BT sells services to 'new wave' companies

BT's salespeople say they have identified a new class of business, which will make up for the dot-bomb failures

BT is gunning for the cash of what it calls a new class of business, the "new wave" SME (small to medium enterprise). These are savvy start-ups, whose business plan relies on high technology but who, BT is at pains to point out, are not, repeat not "dot-com" companies. "These are not dot-bombs," said Yvonne Thomas, director of SMEs at BT. "They have good business credentials." However, in requiring high-tech networks, they are more demanding than most SMEs, and she says: "Most service providers would not touch these customers with a barge pole." Examples include Brightview, a telecoms company that "buys up distressed ISPs", in Thomas' words, whose management team is "blue chip". There are 12,000 "new wave" SMEs in the UK, said Thomas, and their business was worth £500m in 2000, and will be worth £814m in 2004. She believes that the so-called Clearsky programme, aimed at supporting them, has already gained £100m of their business for BT -- something like 4 percent of the £2.7bn that BT currently makes from SMEs. BT's reasons for wanting to deal with such high-risk ventures, why it expects to gain from them, and what it can offer that is better than other providers, were all a little hard to pin down. BT's risk is minimised by dealing with companies that have their backing already sorted out. "Clearsky is not investing. And we are not an incubator," said Thomas. "We have one at Adastral Park." The pay-off is a tendency to offer revenue-sharing deals where BT can cash in -- so Clearsky will be vetting customers' business plans thoroughly. For one customer, Sugar, a new media company that makes Web sites and viral media campaigns (and looks to the uninitiated very much like other such new media companies), BT has arranged technical deals and technology. To support an SMS campaign in support of Dreamworks' recently launched horse-weepie cartoon Spirit, BT arranged deals to get messages passed across the four mobile networks, and built the technology to support them. Other deals look very much like outsourcing deals, though offered to companies that would normally be considered too small to merit such attention, said Thomas.

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