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It’s Good to Talk

Ben Verwaayen, the Chief Executive of BT spoke at a Conservative Technology Forum event at London’s St Stephen’s Club last week. Addressing an audience of MPs, Shadow Technology Minister, Michael Fabricant and the leading IT vendors, he mixed words of encouragement for the UK, as Europe’s strongest economy, with a clear warning that we have to “Wake up” or risk falling behind countries such as India, which are successfully leveraging their cheap labour force and education system to create a knowledge economy to challenge our own.

“Two weeks ago”, said Verwaayen, “I was in India, visiting a couple of Bill Gates equivalents, both serious developers. India doesn’t have one Bill Gates”, said Verwaayen it has five. While India is a paradox with so many millions of people living without any contact with modern technology, it has double the amount of people, living at UK standards or above “In Bangalore, I visited a fantastic campus with 15,000 young people, with an average age of 24, average month’s salary, five hundred dollars, and average qualification MBA plus.”

“In 1988”, continued Verwaayen, “India exported $50 million dollars in IT services. Last year, India exported $15 billion dollars and these are not the call centres that everyone talks and worries about. This is knowledge. It is a fact that we are going to live in a world where aid will be replaced by trade but the problem is that we are not ready for it. We are sleeping at the wheel. We worry over exporting our jobs to India and China and we believe that our universities are better than others. Think again.”

“We think we have a system that gets the best out of people and makes them productive. Think again. We all have a computer but your computer is worthless unless you use it as an instrument to compete and you need advanced networks to compete.”

Verwaayen pointed to the movie “Finding Nemo” as an example of international cooperation using advanced networking, in that the film was not made in one country but three separate studios in real time, Israel, Bristol and California as the artists collaborated on each frame. “So what you see happening now”, says Verwaayen, Is the ability to connect best in class with best in class completely independent of distance and location.”

“The economy of the world”, warned the BT Chief Executive, “will continue revolve around consumers buying the best possible quality for the lowest possible price and businesses are no different. There’s no point in turning around to your politicians in five years time and asking where the employment has gone. If you want to stay competitive you need to look at the opportunity triangle again. On each of the three sides you have knowledge, entrepreneurial skills and costs and in the middle you have networks.” “In the UK”, said Verwaayen, “BT is spending £10 billion to build the end to end IP network we need to make certain, that with a click of a mouse, you can compete with everyone else in the world.” “BT”, he implied was providing the tools but it was up to government to do the rest. “This is a fast changing landscape and we should be learning from Germany, “Where in a short space of time, four million jobs have slipped over the border to the new members of the European Union, proving that in Germany, at least, the triangle doesn’t work. Sending his wake up call to politicians of all parties, he concluded “It’s time that the UK looked very closely at its own triangle.”

Shadow technology Minister, Michael Fabricant remarked, that "BT are to be congratulated with the rapid roll-out of broadband though there are still questions of the speed of the connection - 512Kbps will not be the standard of the future.” "BT", he said. "enjoys a virtual monopoly position in the UK and Ben Verwaayen has recognised this by dramatically reducing the costs of local loop unbundling though we still lag behind France and Germany. We cannot be complacent. In the meantime, said Fabricant, the Government must ensure that BT is given the same access to European markets as France Telecom and Deutsch Telekom enjoy in the United Kingdom; at present there is an unfair imbalance".

Sadly, the three sides of the UK’s triangle these days looks very like health, transport and housing, with Iraq stuck firmly in the middle, so don’t hold your breath Ben.


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