In this episode, Michael Bowyer interviews Phil Gibson on his career in Telecoms, PSN and HSCN as Phil leaves the industry to focus on Alfa Romeo restoration, a booming property portfolio and being a part-time film mogul.
Phil has spent the start of his career at BT, working up from joining as an apprentice engineer to leading a sales organisation. Leaving BT, he spent time at NexteriaOne, Energis, Cable and Wireless before ending up at Virgin.
Phil was one of the original four from Industry that created PSN. Together with BT’s Ken Clark, Seimen’s Michael Bowyer and Global Crossing’s Mike Thomas, the PSN Operating Model was created based on the work of BT’s Keith Smith. Phil went on to lead the PSN Governance work stream, which led onto the formation of PSNGB.
Phil gives advice to those seeking to enter the Public Sector Marketplace and gives his view of the obstacles that the Industry and Public Sector need to overcome in the years ahead.
The Changes in the Network Environment
About this Episode
Michael Bowyer: Hello. Today I am with Phil Gibson who is the chair of Innopsis. Many of you may not realise that Phil’s actually, what I would term, as a bit of an industry veteran, and has been in the industry for many, many years. And in this conversation today, we’re going to talk about that experience and what he thinks about the events of the past and more importantly, what he thinks about the opportunities for the future. So, hello Phil.
Phil Gibson: Hi. Good morning, Michael. How are you?
Michael Bowyer: You’ve been involved, Phil, for the whole of public sector for many, many years and uh, we’ve worked together, actually, on some quite large network programs.
Phil Gibson: Indeed.
Michael Bowyer: Um, what you sum up that’s been achieved? Do you … Give me a view of what do you think has actually been achieved over the last few years.
Phil Gibson: Do you know what, I think, if I had to put my finger on one thing, it’d all be about the marketplace. You’re right, I’ve been involved in the communications industry pretty much all my life and since around about 2001, really focusing on the public sector, doing lots of work with local government in those early days. After I left BT I, I joined Alcatel. That became NexteiraOne.
Michael Bowyer: Wow.
Phil Gibson: One.
Michael Bowyer: Yeah.
Phil Gibson: And we did some great deals. Mostly voice deals, actually,
Michael Bowyer: Yeah.
Phil Gibson: With some of the big councils. That was, that was great fun really, making some changes there. And then Cable and Wireless and as a lot of people know, the last few years we’re with Virgin. And in all of that time, the one thing that was always tracking forward was that opening up of the marketplace, and, you know, I guess I saw that, in absolute reality, having been a BT man for so long up until 2001, where so much was locked down, or so much of the industry was locked out of the marketplace, and I’d say that, you know, bringing on of more innovative companies, and just generally liberalising the whole market is the, is the main thing that I’ve noticed.
Michael Bowyer: So, you know, it, and all of those programs, and all the things you’ve done, but what about you personally, selling voice, networks, or getting the industry to open up? What would you say has been your, the pinnacle of your career, for want of a better word?
Phil Gibson: That, my, my reason for being, certainly for the last ten years, has been about bringing change into the public sector. It’s been tackling the culture with technology solutions, which is a little bit wordy, but I think the pinnacle of my career was when I got the opportunity to do something about the fact that local government was untrusted by all of the rest of the public sector, and by untrusted, you know what I mean
Michael Bowyer: Yeah, I do. Yeah.
Phil Gibson: That, security was seen as vulnerable as soon as communications, just emails, started to travel into local government, and I saw that as an opportunity for change in the way the public sector worked. back in, around about 2005 I was with Cable and Wireless at the time, and they ran the GSI.
Michael Bowyer: Yes, I remember.
Phil Gibson: Government secured internet.
Michael Bowyer: Yes, very much so.
Phil Gibson: In fact, to be absolutely honest, I was with Synergist for the first couple of years, and they ran the GSI and Cable and Wireless had the Health Network, and the Police National Network, PNN.
Michael Bowyer: Wow, weird.
Phil Gibson: And when those two companies came together, and I sort of travelled with them, as the two companies came together, all of a sudden, the new Cable and Wireless had all three. But nothing was happening in local government, and so along with some guys, in fact, up in Tameside, a chap called Tim Rainey, who was an inspiration, when it came to bringing change in local government. Along with him, and a chap many people know, called Chris Haynes
Michael Bowyer: Yeah.
Phil Gibson: Who was then, in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, ODPM. We set about just driving forward a project to extend the GSI into local government and that was great fun, Michael. It was hard, and tough, and knew an awful lot of people who wanted to stop it happening, but that project was absolutely marvellous just because of the changes you could see it bringing.
