together.

Q: What's your view on SMS now?

RH: It's a tool that people can do much more with. It's much easier now to do group SMS and it cuts out so much cost. It's very powerful.

Q: What about Instant Messaging?

RH: It's coming. With the launch of products like the SPV Smartphone. But for us IM is the same as text messaging. Its something that works across all platforms. I can't give you a timeline for IM services. I would say that we have more than enough means of people communicating with each other as outlined.

Q. What about at department level?

RH: The two we are focussing on are sales forces and field forces. We launched a middleware product called Accelerator (Sales Accelerator and Field Force Accelerator). It's a clever piece of middleware that integrates with your existing back-end systems such as Oracle and SAP and the like for customer details. Then the user can access a PDA to get all the customer details, order parts and produce invoices. It's not really about the technology, its about helping that person to make one more customer call (visit) per day. We can deliver a real return on investment and the great thing is there is no capital investment. We are able to install it, make it work for them and just charge them per seat.

Q: What about fleet management?

RH: We've just launched Orange Fleetlink which is about managing fleets of commercial vehicles. It allows the driver to communicate by voice and text and it also gives the fleet controller a clear indication of where a vehicle is. It also means that if we wanted to we could turn the engine off. Yes, you can collect vehicle data with a tachometer but this gives a simpler way of collecting all the information and journey planning. It makes it easier to change the route of a vehicle half-way through the day if you need to.

Q: What work are you doing in the medical arena?

RH: We have developed Wirefree Clinical that is targetted at drug companies doing clinical trails. Normally those taking part in trails have to fill out paper forms. We replace that with a PDA which speeds up the drug trial and also allows the drug company to gather more information than normal. It can also be used to remind those being tested exactly when they have to administer drugs and when to report on their progress. They tried doing it with internet PCs but that includes the whole cost of providing PCs. This solution is a lot cheaper and more portable.

Q: What have you learnt from research?

RH: Deloitte Touche undertook research for us on company strategy and found that 85 per cent of the top UK companies are taking mobile data very seriously. We have also found from our recent Customer Advisory Council that many are doing GPRS pilots supporting one or other application. From our perspective this means a much more fundamental connection with the Orange network. It requires enterprises to consider our network as an extension of their own LAN infrastructure. Therefore we have to have all the relevant telecommunications interconnection tools – which we now have. It has to be safe and secure and properly managed. Once you have got that you then have your own LAN infrastructure that is available wherever you want to be.

Q: What about partnerships?

RH: Yes, we can't do it all on our own. For example we are working very closely with Computacenter, EDS, Microsoft and HP. We definitely need to work closely with systems integrators and the like. We are not a systems integrator but what we will do is provide the telecoms integration for them. Customers are different. Some like to work with a number of partners and project manage it themselves; some want one company to front the whole thing; some want to develop the services in-house; some develop outside. I think there is no single answer but the ones making the most progress are the ones that are working with a number of vendors. They are having a look at the software, the telecoms providers, the hardware vendors. A lot of it is on laptops - we might come along with a GPRS solution and integrate with that and get their email more mobile and then see what other value we can add. A lot of companies are only just realising what they can do.

Q: What are your email solutions?

RH: We have a products called Orange Wirefree Server based on the Microsoft MIS platform and in about a month we will launch a platform aimed at the mid-market. We probably have about four different routes we could take thanks to trails we have been doing with customers. The issue is how do you get the customer up and going as quickly as possible? A lot of the solutions require a great deal of configuration; what we are striving for is something that you can get and running in as automated a fashion as possible – I think we are there now. You can't completely package it because everyone's Notes or Exchange server is slightly different but we are doing as much as we can to get firms up and running as quickly as possible. You get into great debates as to whether people want equipment behind their firewalls or not; how much people want to give up their own security, so you have to provide a range of solutions.

Q: What about mobile payment?

RH: It's a huge issue for Orange in general; what we are striving to do is build the right kind of billing system so a customer can do whatever they want to do. In my space its about helping enterprises internally and then externally with their customers. It's the next step and there is a lot of work going on in that area. To be honest there is not a lot of demand from business customers for this at the moment.

Q: What do you say to customers about 3G services?

We think 3G has a very important part to play for business customers but we already have 2G and so-called 2.5G services and that already exceeds the needs of today's customers. What we do make sure that all the services we provide now will transition to 3G as and when it becomes available.