Barbara Dalibard: virtualised IT means small businesses will need cheaper PCs, because all the information is on the network
Orange is exploring ways of offering new services — including low-cost personal computers — to the small and medium business market in Africa. To keep costs down the PCs would act as network computers, with data stored centrally, and that would also help to reduce energy consumption.
That is just one of the ways that Orange Business Services — the business brand of the Orange group — is examining in order to expand its activity as a significant part of France Telecom’s global operations.
Enterprise sales count for “30% of revenue”, says Barbara Dalibard, the CEO of France Telecom’s Orange Business Services. She is one of nine members of France Telecom’s group management committee, and — like most of her colleagues on the committee — she has a dual responsibility.
As well as running OBS, she has oversight of the enterprise activities of Orange generally, where it has its own fixed or mobile network. “We cover the soho market to the largest enterprises, both fixed and mobile.”
Orange has its own network in 28 countries, mostly mobile but some fixed, including — of course — the home country of France.
But the OBS arm serves multinationals in 166 countries and has nodes in 220, through a historic relationship with Sita, the international civil aviation industry’s IT and telecoms arm.
Through Sita, “we have presence everywhere”, says Dalibard. Virtually every travel agent around the world and almost certainly every airport check-in desk is connected into the Sita network by Orange.
That’s an invaluable resource for Orange, which is able to use that network “if you are an Asian company and you want to connect to Africa”.
Until France Telecom rebranded almost everything — including its activities in France — as Orange, the OBS operation was better known as Equant, and at one stage Sita was the biggest shareholder. Dalibard is still officially chairman and CEO of Equant, according to her official France Telecom biography, and has been for the past four years.
In the 28 countries where Orange has networks, the enterprise teams “do not report to me”, says Dalibard, “but we help them to implement new services”. One of those new services is a sort of “virtualised IT” for small and medium enterprises.
“We have started to develop these new offers — we have 150 guys who are expert in virtualisation,” she says.
It is particularly appropriate for the African market, she notes, where it is being launched as a flat-rate service, with voice over IP and other services such as Microsoft mail, “giving the user all the applications a company needs” but hosted on Orange’s data centre.
“We are expanding this and seeing how to launch it for the SME market in Africa,” she adds. “It means people can get cheaper PCs, because all the information is on the network, and the centralised information reduces energy consumption.”
Vision of the future
Virtualisation of IT is something that Orange is applying in all parts of the world where it operates, but the small and medium business angle is “a different vision of the future”, says Dalibard.
At the top end of the market, Orange is “among the two or three largest operations worldwide in the multinational sector”, she says. “We have a strong portfolio of customers across the world.”
There’s Neptune Orient, a Singapore-based container shipping and terminals company, which has a $38 million agreement to provide an IP-based infrastructure to 400 places around the world.
The operator is developing a number of machine-to-machine applications, for customers such as the Singapore Port Authority and Belgian Railways — according to presentations at Orange Business Live, an annual conference the company holds for customers.
“Our main competition is AT&T, Verizon and BT,” says Dalibard. “We work with airlines around the world, including a lot of American airlines. We are one of the most global international operators.”
Recent customer announcements include:
- a wide area network for the electronics group Siemens, converged on to Orange’s network;
- a global wide area network connecting more than 130 locations in 36 countries for Mettler Toledo, a Swiss maker of precision instruments;
- Zurich Insurance’s outsourced network, originally supplied since 2003 but now for a further three years; and
- the German federal foreign ministry, the Auswärtiges Amt: Orange Business Services is connecting 180 worldwide sites through its terrestrial network and another 50 by satellite.
“Our value to the customer is to connect them in the best way at the highest level of security,” says Dalibard. “We want to make sure we can connect every site with the highest quality of service — quality of service is paramount for me. We try to maintain our quality of service in a very competitive environment.”
Virtualisation means “the network is not a commodity, it is an asset”, she adds.
Machine to machine
There is a significant focus on machine-to-machine services: “It’s a real-time business, and we’re putting in a lot of effort across all our geographies, but the portfolio is very much European-based.”
The aim is “to make sure we can connect objects on the network”, using security-certified IPv6.
Applications include fleet management, but also “connecting hospitals, so that every pacemaker is connected to our network”, says Dalibard. “We monitor diabetics to watch for kidney failure. We monitor pregnant women at home.”
IP cameras in neonatal units can allow parents — the mother in bed in the ward alongside, the father wherever fathers happen to be — to keep a check on premature babies in their incubator.
“It’s part of the beauty of our business that we work with consumers and enterprises,” says Dalibard. “We have many, many such applications.”
In January 2009 Dalibard’s division bought a small French company called Data & Mobiles, a company specialising in developing and operating fleet management and telemetry solutions. Its DM-Fleet tracking service costs €29 per month per vehicle.
There’s a project in Cameroon to track cars — tested on one of Orange’s own cars, which was then stolen. “We tracked it through our own security application.” It was located quickly, even though “it had already been repainted”.
But Orange Business Services is not turning itself into a general IT company or systems integrator. “We’re not an IBM Global Services or developing SAP applications,” she says. “Six or seven years ago I decided to focus on real-time business applications where communications is key. We partner with companies in certain areas and we work with IT companies to complement our offer.”
For example, “if IBM is doing voice over IP, I compete with IBM, but when IBM is working with large customers, I can bring the communications part”, she says. “We have defined our core business very precisely.”
Orange has invested heavily in its network, she adds: converting to IPv6 and making sure the network is as resilient as possible.
“We have a Russian backbone,” she adds. “We are the only international operator with a domestic network in Russia, where we have a huge fibre network.” Orange has offices in 38 cities in Russia, with 1,000 employees.
Again, the old Sita relationship is partly responsible. The airline network has been in Russia for 50 years, and this passed via Equant into Orange Business Services. But in 2001 Equant also took over an old three-way partnership, called Global One, which involved Sprint and Deutsche Telekom as well as France Telecom. Some years before Sprint had a deal with a Russian operator, Central Telegraph, and after Sprint left the deal this too found itself part of OBS.
The whole thing became Equant Russia in 2002, and was rebranded Orange Business Services in 2006.
When careless ships’ anchors cut submarine cables in the Mediterranean in early 2008, disrupting communications between Europe and Asia, Orange was able to restore its links via Russia “within an hour”, says Dalibard.
“The network is not a commodity,” she repeats. “We have to make sure we have the best network everywhere.” GTB
Senior executive VP for enterprise communications services, Orange Business Services; one of nine members of France Telecom’s group management committee
1982 Joined France Telecom after graduating from the École Normale Supérieure and the École Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications
1998 Chairman of Alcanet International, a subsidiary of Alcatel; then commercial director for new operators and then sales director for France at Alcatel CIT
2001 VP of Orange Business and director of business markets for Orange France
2003 Head of France Telecom’s Orange Business Services solutions division
2004 Head of enterprise communication services division at Orange Business Services
2005 Chairman and CEO of Equant