The Big Connection

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 12:22

Despite growing competition, Telstra's Will Irving is confident the giant telco can continue to redefine its place in the Australian telecommunications arena. By Hannah Flannery.

Telstra's business division head Will Irving is convinced the telco's core business will withstand the ravages of the rapid decline in the use of landlines.

The company's former legal counsel, Irving was appointed group managing director of Telstra business in August 2011 and is responsible for maintaining Telstra's business revenue.

Irving joined Telstra in 1997 and progressively headed legal services in a number of business units. After only four years with the organisation, Irving was appointed deputy group general counsel. In January 2005, he was promoted to group general counsel.

Irving said his recent transition from group general counsel to executive responsible for business was relatively smooth because he has found the roles not dissimilar. In his new position, Irving is responsible for Telstra's relationships with more than one million small and medium-size enterprises in Australia.

"Helping customers and clients to be successful, whether it is advising or assisting on communications and technology or the law, is actually quite similar," Irving said.

He said being closely involved in product development, operational issues and customer service for more than a decade had given him the business knowledge required for his current role. The key to sustaining revenue was to focus on selling additional services to customers, he said.

Irving is confident of achieving this, despite acknowledging the challenge of the loss of what was a virtual monopoly over voice telephony.

VoIP (voice over internet protocol) first appeared in Australia in the mid- 1990s, slashing the cost of calls by routing them over the internet.

VoIP technology, initially developed in the late 1970s, took almost 20 years to evolve from an online novelty into a household service. Because voice calls converted to data use far less bandwidth, they have significantly reduced costs, with many businesses and households migrating from traditional copper wire telephone systems to VoIP systems. Today, some businesses are converting to a completely web-based telephone platform.

Telstra's internet protocol telephony (TIPT) service has been available to business customers since 2003, but the recent surge in the number of businesses making the switch has challenged the telco to adapt its business offerings.

Irving said the attraction of VoIP was it reduced infrastructure and operating costs by allowing voice and data communications to operate over a single network.

"Small business is the lifeblood of the Australian economy and small business customers are excited about how new technology is making it so much easier for them to do business."

Irving said Telstra's business customers were quickly learning how effectively they can market their businesses when they are integrating digital technology applications into their communications.

By offering a unified communications (UC) service, Telstra can provide business customers with voice applications that operate from the same platform as video and other streaming media applications such as desktop sharing, web conferencing and shared whiteboards.

"We are starting to see some customers move to next generation calling with Telstra's digital business, which has high-definition voice capability. We are encouraging customers to make this move when it makes sense for them," he said.

The VoIP services market is experiencing major global growth, according to US-based market research firm Infonetics Research. In April this year, it published its latest VoIP and UC Services and Subscribers Market Share and Forecast, which tracks residential and business VoIP and UC services.

The research reveals global service provider revenue from business and residential VoIP services totalled nearly $58 billion in 2011, up 16 per cent from the previous year. Globally, session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking revenue jumped 128 per cent in 2011 from the previous year as a result of businesses seeking to adopt the technology for flexibility, centralisation of resources and cost-effective voice connectivity.

Diane Myers, directing analyst for VoIP and IMS at Infonetics Research, says we can expect strong global growth in VoIP service revenue over at least the next five years.

"Adoption of VoIP services across both the residential and business market is growing rapidly," Myers said.

Infonetics claims the number of businesses making the switch to VoIP and UC services globally is likely to double between 2012 and 2016. In response to the statistics, Irving said Telstra would continue to adapt its own business model to respond to the changing needs of business customers.

"We have been improving our online presence and capability with a revamped website and online mobile shop, the ability to buy infrastructure-as-a-service (dial-up and dial-down servers), and T-Suite, our business apps store with products such as Microsoft Office 365 available online," he said.

Advancing Telstra's business offerings has been a priority for Irving who said the demand for cloud-based services had created a major area for growth in the company's business.

The widespread adoption of smartphones and tablet computers was rapidly moving cloud computing into the business technology mainstream as a way of delivering information anywhere, at any time and on any device, he said.

"Cloud and mobile are the two growth engines and both are critical to our future."

Telstra is making headway in offering cloud-computing services. Launched two years ago, its T-Suite includes Microsoft's Office software and a range of business management applications, including accounting and human resources. It surpassed 100,000 users earlier this year and continues to grow rapidly as more consumers begin to understand the technology.

Legal eagle

Irving holds degrees in Law (Hons) and in Commerce (Economics and Accounting majors) from the University of Melbourne.

Before joining Telstra, Irving worked at national law firm King & Wood Mallesons, where he spent time seconded to Telstra's business, government and mobiles legal teams. In 2006, the Corporate Law Association named Irving Australian Corporate Lawyer of the Year.

In 2008, the Communications Law Committee of the International Bar Association awarded Irving its Outstanding Achievement Award. The Telstra legal team under Irving's leadership was the ALB Australian Law Awards' In-House Team of the Year for 2010.