How we’re modernising BT’s UK Portfolio Businesses

Our new partnership with media & entertainment group Global comes a year since BT’s former Enterprise and Global divisions came together to create one B2B unit connecting customers in the UK and internationally. As a group of standalone businesses that consume BT’s core assets and serve diverse industries, our UK Portfolio Businesses are an important part of BT – from the Media & Broadcast services that underpin much of the UK’s digital content to our directories businesses that underpin our critical 999 service and credit reference agencies. Many of these businesses have such a rich history behind them, becoming part of the fabric of society, and will still, play a crucial role in years to come. So, how are we modernising and future proofing them?

The last years have been a journey of transformation and digitisation alongside returning these business units to growth. When taking on these businesses, it was clear from talking to customers, the public and various stakeholders that they needed to change: to modernise and become more sustainable. There were letters from children about why we were still distributing millions of printed phone books every year, enquiries from customers and stakeholders about payphones, and how Freeview could be future proofed for the next generation of content. And these are just a few examples. 

Upgrading payphones for a new era

Nowhere is the move to a digitised society more pronounced than the evolution from the traditional phone box to our innovative digital street units. Payphone usage has dropped massively since the late 1990s/2000s, with devices and smart phones replacing not only communication access, but the central community points that the payphones once stood for. 

Our recent announcement with Global is a clear proof point of our strategy at BT, to double down on what we’re best at – connectivity – and partner where others are better. We’re the experts when it comes to connectivity, but we’re not a leader in outdoor advertising or building hubs – so our partnership with Global makes perfect sense.

The agreement will see Global continue to market and sell advertising on BT’s c1,000 existing Street Hubs, and upgrade them as they evolve. And they’ll also convert up to 2,000 conventional BT payphones and kiosks into brand new Street Hubs. It means we can concentrate on investing in new networks and connectivity, with many hubs hosting small cells to boost mobile coverage. They will also serve as a key location on high streets for the local community, providing free calls and WiFi as well as access to emergency services through a red button, and give local councils another outlet to reach those who live nearby and pass by on a daily basis. 

A revamped directory services unit

Last month also saw the last copies of the printed Phone Book going out to millions of households across the UK – one of the most recognisable outputs of our directory services unit. A poignant moment in many respects, as the public looked back with fondness on a resource that served the UK fantastically for more than a century. But for most people today, looking up a phone number is at the click of a button or a spoken command. This change is reflected in the dwindling number of listings in the Phone Book and the subsequent size of its final edition. A PDF version of the book will be available via our website going forwards for people to browse. And BT also provide printed copies on request for the small number of people who may still need it. 

The core directory service that underpins the Phone Book has been brought in-house and will be refreshed. It will continue to be the source of vital information to our emergency services and information to credit reference agencies, which is crucial to the economic growth of the UK. 

Accelerating TV to the cloud

Our Media & Broadcast unit is one of our principle vehicles for innovation and change. Last year, we announced a collaboration with Telstra to improve the strength of our Global Media Network (GMN), pooling network infrastructure and localised expertise to create an alliance that’s more than the sum of its parts; again allowing us to focus our investment on our core UK business.

The broadcast industry is vitally important for us as we help customers streamline their operations by moving to the cloud. We’re already working with D3&4 and with military charity and broadcaster BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) to harness the benefits of this technology and future-proof services. Multi-cloud networking is already the backbone on BT’s strategy with the arrival of Global Fabric, and will remain a major focus for us over the next few years in the broadcast media landscape, as we support our customers use of cloud to drive more flexibility and innovation into their workflows.   

Frictionless trade

Over 30 years ago, BT, on behalf of the UK Government, turned Customs declarations electronic: replacing printed telex and faxed paper documents with digital messages that has facilitated trade ever since. 

With BT Rune, our CCS (Cargo Community Systems) business is expanding that digitisation further along global supply chains. It now captures information at source and reuses the data all along the cargo journey to satisfy each country’s border regulations – all via an innovative platform. 

With major produce importers starting to sign up, this innovation will enable UK Customs declarations to not only be digitised, but fully automated too. This will be a massive step forward as BT helps streamline and simplify processes for traders, demonstrating that our business customers are better on BT. 

More to come

I’ve highlighted just a few examples of the rapid transformation we’re undertaking to deliver real value for customers and our wider BT Group stakeholders. BT’s UK Portfolio businesses have long played a significant role in the country underpinning many important services for businesses and communities. In this ever-expanding digital environment, the uniting factor among all our customers is their demand for secure, always-on connectivity delivering our purpose to connect for good.  

Our teams have been proud to make a real difference, and there’s an exciting opportunity ahead for all these businesses and the communities they serve. BT will continue to be there to support them in a better-connected future, every step of the way.

Faisal Mahomed

Faisal is the Director of BT's UK Portfolio Businesses

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