Designing The Future: Only a reliable network can truly unlock digital transformation

When I reflect on how 4G has changed our world over the last decade, I don’t need to look far. With a tap on my phone’s home screen, I can summon a taxi to my front door, receive real time updates from my team in the office, or make a high-definition video call to the other side of the planet. Broadband has meant we can all watch our favorite boxed sets or download the latest game on demand.  Today we take these things for granted, but not so long ago, they would have been unimaginable.

As BT’s Chief Architect however, I know that these modern day wonders are not just thanks to the hard work of developers writing some clever code. I know that this sort of innovation is only possible thanks to the power of the network.

This is why I’m so excited that 5G and full fibre broadband have been unleashed, and the next generation of innovation has already begun. I think it is clear that now, more than ever, the reliable network is the foundational part of unleashing digital transformation.

The transformation is already happening

In 2021, we know that digital transformation is no longer an aspiration, but should be an essential component of every business’s strategy. The pandemic was a striking example of why.

But the necessity of digital transformation goes much deeper. The question for every CEO and CTO should be clear: How can the network help me leverage new technology to make my business work better?

A great example of this that we can all relate to, is restaurants and bars, which are already experiencing digital transformation and disruption. On one level, technology has made life simpler: Customers can now simply press a button and food or drink will arrive at the table moments later.

But digital transformation is really a much bigger opportunity for businesses to rethink everything about the way they work. There are new opportunities to serve customers. For the restaurant, mobile delivery creates new opportunities to reach entirely new customers, who may have never even known that the restaurant exists.

The same goes for every other industry too. Fast connectivity means that traffic can be monitored in real time, leading to faster journeys and more efficient delivery routes. Reliable connectivity means that remote assets can be monitored without the need for physical checks, enabling more efficient predictive maintenance so that temperamental widgets get fixed before they break down.

New technologies drive new behaviours and new expectations. They are an opportunity to make your business more efficient, and offer the customer greater flexibility, at the same time.

So what stands in the way of transformation? If a digital system only works half of the time, it would be immediately clear to everyone from the CEO to the frontline staff that something isn’t working. If the signal were to be unreliable, it would frustrate customers. The reason these new opportunities exist is because every stakeholder can be confident that the required connectivity will work. So these new opportunities will only be realised if the network behind them is reliable.

When reliability is a matter of life or death

What makes the network such a profound opportunity for digital transformation is that there are now more technological tools available to business than ever before. Cloud, 5G and fibre are the new normal, and technologies that are on the very cutting edge, like 3D printing, augmented reality and edge computing are increasingly finding their way into business workflows.

Last year, BT teamed up with YouGov to survey business owners, and we discovered that just 15% of large businesses have no plans to deploy these sorts of emerging technologies. It’s clear then that businesses that don’t will be at a competitive disadvantage.

So what’s stopping businesses from pursuing digital transformation? 26% – one in four – mentioned reliability as a major concern.

This is understandable. Cloud means greater flexibility and scalability, but it also means that critical business functions such as customer relationship management systems and payment systems are maintained by external partners, on servers outside of the business. So to make the leap, businesses need the confidence that these critical tools will always be available.

Reliability is not just about avoiding error messages in web browsers. In a digitally transformed workplace, reliable connectivity is absolutely critical to operations, and maybe even safety.

 

Take manufacturing and distribution, for instance. Internet of Things (IoT) technology combined with 5G is changing how factory floors and warehouses operate. In a world of ubiquitous, fast connectivity, every piece of equipment can be infused with sensors, reporting back real time data to centralised stock systems. Every step of the manufacturing process can be carefully tracked to minimise errors. Supply chains can operate on a Just-In-Time basis to the minute, as data can inform workers when stock will arrive – and when it will ship. And sensors can also act as crucial safety monitors, tracking where and how potentially dangerous equipment is being used.

But for all of this work large volumes of data needs to be transferred in real time, reliably around the business.

Perhaps though, the ultimate example of why reliable connectivity is so important is in the healthcare sector, where a severed connection could literally be the difference between life and death.

For example, a digitally transformed hospital could mean better services for patients and more cost effective service delivery for providers. In fact, this is something BT is already exploring in partnership with University Hospitals Birmingham.

Imagine if paramedics could relay vital health data or even live video back to A&E using 5G, so that doctors can prepare what they need as the ambulance races towards the hospital, saving time during those most critical of minutes.

Or what about the millions of equally important but less visible functions required in a hospital? What if large x-ray files could be shared with a specialist’s phone in an instant, to speed up the diagnostic process? And what if porters could be notified on-demand to change the bed sheets and bin-bags, instead of rigidly sticking to a schedule?

Each of these processes add up. A few seconds saved in any given process scales enormously across an entire hospital, and an entire health service. And that means time saved, money saved – and ultimately, more lives saved too.

Creating a platform for innovation

Ultimately, reliability is what creates the platform for innovation. However impressive a new technology promises to be, without reliable execution it is just a tech demo. Only once businesses can be confident that new technology can be relied on, can they really begin the process of digital transformation.

It’s for this reason that I’ve been working hard to make sure that our network infrastructure, both fibre and 5G is ready for the 21st century. In a digital world, no matter what your business is, change is going to be the norm. And the earlier you can deploy new technology, the earlier you’ll start to reap the benefits of greater flexibility and efficiency.

And now that you have reliable network connectivity, CEOs can focus on the real business of digital transformation and ask themselves: When you look down at your phone, what capabilities do you want to see on the home screen?