Another straw in the wind reference the future of BT - and a big one too? (sorry Matt). Matt Bross BT's Group CTO and CEO of BT innovate has resigned, ostensibly to return to the US and do other things. However, one cannot help but speculate that there's a bit more behind his departure than the bland and brief statement put out this lunchtime by the BT Press Department.
I have known Matt for getting on for seven years now and he's become a friend. I have interviewed him many times and last saw him and spent considerable time with him backstage at the TM Forum held in Nice, France, in May this year where he was making a keynote address. He was his usual ebullient, enthusiastic self, writes Martyn Warwick.
However, rumour has been rife for some time now that he has been unhappy in his "new" role at BT and speculation is that after the exit of CEO Ben Verwaayen, Matt Bross has been progressively sidelined as risk-taking technology evangelists have given way to risk-averse accountants and beancounters.
Mr. Bross has been a passionate believer in, and defender of, BT's 21st Century Network (21CN) initiative, the £10 billion programme designed to make the UK the first country on the planet to shift its entire core infrastructure to an all-IP network that should enable Britain's big and still powerful incumbent telco to deliver a wide range of new products and services in an increasingly competitive world.
The idea is that the 21CN will greatly reduce network complexity and greatly reduce costs (savings in excess of a billion pounds a year have been mooted) whilst allowing the speedy creation of compelling new services and applications.
Matt has also long believed that to be successful an organisation cannot rely solely on its own internal assets and capabilities and must connect to a wider world of creative people (i.e outside BT) if it is truly to innovate and keep on innovating.
And now, "later this month" (and today's the 20th of July so there's now nine and a half working days left before he officially goes, and my bet is we won't be seeing anything of him around BT HQ between now and the 31st) one of the best known and best respected characters at BT is to leave.
Word is that he won't be replaced. So, remarkably, BT now faces an increasingly uncertain future without a CTO. That would be strange enough at any time but as the carrier has so firmly nailed its technology colours to the mast and so endlessly saluted them in recent years, the decision is little short of bizarre.
This afternoon BT is claiming that Matt's departure has nothing to do with yet another reorganisation at the carrier but, three weeks ago BT Innovate "merged" with BT Design. In BT-speak, the new arm, BT Innovate and Design, apparently "combines network and platform development with long-term technology strategy and research" and "In effect, the new division is taking on the role of BT Innovate and the tasks previously undertaken by the Group CTO office". And we're supposed to believe this has nothing to do with the resignation of Matt Bross? Pull the other one.
BT is striving to position itself as a software-centric organisation that will use next-generation technologies to provide its network as a service to private, business and enterprise users and increasingly to open up that network to third parties.
It needs a CTO to help evangelise and develop that strategy but, in what seems to be a sign of the times and things to come, power is accruing to Al-Noor Ramji, BT's CIO who is to take over many of the functions previously performed by Mr. Bross.
Things at BT have slipped a bit at since Ben Verwaayen left. I once got the full blast of the Dutchman's inventive invective when I suggested to him in an interview that BT could do worse that be a utility player and fat pipe provider (easier life, less risk, guaranteed revenue streams, predictable margins etc, etc.). Matt Bross was dead set against that approach too but, as losses mounts, profits slip and BT's share price stays stubbornly in the doldrums the temptation to continue to cut costs, cull staff and (inevitably) slow if not utterly stifle R&D into new technologies must be there. If that happens, and BT has no mobile arm remember, a future as a utility telecoms player could not only beckon but actually be forced upon the carrier.
BT will be the worse for Matt's going. He's already an independently wealthy man from previous ventures so he doesn't need a job for the income but he gave his considerable all (sometimes controversially) to the cause of dragging BT into the 21st Century. Mark my words, he'll be missed but BT's loss will undoubtedly be to some other company's gain. I'm sure we'll be seeing the big man again.
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