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Year ahead Q&A: Mark Evans, CFO, O2

What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the past year, and what role did finance play in addressing them?

The pace of change in digital has been huge this year. It’s adding value to our lives but it’s moving so fast that it can be really overwhelming – for our customers and the businesses we work with too. Take connectivity – it used to be one device but it’s exploded: a recent Facebook study showed more than 60% of online adults use at least two devices every day, and nearly a quarter use three devices.

What are the key political and economic risks/opportunities you face in the year ahead?

The digital economy is the fastest-growing opportunity in the UK market and it will continue to open up new and exciting growth prospects for businesses across all sectors. A general election inevitably brings a degree of political risk but as a nation we must make sure that this uncertainty doesn’t disrupt our investment in the digital growth engine for UK plc.

Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2015, and how will these be financed?

Next year we’ll continue to make significant capex investment in our network. We’ve already invested heavily and quickly; our 4G network now reaches 50% of the UK population, which means we have done this three times faster than any previous nationwide infrastructure programme. We’ll keep on investing close to £2m each and every day on replacing and upgrading equipment to ensure our 2G, 3G and 4G networks are delivering the best experience for our customers.

What business-friendly policies do we want the next government to undertake to improve the environment for UK corporates?

Our significant investment in the nation’s digital infrastructure can’t happen in isolation. It requires coordinated planning by central and local government. We need to work in closer partnership if UK businesses are to capitalise on the full potential of the digital economy.

Advice for other FDs for the coming year?
I believe the role of the FD, and that of the entire finance team, is at the beginning of the decision-making process and not just at the end. It’s important that we are involved in shaping investment at the outset and in developing compelling propositions for the business.

For example, we’ve supported increased investment in our 700 ‘gurus’ – our friendly experts on all things tech. Customers can already tweet them, meet them in-store or get them over the phone, but we’re creating new ways for customers to get guru experiences wherever they are. The entire department has a role to play in making sure the business continues to take brave decisions as we put our customers first.

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