Openreach thrives on independent stage

No sooner was Openreach structurally separated from BT Group than a move arose to galvanise and reinforce its independence spearheaded by leaders with real power, including Katie Milligan, Managing Director, Customer, Commercial and Propositions.

After two years of negotiations with Ofcom, in March 2017 BT agreed to legally separate from Openreach (with its own board and control of the network) in a move that promised greater investment in Britain's broadband infrastructure and improved service for CPs. One year on, Openreach no longer represents a tight partnership between itself and the parent company. The defining mode of Openreach is now a matter of start-up independence, a self-governing strategic vision and cultural rejuvenation. "Having worked with Openreach for a number of years I was ready for a change, but the opportunity arose to take on an ExCo role under the new independent organisation," stated Milligan. "The changes are exciting and it's like working for a completely new company - a start-up. I have never been busier and closer to our customers."

Milligan looks after all commercial, product and proposition development across Openreach and is responsible for generating over £5 billion of revenue. "My team manages the relationships we have with our customers including our sales and customer account management functions," she explained. "We work with well over 550 business CPs and its my job to represent their voice inside Openreach and design and deliver a product portfolio that is commercially viable for them, such as the move from superfast to ultrafast, managing network demand and capacity, the transition to an all-IP world and emerging mobile technologies like 5G."

The structural separation has redefined Openreach's reputation not as the source of industry angst, but as an open and responsive digital front runner keen to move on. "It's important we draw a line under the past and for me and my team that means being more laser focused on our customers and being able to interact more openly to better understand their views and challenges," added Milligan. "That has made a big difference."

Nothing better shows the progress made by Openreach against its commitments than its strengthened governance and appointment of a new independent Board headed up by independent Chairman Mike McTighe who has much experience in this sector, including many years at Ofcom. "We now have more control over our strategy, investments and financial plans," added Milligan. "We are working with customers on strategic developments like our FTTP plans and OSA Filter Connect. These consultations include a confidential phase which allows us and CPs to be more transparent about our plans without them being shared beyond Openreach.

'We did not wait for a regulatory imposition, we got on with the job of creating a product that helps our customers and launched it into the market in record time.' 

"The launch of OSA Filter Connect is important. It's designed for business customers and serves the requirements of our CPs, tackling a lot of the key issues that were raised in the dark fibre debate. We did not wait for a regulatory imposition, we got on with the job of creating a product that helps our customers and launched it into the market in record time. We also welcome initiatives to help make full fibre a reality, but must recognise that it is going to take broader industry, regulatory and governmental support to bring FTTP to the masses. We continue to review the Ofcom proposals but don't think these alone will encourage investment in FTTP. For example, Pole and Infrastructure access has been available since 2011 but the take up is very limited."

The separation of Openreach from BT Group inevitably inclined the infrastructure provider and maintainer to take stock of its new foundations and set out new priorities. "Cultural change doesn't happen overnight, but I want to be clear that we are embracing the new era of independence," emphasised Milligan. "From our Chairman down, we're determined to live and breathe the spirit of the commitments, not just deliver to the letter on the legal terms that BT signed up to."

Openreach has been inundated by new initiatives and products with work on broader coverage and faster speeds progressing at pace. "It's my team that helps design new products and services such as FTTP, G.Fast and OSA Filter Connect," reaffirmed Milligan. "In doing this we need to reflect wider economic, social and technological change when we're looking at the viability of introducing new products and services or amending existing ones.

'Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, but I want to be clear that we are embracing the new era of independence'

"A good example is our journey from copper products to superfast through building a Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) network, and the evolution to ultrafast services like G.Fast, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) and Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA). My team has driven this through product design, alongside commercial decisions such as offering to build FTTP (as opposed to copper) infrastructure for free to new developments of 30 premises or more. That's embedding FTTP in the majority of new sites across Britain."

In terms of greater investment Openreach has pledged a 50 per cent increase in its FTTP roll out plans that would get it to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2020. "This sets us on a trajectory to reach ten million by the mid-2020s under the right conditions," commented Milligan. "Ultimately, our ambition is to cover the majority of the UK with full fibre if we can get the right enablers in place to make the business case work."

Just as critical is the rise in service levels as Openreach has halted and reversed a six year rise in fault volume on its network by raising investment in proactive maintenance, what it calls Network Health. "We're fixing faults and connecting new customers faster than last year and meeting or exceeding all 60 of Ofcom's Minimum Service Levels," stated Milligan. "But there's more to do and continuing to raise our service performance is our number one priority."

For Milligan, working in comms to help drive Digital Britain was the only career priority. Following a two year graduate scheme in London the attraction of the comms industry proved too strong to resist, giving her an opportunity to design and deliver new products and leverage her legal training in a well established marketplace. "I started in product management and honed this skill across many portfolios before extending into commercial and programme roles," she explained. "This experience plays a huge part in my day to day job, giving me important knowledge about our portfolio and the problems our products and services can fix for customers.

"We have proved our ability to do efficient, large scale network upgrades, most recently with the FTTC rollout so I wouldn't bet against us doing the same again for FTTP. I see Openreach at the heart of building and maintaining the digital infrastructure that supports millions of homes and business across Britain. The products and services may change, regulators and governments might be different, but we're determined to be part of the fabric of the nation, driving Britain's digital revolution." 


Just a minute with Katie Milligan...

Role model:
I have many people I look to for inspiration. They know who they are

What talent do you wish you had?
To swim. I'm scared of water and despite lessons I just can't crack it

What do you fear the most?
Failure

If you weren't in comms what would you be doing?
Working in fashion (employee discounts would be a bonus)

Your greatest strengths and what could you improve on?
My main strengths are tenacity, perseverance and emotional intelligence, but I could work on improving my patience

One example of something you have overcome:
I used to worry a lot about what others thought about me, but now I have much more conviction of thought

How do you relax when not working?
Having fun with friends

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who made a difference

Name three ideal dinner guests:
Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Adele. Forget the food, I want a sing along!

Your greatest career achievement?
Being at the heart of getting superfast fibre to the UK. My next challenge is ultrafast!

Biggest lesson learnt:
Not to sweat the small stuff

If you could transform any area of the IT industry what would it be?
To see us all working together and collaborating more for the benefit of UK homes and businesses