Q&A: Orange Business Services CEO

Thierry Bonhomme, Chief Executive of Orange Business Services, discusses revenue growth, Safe Harbour and partnership

Eurocomms.com: When we last spoke 12 months ago, you said annual revenue growth could be five years away. Having recorded an increase in sales in Q3, are you more optimistic?

Thierry Bonhomme: I’m not arrogant when it comes to forecasting financial results. November is also when you negotiate budgets for next year so you are cautious!

The interesting thing about B2B is that when you lose a contract/customer you have many opportunities to win them back. It’s never completely over.

But equally when you win a contract it’s never completely done. Execution is key.

We are very happy with results we posted last quarter, which come from [internal] digital transformation, what we invested in cyber defence, connected apps, workspace, cloud infrastructure.

In France, these areas are growing a little bit above what we planned.

Voice, fixed and mobile we are delivering results that are better than expected.

But there is huge competition… we are seeing a lot of activity from regional competitors, such as Singtel in Asia, Etisalat in the Middle East.

Then there are the newcomers in the global MPLS world, such as Interoute.

A standout figure from the Q3 results was the 40 percent growth in sales of security-related services. Why is growth so strong?

It’s a growing concern everywhere.

Customers clearly consider that what is at stake is not only protecting the infrastructure but raising the cost for attackers.

It’s a race [to keep up with the hackers]… we are working with a range of partners to address all the challenges.

In cyber defence you have to continually invest in innovation, but I think we have strong assets in the network.

I see a lot of opportunity to combine big data and tools used by cyber companies.

What’s your biggest challenge as you look to grow revenues across the board?

To grow outside of France… it is growing, it is profitable and we decided to gather all the other regions into one [business] under the leadership of Helmut Reisinger and revamp the distribution of talent across the world.

Let’s talk about the US, specifically – how are you looking to grow your business there?

We have exclusive strategic partnership with AT&T.

They have their strengths and weaknesses… I have regular meetings with them about improving process.

They learnt from our experience about how to improve internally, notably lead times to quote, deliver and repair.

We are recognised as an important partner by them and we are interested by their capacity to invest in fibre.

One of the big news stories recently has been the EU’s decision to declare Safe Harbour invalid. What is your take on this?

In the past non-American customers had no guarantee that, in case of conflict, they had a body [backing them].

More and more European countries are understanding that what is at stake is not new competition with US companies but the protection of end users – giving them their rights, within their own countries with people speaking their language.

[The EU’s decision] means things are moving in a positive direction.

Undoubtedly, US companies will move data to Europe.

Whether they move them to data centres that they own or our ones will depend on regulation.

My understanding of what’s happening is that it will balance the dominant position of US players, which offers opportunities for OBS and all the EU telcos.

I consider this good news for end users and good news for Europe.

Speaking of US companies, you announced a partnership deal with Google last month that enables your customers to access their cloud services. What more can you tell us about this?

[This deal] is part of the hybrid cloud story.

It has been interesting to note that some of our customers are using Google’s product suite on a day-to-day basis rather than Microsoft’s… so it’s something our customers were asking for.

It is ‘coopetition’ – we know that Google is one of the hyperscalers of this world and we have opened up a part of what we might have decided to protect.

I prefer to fight against behavior which could be risk averse.

This is controlled innovation within something – our VPN Galerie solution – that is very successful.

What are some of the areas in which you are lacking and would require you have to partner or take a different approach?

It’s everywhere to be honest. If you look at the entire value chain it’s highly fragmented and nobody can think without partners.

The one commonality is the end user. Being able to put yourself in their shoes is where we can differentiate.

I was in a partners meeting this morning and my message was that we’re all in this together as a team working for customer satisfaction.

We know the customers but one of key challenges is knowing which partners to bring together in order to provide the best answer to what the customer is expecting.

The ecosystem is incredibly complex and there are many newcomers.

It’s why at OBS we decided to create a Chief Partnership Officer.

We wanted to have the voice of the partner within our organisation, provide an entry point to attract as many new partners as possible, understand what they can bring and integrate them with our offerings.

We can’t fight in all the different areas all the time.

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