Michael Bowyer: Yeah, I’d go with that. So, let’s move on to today, because one of the good things about working in public sector, is that it never changes. It continues to sort of adopt new technologies, new themes, etc., but, and I think there has been a big shift towards collaboration across all of public sector, driven more, and more, by the health and social care demands of an aging society, and an aging population. What about your thoughts about HSCN, Phil? Do you think that it is going to be fundamentally different, compared with, say, the PSN, and the other infrastructure programs that have been done in the past?
Phil Gibson: No I don’t. I don’t think it’s going to be fundamentally different. I would say, you know, first off, you can’t talk about HSCN without talking about N3, and you know, what everybody, what everybody I hope is looking at, is what is the difference, the real difference going to be as a competitor to BT, now for the last 15 years or more, I’d have to say that it has taken far too long for the replacement of N3 to become real, and the new Health and Social Care Network. And then-
Michael Bowyer: That’s interesting.
Phil Gibson: It ticks all the boxes, though, in terms of delivering on customer choice, and the use of standard industry solutions, which PSN didn’t. You know, what I’d like to think is that, HSCN is what both customers and industry have really been looking for in terms of incrementing all of the benefits radically forward, that we were striving for in PSN, and just, of course, opening up the market that should have been there for N3.
Michael Bowyer: So, you’re excited by it?
Phil Gibson: Yeah, I’m excited by the potential it has. You know what, although I’m a Comm’s man through and through, networks-
Michael Bowyer: God bless you for that.
Phil Gibson: Yeah, well, Telecoms doesn’t really interest me, so I’ve made a living out of it. What interests me is the change it makes, and I’d like to think that’s, you know, that’s what I’ve brought to the industry. So, HSCN as a technology, as a network, as a delivery system, the issues around security, the way that, that the networks will integrate, hubs, not interested.
What I am interested in, is whether my son, who’s a doctor, my daughter, who’s a psychologist working with vulnerable people, and even my wife who works in a hospital as well, whether those people within my family see a difference. If they do and my daughter’s the best example because she has to share sensitive information, very sensitive information daily, with all the other agencies. You know, if she sees that her ability to use the network from her tablet, or from her her MacBook, or whatever she’s using, has changed, then I think HSCN will have delivered something.
Michael Bowyer: I don’t disagree. I personally am excited by the opportunity that HSCN creates. It’s not just about sharing patient information. It’s for the first time, the acknowledgement that social care is fundamentally part of health care, and the opportunities that creates for us, to share that information across to, to those organisations that have always felt like a poor citizen to these other agendas.
My other view is that we will drive through substantial operational, opportunities rather, for operational improvement. Whether they get there, I don’t know, but I think our job is to give them the opportunities, give them the technology, show them how it can be done, and hopefully, they’ll step through and use that. Now, obviously HSCN’s very, very important, and we’ve done a lot of work, at Innopsis, to help to create the HSCN. But, you can have a network, but if you don’t have a procurement engine, then supplies will struggle to be able to provide that competition to beat it, as we’ve talked about.
Phil Gibson: Yep.
Michael Bowyer: So, CCS have developed the DPS, Dynamic Purchasing System. What’s your view about that, and how do you feel about that?
Phil Gibson: DPS is a major step forward. Just having the flexibility for suppliers to keep their offers updated keep them live, keep them fresh. I mean, that’s a huge step forward
Michael Bowyer: Yeah.
Phil Gibson: … look at it, and you say, why hasn’t it always been that way nailing down frameworks for, you know, maybe five years with new competitors who arrive, and they arrive fast, don’t they? You know the market is always changing and moving. Even just mergers and acquisitions, that sort of thing changes the market.
Phil Gibson: … to lock it all down is wrong so DPS is brilliant from that point of view. And also, not having, a single entry date, where everyone has to have their offer on the table, HSCN is proving that now ironically perhaps. The biggest and most capable companies seem to be some of the slower off the mark.
Michael Bowyer: Yes, it is interesting.
Phil Gibson: So that’s all good but it’s not perfect because our customers, as far as I can see, still can’t make a direct contract award and they still have to run a competition, but that’ll change. It’s a relatively minor thing but DPS is a huge leap forward, Michael.
Michael Bowyer: Okay, as we’re coming up towards Christmas, that’s quite scary when you think it’s December already, I’ve got in my hand some magic pixie dust. And that pixie dust means that I can give- grant to you a wish, and the wish has to be related to the future of public sector networks. What do you think it should look like, Phil, in your view?
