BT: Google is our biggest threat

BT: Google is our biggest threat

Summary: As BT begins its shift into broadband content, the telco’s chief information officer has identified Google as a key rival — much to the bemusement of analysts.

TOPICS: Networking

Google is becoming BT’s biggest competitor. That’s the surprise assessment of BT’s chief information officer, Al-Noor Ramji, who believes that the telco "can do anything that Google can do"

Speaking at the Gigaworld IT conference in Lisbon on Wednesday, Ramji told delegates that BT needs to change to keep pace with the fast moving business such as Google.

"We see Google as our biggest threat," Ramji said. "They don’t mean to… it’s almost incidental". He admitted that Google came from a "different world" but suggested that they had "morphed" into a different company, and warned that Google could do anything BT could do in the consumer space.

However, while conceding that he did not know the endgame, Ramji claimed that BT "can do anything Google can do" if it moves beyond its traditional role as a supplier of telecommunications services.

"I’ve learned that technology is the easiest thing to do. The transformation of the company is most important," he said.

Ramji also referred to the challenges that lay ahead in BT’s expansion into IP-streamed television (IPTV), with its BT Vision service.

Citing new online services such as YouTube, the CIO said BT’s customers had "morphed into three different roles now: customer, supplier and competitor."

But analysts were quick to add a heavy note of caution to Ramji’s statements. "I think he’s a little bit ahead of his time," said Lars Godell, principal analyst in Forrester's Telecom & Networks research team. "I give him credit for thinking ahead and being proactive about competitive threats, but on the other hand the question is, is the threat realistic? Google doesn’t see BT as a competitor."

"I think consumers still need to pay for bandwidth. That’s the business of a telco and I don’t see Google becoming a full service telco. I don’t see Google owning an infrastructure," Godell told ZDNet UK.

Google has made some moves into the telecoms space in recent months, with its involvement in the rollout of free wireless services in California.

The search giant also sparked a wave of speculation in 2005 when it began showing interest in unused fibre networks. Experts, though, suggested Google was more likely to be looking at cutting the cost of connecting its data centres, rather than offering telecoms services.

Referring to the services that BT plans to introduce later this year, Godell said: "It will take five to ten years before those value-added services will become more important [than providing bandwidth] to a telco's revenue stream".

"I don’t think it will be easy for BT or anyone else to move into content," Godell claimed, adding: "BT has been in IT services for 20 years – the skills that are needed to be successful in content are so different from those needed for telecoms".

He also suggested that the motivation for Ramji’s statements may stem from a desire to fire up his IT team at BT.

"Many executives like to talk about external threats — sometimes it’s to energise their own organisation, making sure they’re not complacent, which is legitimate. They might exaggerate a little to get their attention and open up their minds a little bit — that’s what he might have done."

The analyst also suggested that it could have been deliberate scaremongering by the BT CIO. "A lot of painful changes are taking place inside BT from an employee perspective… If you can use an external threat to justify internal changes, it’s easier to sell internally".

Topic: Networking

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • BT saying that Google is their biggest threat is a bit like an educationally challenged guppy saying a great white is its' biggest threat.

    Let's not beat around the bush - BT sucks. Following the Monopoly Commission's investigation there is no true single BT - it's a collection of companies waving the BT banner, with little or no communication or acceptable synergy between them. Google think outside the square, and then makes those thoughts a reality. Bt trail along behind.

    Did I say it was like a guppy worrying about a shark? More like a slug worrying about a steamroller.
  • BTs biggest threat

    BTs biggest threat is BT. Long ago when I was on a modem link I found I could seldom get on. Now it was obvious to me, as a retired comms consultant, this was due to the concentrator at the local exchange being overloaded. BTs 50p per minute told me that it was because the fly lead from wall socket to my modem was too long.
    I switched to Virgin and used the same computer, modem and fly lead (about 12 ft) trouble free for a year before moving to broadband, needless to say, not with BT.
    ~It has always seemed to me in dealings with BT, both private and business on behalf of corporate clients, that their main problem is an inability to understand that their customers are not as stupid as their senior executives.
  • yes we in the company are told this. we reckon that of his track record of messing up at other companies he is now here to do the same. all his past companies are all returning to the models he had thought he had changed. i wish him luck
  • Only he can save us.

    Al-Noor Ramji is a rascal and a charlatan. He stuffed BT with cronies who owe their careers to him. Most of the work has been shipped offshore. Soon TCS and Infosys will have a nice neckhold on BT. Worst of all, his methods don't actually work. Agile isn't relevant to a corporation whose IT workload is mostly systems integration and process design. Al-Noor Ramji was sacked by Qwest with a job title of Technical Adviser. His top priority has been to make himself unsackable at BT.

    Al-Noor's vision is to peddle the nonsense that the world is going faster and faster, and only one man can save us from the dizzying pace of change - Al-Noor Ramji.

    Paul K-120c9
  • BT saying that Google is their biggest threat is a bit like an educationall

    I paid BT