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O2 CFO Patricia Cobian: UK connectivity must be prioritised as key investment area

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O2’s new CFO Patricia Cobian discusses the joined-up approach required to improve digital connectivity –

and its vital role in improving the UK’s economic growth prospects

WITH BRITAIN’S ECONOMY under the spotlight, it’s more important than ever that we do everything in our power to unlock growth.

A connected Britain is the most promising opportunity to kick-start the economy and give the UK a competitive advantage on the international stage. But we risk being left behind in the global digital race and missing out on an opportunity to fuel growth if we don’t act now to improve the UK’s digital infrastructure.

The digital economy is already growing around 30% faster than the rest of the economy and mobile connectivity is powering this. A report from Deloitte out last month showed the sheer scale of consumer appetite for connectivity.

Four in five UK adults now have a smartphone and collectively we look at our mobiles over a billion times a day. Connectivity is a vital part of our day to day lives.  We are no longer simply relying on mobiles and tablets to keep us connected, we are relying on them to help us manage our lives and tap into our passions – from shopping, for entertainment, for business, for news. In fact, we are three times as likely to say we can’t do without our mobiles than without a fixed internet connection.

Effectiveness and efficiency

For business, this consumer appetite for connectivity represents two significant growth opportunities.  Firstly, it is helping organisations be more effective and more efficient, whether that’s creating new operating models, powering smarter working practices or evolving the way they interact with their customers. Having been part of O2 for over a decade, I’ve seen first-hand the transformational impact of mobile on our own operations, as well as those of our customers across the private and public sector.

Secondly, mobile is giving businesses new ways to reach their customers – and develop the products and services their customers need. Today, this demand is greater than it has ever been, and will continue to grow through the internet of things.

It is no accident that Apple and Google chose the UK as one of the first markets to launch Apple Pay and Android Pay payment options.  In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected, supporting a global digital services market worth as much as the entire UK economy. As we have seen across the world of business, the market will reward those that connect with the customer, are innovative in their propositions and have the capabilities to service their needs.

At O2, we already connect more than 25 million people with their passions and the ones they love and work with.  We are obsessive about understanding customers’ needs and delivering a best in class customer experience, but we are not led by technology; we are technology agnostic.

Our understanding of the customer together with our mobile-first approach has enabled us to outperform our UK rivals consistently for the last six quarters. It also means we are the best-positioned operator in the UK to capture and drive the opportunities of a data-hungry economy as our lives become more and more mobile enabled.

Clearly, mobile connectivity is already supporting the industries and the technologies that will see businesses, communities and individuals fulfil their potential. It is the invisible infrastructure that can drive the economy of post-Brexit Britain.

Create the right ‘digital’ conditions

But if we are to truly make the most of this opportunity for growth, we need to create the right conditions.

We need to switch off our analogue ambitions and work collectively – government, local authorities, regulators, as well as those in the telecoms and construction industries – to build a digital infrastructure that is fit for the future and can support business growth across all sectors.

For government, it means improving planning laws and prioritising mobile infrastructure. The Digital Economy Bill is a step in the right direction to simplify planning rules for mobile infrastructure, helping to cut delays and costs.

We also need councils to support local planning applications with an understanding that mobile connectivity will improve local businesses, economies and prosperity for local people.

For regulators, it means creating an environment that delivers a level playing field for businesses and supports a competitive market for customers. And for property developers, mobile connectivity needs to be considered at the start of their projects, so that the people living and working in those buildings can feel reassured that connectivity is guaranteed for years to come.

If we get all of this right, the lives of British people will be easier, British businesses will be more productive and our public services will be more open and accessible.  Now it’s time to make sure we make the most of mobile connectivity to drive the economy of post-Brexit Britain.

Patricia Cobian is CFO of O2

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