Partner in government

Cable&Wireless is one of the world’s leading international communications companies. It has been operating in Ireland for over 40 years and has a long-standing operation in Northern Ireland. Owen McQuade caught up with Sean Mahon, who leads its operations on the island of Ireland, to discuss how the telecommunications company is supporting government with its reform agenda.

Unique

Delivering services in 150 countries, Cable&Wireless is one of the world’s best-known telecommunications companies. It is unique in that, in addition to land based telecommunications services that other companies provide, the company also utilises submarine cabling capability – the underwater cables that interconnect countries. It builds the infrastructure that connects countries, continents, large enterprise and governments around the world. Mahon explains: “Cable&Wireless laid the first successful transatlantic cable between Valentia Island in Kerry and Newfoundland in 1866. In more recent times, Cable&Wireless has become unique among telecoms providers in making customer service its top priority – we intend to be the first customer-defined communications services business and deliver a customer experience that is second to none.” Cable&Wireless is recognised as the ‘carrier’s carrier’; in that it moves communications traffic around the world for many major global telecommunications companies.

The company employs around 140 people in its offices in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Shannon. It also has a world class data centre facility close to the M1 motorway in Dublin, and offers a one stop- shop for communications services for large enterprises and public sector customers. Its core telecommunications services are complemented by a full range of voice, data, IP, security, mobility and managed services. Mahon explains: “We’re a pure B2B telco with no residential customers. Our customers are exclusively from the enterprise and government sectors. We understand the complex requirements of large organisations and deliver fully integrated managed services that meet their evolving needs.” Viridian, Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Jurys Hotels are some of Cable&Wireless’ largest private sector customers in Ireland.

Northern Ireland public sector

In Northern Ireland, Cable&Wireless has focused mainly on the public sector. It has been involved “in some shape or form” in most of the major reform projects to date, including RecordsNI – the largest government electronic document and records management implementation in Europe. Mahon outlines the company’s focus: “Our strategy has been to work with systems integrators and to build a partnership with government.” Looking ahead, he continues: “Our strategy going forward is to consolidate the relationships with systems integrators. However, we will also look to be the leader in large projects and continue to set the mark as an organisation that can take on a managed service agreement.”

Cable&Wireless has depth in serving governments around the globe. In the UK it delivers the Government’s GSI contract, which has just been extended until 2012. The company is also unique in that it acts as a national telco provider in over 30 countries: “For example we provide Monaco with its telecoms infrastructure as we do in for the Caribbean islands.”

All-island

In the Republic, Cable&Wireless is particularly strong on customer premises equipment (CPE), IP services and global networks. Until now it has not focused on government work. However, Mahon has changed this. He explains: “I‘m looking to engage with government in the South and bring together the sales teams, North and South, to collaborate with each other and also to bring the organisation together, within Cable&Wireless Europe.”

He sees opportunities to export some of the leading edge public sector innovations in Northern Ireland and “to share some of the best practice from the reform agenda with the Northern Ireland Civil Service with other parts of Europe.” Indeed that has been Cable&Wireless’s European strategy. He continues: “We work with governments right across Europe and with some of the exciting work the Civil Service has undertaken here, we’re trying to replicate some of the innovations elsewhere in Europe. The Northern Ireland Civil Service has been very innovative. They’ve taken risks and this has paid off in terms of innovation of service delivery.” Mahon’s predecessor in Cable&Wireless, Noreen O’Hare, now heads up the company’s European operations “which has been a coup for the company’s Irish operations and will help with this transfer of best practice.”

Mahon sees this innovation transfer as being very much a two-way process. He says: “Cable&Wireless can bring a global perspective. We work with some of the world’s leading companies including, Apple, Ryanair, Aviva, Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Cisco. We have a depth of experience across the world which we can bring into Northern Ireland.”

IT security services is a particular forté of Cable&Wireless. Its secure remote access technology is the leading solution for public sector bodies across the UK. Mahon believes such leading edge innovations, that have been proven elsewhere, can offer public service providers in Ireland with a solid technology platform for its reform agenda.

Be flexible

When asked what is the one lesson Mahon has learned from delivering large public sector contracts, he answers without any hesitation: “In public sector reform projects a critical aspect is that of flexibility and working in true partnership. You have to work to the spirit of the contract and not to the letter of the contract. That is absolutely vital. The public sector is going through a reform, or modernisation process, and they are taking risks. You must appreciate what these risks are and develop processes to mitigate them. One-way of doing this is being flexible, open and honest – and have no surprises. If you can’t do it, tell them early.”

Exploring the managing risk theme further, Mahon explains that through his involvement in the RecordsNI project he developed a governance model for managing such large reform projects. This model is now used with most major public sector reform projects in Northern Ireland, “to look after the checks and balances from a governance point of view and to bring together all the key stakeholders and help focus minds on delivering the project. The result was a project, RecordsNI, that delivered on time and within budget.”

Looking to the future

On a wider discussion of the Northern Ireland economy, Mahon is optimistic: “So far we’ve been reasonably unaffected by the global downturn and indeed, we have just announced a very positive set of results.” He is also optimistic about achieving “some aggressive growth targets for the current financial year.”

The telecoms sector has undergone significant change over the last decade and is in good shape to face any downturn. Increased competition has enabled Cable&Wireless to face the future in a healthy state. Mahon believes the fierce competition has been beneficial to the company, as he explains: “The telecoms sector has seen some aggressive competitive forces which is not just beneficial to consumers and business customers, but also to us. Competition is a good thing for the sector. It has forced us to think differently and provide more value to the end user. From our own perspective the business environment will be tougher but I think we’re in a strong position to face any economic downturn. Our business is not consumer-led. We see growth in areas such as data security, managed services and global IP networks where Cable&Wireless is a market leader.”

Mahon sees a bright future for Cable&Wireless as it helps government with its reform agenda and no doubt the telecoms innovator will be in the thick of things to come.

Profile: Sean Mahon

Sean Mahon leads Cable&Wireless on the island of Ireland. He has a background in ICT and previously worked for Steria and a leading software house. He also worked for UfI on the Learn Direct programme. Sean holds a number of public appointments including Non-Executive Director of the Central Services Agency, Director of NI-CO and board member of St Mary’s University College. He is also a board member of his alma mater St Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School in Belfast. This range of positions in the public sector “helps him get involved in the reform agenda from a different perspective, particularly in the health sector, education sectors, and the shared services agenda.”

His interests include soccer and Gaelic football; he is “A St Paul’s [Belfast] man through and through and has been for the past 35 years”. He is married to Joanne with three children under four and “hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since 2004.”

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