By @SimonCocking. Interesting interview with Anne O’Leary Vodafone Ireland CEO.

What is your background?

I began my career in Nixdorf Computers in Cork, moving from there to customer service in Western Digital and on to Reuters in London. On my return home to Ireland, I worked initially with Golden Pages and then moved to Esat Telecom where I was involved in selling fixed line voice services.

This was new territory for me and represented the beginnings of an exciting opportunity to work in a pioneering organisation, doing daily battle and being thrown into the front line. We had to learn quickly and I developed a real love for the telecom business which is probably why I have stayed in it for 18 years.

After Esat was acquired by British Telecom, I was appointed MD with BT for north and south of Ireland.  I spent about 6 years there before moving to Vodafone as Enterprise Director and was appointed to the role of CEO in 2013.

Does it seem like a logical progression to what you do now?

Although I have worked in different companies, industries and countries, one consistent theme throughout my career has been my passion for working as part of a team who are as dedicated, focused and committed to their work as I am.

My career foundation in the industry gave me a great buzz and a passion for telecoms. This, coupled with my enjoyment of working with people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, made the role in Vodafone a logical fit for me.

Elevator pitch for your current role?

As CEO, I am responsible for Vodafone’s operations in Ireland and a 2,000 strong workforce across the country.  Vodafone is Ireland’s leading mobile communications operator with 2.4 million customers providing services across mobile, fixed, broadband and TV.  I enjoy my role immensely and feel a strong sense of purpose as CEO at Vodafone. I strive every day to make our workplace as diverse and inclusive as possible. I work hard to make sure that barriers, visible or invisible, unconscious or otherwise, simply do not exist in the organisation.

We work hard to be a company whose workforce reflects the customers we serve and the society we operate within – be it gender, race, sexual orientation or age.

If we are to be successful in this changing world, we need people who think differently and act differently; and we need to empower them to bring their whole selves to work.

What are you excited about for the year ahead?

We have lots of exciting activity planned for 2017. One thing that stands out from a technology point of view is that Vodafone is working to ensure that Ireland is among the first countries in the world to bring Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) to market. Currently the network is being trialled and will be commercially available in the summer of 2017.

Vodafone IoT connects previously isolated machines or devices to the internet, delivering new functionality and enhanced services without the need for human intervention. Supported by more than 1,300 dedicated employees, Vodafone’s global IoT platform makes it easy for global businesses to manage IoT deployments across multiple territories, with greater control and at a lower cost than previously possible.

NB-IoT is a technology that will cost-effectively connect millions more devices to the internet by delivering extended coverage capability and longer battery life, and is a really exciting technological development.

Businesses in Ireland will gain better insights into their supply chains, partners, and customers, and utilising sensor data to make informed decisions that is not only helping them to cut costs, but enabling them look at alternate business models and value-added services.

Vodafone recently carried out some research on connectivity in rural Ireland in the Connected Futures Report, what were the main learnings from that research?

The findings from the study show that the appeal of rural living is as strong as ever. People living in rural Ireland are wholeheartedly embracing technology in terms of how they live, work and play. However, the current digital divide prevents rural dwellers from fully participating in digital society.

Vodafone strongly believes that wherever you live or work in Ireland – from the biggest city to the smallest village or beyond, you should be entitled to top quality high speed internet access.

This is why Vodafone is determined to play its part in creating a ‘gigabit society’ in Ireland.  In simple terms, we want to bridge the urban / rural digital divide by ensuring all citizens have equal access to 1 gigabit broadband speeds through 100% fibre optic broadband.

This means investing in and empowering local communities through connected technologies. It also means continuously investing in our network and delivering innovative, converged solutions that suit our customers changing needs and demands.

How important is connectivity in driving Ireland’s rural and regional economy?

The risks of not realising the ambition of a truly connected society are high, with potentially serious consequences for the future of rural and urban Ireland.  A quarter of respondents to our Connected Futures report said they would have to move to a town or city if they didn’t have internet access where they live. This has a massive impact on how people live their lives and how they work.

We need to recognise the value of the rural economy and marketplace in its own right. It is too significant a proportion of the population to leave behind. Supporting and investing in rural Ireland will bring benefits to all of Ireland and this is a key focus for Vodafone in the coming years.

We have seen the success of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen for example and the wholly positive impact the hub has had on the local community in terms of job creation and economic regeneration. Vodafone’s ambition is to replicate this success in towns and communities all over the country.

Does Vodafone have any upcoming activity planned in this regard?

In March, Vodafone, SIRO and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched our national Gigabit Hub Initiative, which aims to spark a digital transformation in 15 towns across Ireland.  This unique, new initiative will see Vodafone and SIRO  offer 1 Gigabit broadband connection to qualifying business, technology and start up hubs free of charge for two years, with the initiative having the potential to significantly strengthen and grow thousands of jobs across Ireland and stimulate local economic regeneration.

The Gigabit Hub Initiative is now open to hubs based in 15 towns – Dundalk, Cavan town, Carrigaline, Sligo, Letterkenny, Wexford town, Drogheda, Portlaoise, Castlebar, Mullingar, Newbridge, Ennis, Ratheniska, Tralee and Carlow town.

The application process is now open and will run until Friday 21st April. Hubs interested in applying for the 1 Gigabit broadband connection can find out more about the initiative and register their interest at www.vodafone.ie/connected-futures

As a board member of the Ludgate in Skibbereen, what are your thoughts on how this is progressing

Ludgate is going from strength to strength and is firmly on course to help create 500 jobs in the West Cork region over the next five years. The Gigabit Hub Initiative was actually designed to replicate the success of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, which is powered by 1 Gigabit internet connection thanks to SIRO. It is a fantastic example of what can happen in a community that fully embraced technology and were committed to improving their own local area and economy.

Following the promotion of more remote and rural working, what are your thoughts on this / is it possible we might see more remote / rural working options within Vodafone also?

The possibilities and benefits of digital connectivity for towns and villages across Ireland are endless. Having access to high-speed broadband internet connectivity will mean that businesses based in any location retain local skills, knowledge and talent, and compete on a level playing field with national and international organisations. Vodafone is committed to playing its part in helping to realise the Gigabit Society and ensuring equality of access for everyone in Ireland.


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