IT Life: Calling Down Under

Telstra’s head of Europe Tom Homer talks about his career in IT, views on cloud and fear of shadow IT

Tom Homer is head of EMEA for Australian telecommunications firm Telstra. Outside its homeland, where it offers consumer services like broadband and TV, it helps businesses get connected across the world and is expanding rapidly into other services. Homer describers his role at the firm, his career in IT and his unusual choice of dream job when he was younger.

Tell us about your company and your areas of expertise?
Telstra is a leading telecommunications and technology company. We have been operating successfully internationally for more than 70 years, having built a world class network and established customer relationships and partnerships with some of the most innovative companies around the world. In the UK and Europe our focus is on the large enterprise market where we provide a range of solutions including managed network services, global connectivity and cloud.

As is often said in tech circles, software is eating the world, and it certainly is creating opportunities for Telstra to better serve our customers. We have started offering what is called Software Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualisation on our network across our global Points of Presence, which makes it easier for customers to provision the services they need quickly and simply.

Beyond traditioTom Homer Telstranal telecommunications services we are also developing our business in new areas such as software, e-Health and video streaming.

Tell us about your IT career?

I’ve been working in IT for the past twenty five years, having begun my career at AT&T before moving to Energis, the fourth largest telecommunications company in the UK at the time.

It was during my time at Energis that the concept of cloud and its potential to unlock real business value was gaining popularity, and one of my favourite projects was working with Boots to launch their foray into online digital photo sharing.

I joined Telstra in 2011 and was tasked with spearheading our growth in the UK and into new territories. Based in London, today I’m responsible for developing and driving the business strategy across Europe, the Middle East and Africa along with growing our relationship with multinational corporations across the region.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?

Ten or so years ago we were building ourselves back up following the dot-com collapse of 2000, and businesses were slowly beginning to increase their spend on various enterprise technologies.

If I cast my mind back, fairly clunky, desk-bound enterprise software was a common sight and cloud computing as we know it today was starting to emerge, thanks to companies like VMWare who led the way in providing a platform for IT users to create a network of interconnected hardware and software systems.

What tech do you expect to be involved with in ten years’ time?

In my view, there is no doubt that software will continue to dominate the IT industry over the next ten years, in particular the rise of software defined networking (SDN).

Businesses are facing ever increasing demands on network bandwidth, which is being driven largely by the evolution of modern, dispersed and collaborative workplaces, often with the need to transport rich content and communicate through new digital channels.

Business leaders are adopting “anywhere, anytime” flexible workforces, with an appetite for cloud service adoption and application consumption. This consumption, coupled with technologies available to collect valuable business insights, is producing huge quantities of data that is growing exponentially and must be delivered quickly, securely and efficiently.

I believe success in the next decade lies in high capacity and low latency SDN solutions, which can seamlessly allocate network resources based on individual requirements. With this level of intelligence, network providers can demonstrate cloud like characteristics such as self-service, on-demand and scalability through a unified delivery infrastructure.

Who is your tech hero (and why)?

Steve Jobs, Apple, iPad © bloomua Shutterstock 2012It’s a bit cliché but my tech hero would have to be Steve Jobs. There’s a great quote in Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s book, “How Google Works”, where they describe Jobs as the quintessential “smart creative” – an expression for someone with a combination of technical depth and creative talent.

His vision extended far beyond just creating technology to make money, which is evidenced today in the profound impact Apple technology has had on the world, helping transform everything from the way children learn to how we can monitor and improve our health.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? And which do you use most?

Staying true to my tech hero, it’s got to be the Apple iPhone. I can remember when it was first unveiled in 2007 and it was just so different to any other device available at the time. An iPod, phone and the internet all in the one product? It was unheard of!

Since then, I’ve been hooked on this nifty little thing that has changed the way I work, keep my kids entertained and stay connected 24/7.

What is your budget outlook? Flat? Growing?

In 2016 we will continue to execute on our strategy to improve customer advocacy, drive value from our core business and build pathways to future growth. The good news is that our business is growing – last year we grew by 44 per cent internationally and our international businesses generated A$1.3 billion.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most, and why?

The companies I admire most are those that excel when it comes to the customer experience. Ritz-Carlton for instance delivers a consistently high level of customer service in the ultra-competitive luxury hotel category.

They believe that customer service precedes financial results, and have the data to prove that engaged employees and repeat customers can ensure long-term success. They respect their people – referred to by The Ritz-Carlton as “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” — and I love that every interaction and touch point builds a positive experience that customers have come to expect from the brand.

What is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?

Until recently, the main challenges facing IT departments were selecting the right hardware and software, deploying them quickly at minimal cost and keeping them working. However, a new challenge is edging its way up IT executives’ list of concerns. Many employees are deciding for themselves what IT they need and are proceeding to use it in the workplace without corporate approval.

The risks related to this growing trend – termed Shadow IT – are huge. Because the IT department has not extended its security policies and technical solutions to the unauthorised technology, the company’s IT environment and data may become considerably more vulnerable.

How should IT departments deal with the emergence of shadow IT? The answer is to start listening to individuals and teams throughout the business to help ensure employees have access to the latest collaboration tools they want, empowering them to do their jobs more effectively.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

awsThere is no question that cloud is no longer an industry buzz word, but the next generation of IT deployment. Organisations that do not use cloud technology could be falling behind their competitors – leaving themselves exposed to inefficiencies, high costs and without the ability to fully utilise critical information and data.

Each of these issues is not just important from an IT perspective, but also has significant implications for the wider business and the end customers.

We believe we are in a fantastic position to leverage our key assets – in terms of our network, data centres and cloud services – to enable companies to navigate this changing environment.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was a teenager I wanted to be an architect, but as a child I thought being a petrol pump attendant would be pretty cool.

What do you know about fibre broadband?