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View transcript

The  disks are in the post....

The disks are in the post...

Richard Lambert, head of the Confederation of British Industry, was reported to have said that BT was in ‘strategic disarray’ when Ben Verwaayen took over as chief executive in 2002. It certainly appeared to be in much better shape in 2008, when Verwaayen announced his last set of results before stepping down as chief executive.

The Dutchman is credited with moving the company away from its heavy dependence on voice calls and towards broadband and global information technology services. Corporate information technology contracts and broadband, which accounted for 10% of BT turnover when Verwaayen took over, had risen to more than 40% of the group’s revenues by 2008.

BT has also grown strongly in the small and medium-sized company sector, by seeking to meet all its customers’ telecommunication needs rather than simply hoping that small businesses will make more telephone calls.

Courtney (Computing, 20 March 2008) examines BT’s efforts to be more customer-focused in all areas of its business. The author draws attention to the company’s reorganization into four ‘customer facing’ units – BT Retail, BT Wholesale, BT Global Services and Openreach – and describes plans to shed some 5,000 managers and replace them with an equal number of Openreach staff, many of whom will be engineers. Some 30% of BT top executives’ bonuses are now linked to improved customer service.

Despite these moves, Verwaayen’s successor, ex-BT Retail boss Ian Livingston, admits there is much work to do on improving customer service.

An altogether bigger job, though, is needed at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which continues to experience the fall-out from last year’s loss of two computer disks containing the personal details of 25 million fathers, mothers and children.

A junior HMRC official had sent the disks – containing information on every family in Britain with a child under 16 – in the internal post to the National Audit Office, but they never arrived. A major police search failed to track them down. The head of HMRC, Paul Gray, resigned as the scale of the damage became clear.

The records included recipients’ names and those of their children, their addresses and dates of birth, child-benefit numbers, national-insurance numbers and, where relevant, bank or building-society account details. According to one estimate, the information is worth around £1.5 billion to identity-theft criminals.

Simpson (Quality World, February 2008) highlights the management, quality, systems and cultural inadequacies at the root of the mistake. Putting disks containing the records of 25 million individuals and 7.25 million families into the internal mail, for example, breached HMRC’s own rules on taking care of sensitive information.

Simpson describes the security standards that should have been followed, and the need to invest in risk analysis and systems protection commensurate with the cost of dealing with the loss or compromise of the information being stored.

The cost to the Government of sending one letter to each of the HMRC clients affected by the loss of the disks, for example, has been estimated at £3 million. That, combined with the costs of trying to find the disks after they disappeared, would have bought an awful lot of extra data security.