BT establishes Digital unit to speed new services

News

The operator believes reorganisation and a refresh of responsibilities – including separating IT and infrastructure – will revive its fortunes.

BT has announced a new Digital unit that will focus on “the development and rapid delivery of innovative products, platforms and services in key areas such as healthcare and data”.

Harmeen Mehta (pictured) has been appointed Chief Digital and Innovation Officer – an echo of Telefonica’s move 11 months ago when it set up its Chief Digital Consumer Office (CDCO) with its data wizard, Chema Alonso at the helm. He has led Telefónica's trailblazing data strategy and cognitive intelligence project and other data-related activities for some years.

Mehta joins from Bharti Airtel – which has had a torrid four years competing against market disrupter Reliance Jio – where she’s worked for the last seven years as Group CIO, as well as leading its cloud and security businesses.

Separating IT and Network

The Digital unit be accountable for IT, digital innovation, BT-wide business transformation and data and product strategy and is a separation of responsibility for network infrastructure and IT: Howard Watson will become CTO instead of Chief Technology and Information Officer, an office he’s held since February 2016.

In future his team will be responsible for network strategy and transformation, and service platforms, as well as retaining accountability for cyber and information security.

Mehta will be a member of the Executive Committee, report directly to CEO Philip Jansen closely and work closely to Watson and BT’s customer facing units, apparently.

Mike Sherman, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, has decided to leave after three years in the post.

Product strategy, business transformation, data and AI, which at the moment sits in Strategy and Transformation, will move to the Digital unit.

Responsibility for corporate strategy moves to Simon Lowth, Chief Financial Officer – an interesting development but perhaps not surprising. Last year BT’s market capitalisation dropped to £10 billion and there were rumours it was a takeover target, which BT denied strenuously.

Put it on the TAB

BT also announced a non-executive Technology Advisory Board (TAB) to provide insight, provocation and external perspective to the Executive Committee on emerging technologies, market and societal trends. The TAB will meet three times a year. Members include MIT's Daniela Rus, Dame Professor Wendy Hall of Southampton University, Steve King who is CEO of Black Swan Data, start-up mentor Shweta Sharma, Mike Young who until recently was the Group CIO of Centrica, and John Stecher, CTO at Blackstone, the US-based financial services company.

Their collective expertise includes AI, technology and digital transformation, product strategy, disruptive technologies and innovation.

Jansen speaks

CEO Jansen said, “This is more than a leadership announcement, it’s an important statement of intent. 2020 saw a number of major BT innovations enter the marketplace but there’s opportunity to go much further. The creation of BT Digital will enable us to focus on the areas where we can have the greatest impact, delivering digital platforms that bring together best-in-class services for our customers, and fully embracing new technologies such as AI and machine learning.

“This is bigger than just BT; it’s about building partnerships with other leading innovators to expand into new areas and bring the benefits of top-notch digital services to customers, including enhanced converged fixed and mobile services, tools that guard against cyber-attacks, and connected care applications to help families look after elderly or vulnerable loved ones even if they’re geographically remote.

“These changes will help us take these ideas to market fast and at scale, accelerating our digital and business transformation programmes already underway.”

Mehta, who joins BT on 1 March, added: “I am really excited to be part of the future of BT as we build a customer centric digital organisation bringing new products and services to delight our customers and create new opportunities of digital growth in the business.

“There never has been a more interesting time to play such a meaningful role in the lives of our customers and I’m excited to play such a key role in delivering the exciting ambition that Philip and his team have set out.”

She has 24 years’ experience leading digital, engineering, IT and innovation transformation. Before Bharti Airtel, Harmeen held CIO positions at BBVA, HSBC and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.