Phil Gibson: That’s a nice question. if I had any pixie dust myself, that would be quite useful, because I think that’s what it’s going to take. I think there’s still a massive part of the solution missing, and I don’t know if everybody knows this, Michael, but this is the year that I am stepping down. I’ve chaired Innopsis and the PSNGB before it, for I’m not sure exactly how long now. It must be at least five years.
I can look back and say, what have we really achieved? And we’ve done all that stuff with the opening up the market. Innopsis is a great organisation in terms of giving the industry a voice, but as I sort of step away now, there’s still a big part of the solution missing, and to be frank with you, the reason I’ve perhaps, decided to, to step down, and here’s a challenge, is that, that part I’m passionate about, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do anything about. It’s all about having a culture of sharing.
Where our public sector recognises the importance, pulls its finger out, and does something about it. I guess if I had any words of wisdom for whoever secedes me in this task, it would be that we have to start looking at the issues of educating those people delivering communication collaboration solutions, so that their users feel free, and able, and equipped to take on the challenge of safe sharing of information, right across the public sector.
You know, it, it frustrates me. Worse than frustrates me, it saddens me that I still hear that phrase, I heard it just a couple of weeks ago, when someone’s fallen through the cracks. Very often it’s a very young child. Someone’s fallen through the cracks, and you’ll hear it, “Well, the agencies had several opportunities to recognise what was happening, but they didn’t act on it.”
I don’t want to be negative about this, because we’ve got our members, our industry has got some fantastic solutions that are going to help with this. But the challenge is moving now from liberalising that market’s network framework, opening up procurement. Great, we’ve done that. Now we’ve got to help the users deliver on a complete, open, public sector way of doing things.
Michael Bowyer: That’s a good call to arms, isn’t it, for our industry to say, there is an opportunity out there. The infrastructure’s being put in place. You’re dynamic. You’ve got some great ideas. Start promoting it. Start selling it. How would you, now that you’re at the sunset of your career and therefore you’ve become one of the wise, old men that sit in our industry, in the nicest possible way. What would you say, what advice would you give to our members? What should they be thinking about every time they go and engage a customer? What’s, after all your years of promoting and selling your solutions and your capability to very difficult organisations normally, to sell to, what’s the one thing that’s always made you successful, that you could share with our members?
Phil Gibson: Oh, I think everybody knows it, who’s a professional in our industry. you’ve got to show that you are interested in delivering what the customer challenge is.
Michael Bowyer: Right.
Phil Gibson: The person sitting in front of you has some problems. If you sit in front of that person, and you say, “I’ve got some solutions. Look at these. They’re great. They come in these different sizes, and, and these are the different prices,” you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. It is absolutely first and foremost, about being properly interested in the industry you’re selling to. There’s absolutely no doubt, you’ve got to really want to bring about some change for your customer, and that isn’t something that you pick up on a quick sales training course. You’re either in it or you’re not, and customers know this. They know, when they’re sitting in front of somebody who actually cares about the industry, and the best people, I’m sure you know this too, Michael, the best people, they’re better than the customers at understanding-
Michael Bowyer: Yes, I agree.
Phil Gibson: … that industry.
Michael Bowyer: Completely agree.
Phil Gibson: They absolutely have a head full of ideas on how they can bring about change. If that is you and your setting out in your career, or you’re just thinking about how you might change it, maybe accelerate it, then I would say, just get really, really interested in the issues your customer faces.
Michael Bowyer: Okay.
Phil Gibson: And you will do well.
Michael Bowyer: Phil, one of the things that I, I would like to say, for the record, as people are listening to this is, that I’ve known you for many, many years. Throughout that period of time, your enthusiasm, your encouragement to customers, and suppliers, competitors alike, has known no bounds. I don’t think I’ve ever known you to have a bad day.
Phil Gibson: Oh, we haven’t spent enough time together, Michael. That’s what I say.
Michael Bowyer: (Laugh) But more importantly in that, your enthusiasm for what’s the opportunity, that’s sitting in front of us, even if it, even if it’s a difficult situation. Your enthusiasm is, knows no bounds, and I think, and I think I’d like to say-
Phil Gibson: Oh, you’re very kind.
Michael Bowyer: … on behalf of all of our members, and actually, certainly on behalf, for myself, is that I think it that needs to be recognised, and I don’t think Innopsis, and I don’t think half our members would be as successful as they are, if it hadn’t been for your, the efforts and your commitment, and your drive. So, on behalf of industry, thank you very, very much.