CEO Q&A: Shena Brien, IP Telecom

Business, Interviews | Wed 7 Feb | Author – Business & Finance
Shena Brien, CEO, IP Telecom

Shena Brien, CEO of IP Telecom, talks running a business during recessionary times and providing the right products and services for customers in the telecoms space.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

At the moment, our main focus is the broadband product we’re launching in March 2018. Providing our customers with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and broadband is crucial to IP Telecom’s development as a company. Sometimes in the past, issues with call quality have been laid at the door of the VoIP provider but on further investigation, the problems lay with the broadband provider. By providing broadband ourselves, IP Telecom is guaranteeing its customers that both broadband and VoIP will be of the highest quality.

As Chief Executive Officer, my role has evolved to focus on building brand awareness. I’m still involved in the project management and customer support areas but at the moment, my main focus is on business strategy and direction.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Since the company was established in 2010, IP Telecom has consistently been developing solutions to ensure their customers’ needs are met, with relevant, secure products.

As well as providing telephony services, we also have the added advantage of writing our own software in-house meaning our team has the capacity to work with customers on bespoke integrations and deliver specific products, suited to that client’s particular needs.

As CEO, I’m always striving to ensure we’re on top of technological advances and the impact these might have on our customers and their businesses. We regularly engage with our customers to ensure our products are giving them what they need.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I think it’s really important to hire people who are as passionate as you are. A big part of our success has been putting in the time and effort to hire good people, who understand what we are trying to achieve and who want to grow with us.

We also encourage people to use their own initiative, particularly when they’re on-site with clients during installations or when solutions need to be found. We always try to give team members the space to grow and develop. We have many who stay with us for the long term because they know their work is appreciated and they have the opportunity to progress their careers here.

We also try to take the team out of the office once in a while – it always helps for everyone to get away from the desk and engage in a more informal and fun catch-up!

Q. What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Broadband outside the main cities remains very hit and miss. We were very disappointed when the Siro consortium pulled out of the National Broadband competition. Until businesses across the country have access to quality, reliable broadband services, innovative cost-effective solutions, such as those which IP Telecom provide, will remain inaccessible.

One of the challenges we faced when setting up the company in 2010 was to educate our users who thought of VoIP as simply a way to chat to the ‘emigrant daughter’ in Australia. We still encounter reticence amongst potential customers and spend a lot of our time speaking to industry groups on what VoIP can bring to their companies by way of feature integration and flexibility.

Irish companies are traditionally risk adverse and there is a lack of encouragement from the government, through the public sector tendering processes, to innovate by moving to newer technologies such as the ‘Voice as a Service’ solutions which IP Telecom provides. The government needs to be seen to take the lead in this regard.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

We see unified communication being used more and more outside the traditional ‘hi-tech’ arena – this is mainly due to the increased use of private messaging systems.

Coupled with this we are continuing to see more mobile telephony apps becoming available, these are fast-replacing the DECT/WiFi cordless phones with their increased flexibility and remote usage.

The days of the desk phone are definitely numbered and Ireland, with its huge number of mobile phones per capita, is ideally placed to be a forerunner in this area.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I am concerned that traditional telecom companies still steer the way strongly in our industry, setting the rules and regulations based on the limitations of their technology.

VoIP has been in commercial use by these very operators for many years but until recently would be viewed a threat to their traditional business revenues so would have limited applications to internal use.

I would like to see the Irish regulator lead the way in encouraging innovation and the move away from physical infrastructure. Both Ofcom in the UK and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US have issued recommendations as they forewarn the end of time-division multiplexing (TDM) networks and request both end users and carriers to prepare.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Not really. We have a particular skillset we look for and usually the people who apply for roles in the telecommunications sector are very technologically minded. Saying that, I come

from an engineering background and would love to see more women in engineering roles within IP Telecom.

When I was a teenager, girls were not expected to pick up soldering irons, design and install computer networks and there was no encouragement for any women looking to pursue a career in STEM.

I think there’s a real opportunity for women engineers working at the moment to act as mentors and to reach out to schools and universities, attend open days and highlight the benefits of choosing STEM careers to young women – studying engineering has taken me to some great places and I’ve had some wonderful experiences.

Encouraging girls to study STEM courses is the reason IP Telecom supported the iWish Conference in January. Personally, I think it’s crucial that initiatives like this are established to inspire, encourage and motivate young female students to pursue careers in STEM – we need to do everything we can to harness their talent.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

IP Telecom was established in 2010 and, I have to admit, it wasn’t easy – setting up a business in a recession was tough and it meant that we really had to commit to the business and put our shoulders to the wheel to ensure we were able to sustain the business and try and grow it to the point which it is at now. When you’re younger, the notion that hard work is rewarding can be a difficult concept to grasp but I think as you mature, you get a great sense of achievement from creating and developing.

In many ways, the economic crisis focused our minds somewhat – we saw the products our competitors were providing and they simply weren’t good value for money. We knew we could provide better products and customer services to our clients.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

I think all Irish businesses, regardless of their size or sector, need to be prepared for the effects of Brexit, as Britain plays such a fundamental role in the day-to-day existence of the Irish economy.

I believe it’s worth companies taking steps now to ensure their overheads are as lean as possible, so if there’s a knock-on effect when Brexit kicks in, companies will hopefully have a bit of a cushion to see them through any tough times.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success, and what drives me towards it, is knowing that we have provided the best service possible to our happy customers in a professional and expert manner.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The best advice I can give anyone is to be flexible. There are lots of companies out there who provide services but don’t necessarily fully attend to their customer needs.

We’re constantly engaging with our customers to ensure the products we develop are fully utilised. There’s no point in us spending time developing bespoke products and services if they don’t meet the customers’ needs.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Last year was a fantastic year for us in IP Telecom. We expanded our team even further and we expect we’ll be hiring again in 2018.

We secured a number of strategic partnerships with companies around the country, including Radius Technologies in Waterford and GoldStar Telecom in Cork, and we were delighted to be awarded ‘Technology/Digital Company of the Year’ at the Cork Business Awards 2017.

We also invested €500,000 in ‘Point of Presence’ architecture in the BT Ireland data centre in City West, which has really helped us to grow our infrastructure in response to the customer demand.

Personally, I met Richard Branson in January. He’s always been a bit of a hero of mine so that was a high note for me!

Q. What’s next for the company?

As well as our move into broadband, we’re excited to move into new state-of-the-art offices in Park West. We’re fitting them out to the highest possible specification to ensure we have the space and the technology we need to continue growing and to accommodate our expanding workforce as well.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We see significant opportunities ahead for 2018 across the full spectrum of our services.

Along with our new broadband service, we’ll be launching a suite of new solutions which will meet customer demand for products including Call Centre Lite, which will provide businesses with crucial information from their call records at an affordable monthly pay-as-you-go solution; an IP Telecom-Salesforce plug in, to help businesses integrate their CRM and telephony software; and we’re currently putting the final touches to high-security, encrypted VoIP, so we can guarantee data is 100% secure and protected, ensuring piece of mind for all.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Our goal is to cement IP Telecom’s position as the leading provider of VoIP and broadband solutions to Irish enterprise and SME customers.

The best advice I can give anyone is to be flexible. There are lots of companies out there who provide services but don’t necessarily fully attend to their customer needs.

IP Telecom is a Dublin-based telecommunications provider which offers telephony solutions via its own VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) network. With over 25,000 network end points across the country, IP Telecom has invested significantly in developing its own cloud-based telephone system to provide its customers with excellent call quality, customer service and technical consultancy. Products and services are delivered through regional channel partners around the country as well as directly from IP Telecom’s offices in Park West.