Colin Lees talks BT-EE integration, the cloud services and his love of Spotify
What is your role and who do you work for?
I’m the CIO of BT Business and Public Sector. It was created in April 2016 to look after businesses of all sizes and public sector organisations.
There are two main parts to my role: ensuring our 12,000 employees have access to the right technology to do their jobs effectively, and designing and building products to help our customers solve challenges and seize opportunities.
To do this I try to spend time with our customers’ CIOs, understanding their environments and the issues they face; it’s one of the most important and interesting parts of my job.
How long have you been in IT?
I joined BT as a 17 year-old software developer. It was great to be learning on the job while studying at the same time. After I graduated, I worked at BT full-time and have done so ever since. I often joke that I’m a bit of an accidental CIO.
I did so many different technical roles at BT that eventually CIO was the only role I had yet to do!
Seriously though, the range of jobs I’ve had provided me with a skillset and a perspective on the business that the CIO really needs. It also helped me to fill the gap between business and technology, something I think is crucial for all CIOs today.
What is your most interesting project to date?
At the moment I’m working on the integration of EE into BT. We want to be fully integrated as quickly as possible so that we have joint business operations to ensure we have that so-important, single view of the customer.
What makes this project really interesting is the light it shines on the evolution of technology. Compared to five years ago, or even three, we’re able to tackle integration in a totally different way.
The old approach to integration was a convoluted process that involved looking at the old technology stack and then building a new stack. It took a very long time.
Now with cloud based solutions, like those provided by Salesforce, integrating with our existing IT, we’re able to hide the complex underlying estate. Thanks to cloud based integration layers, the single customer view will be available to employees very quickly, while in the background we can get on with the job of simplifying the IT estate.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
It’s probably the EE-BT integration because it’s high-profile, because the benefits it will deliver to customers are huge and because it must be ready on time. It’s for these reasons we are leveraging some cloud based tools.
What technology were you working with ten years ago?
In reality, ten years ago I was working with very similar technology to five years ago – I think the big changes have come in the past five years. For example, in 2010 I was building a new stack to host fixed-line products like voice, broadband and Office 365.
It was a classic, large-scale IT project of the time. It took us three years to build the stack and a further two years to migrate the customers.
Only then, after five years were we able to derive any benefit. When you look back now, it seems incredible: five years from commencement to benefit realisation! Leveraging cloud based services like Salesforce we’re unlocking benefits after five months instead of two years. That’s a huge change.
What is your favourite technology of all time?
I think it has to be cloud computing. It is such an enabler and that’s what business technology these days is all about: enabling innovation, growth, smarter processes, efficiency and collaboration. We’ve certainly come a long way since the days of IT being seen as a cost centre.