Technology for good: supporting the way we connect, work, innovate & live

01/12/2020

In our Zoom for Thought on December 1st, 2020, UCD Discovery Director Professor Patricia Maguire spoke to Anne Sheehan, Director, Vodafone Business UK, about “Technology for good: supporting the way we connect, work, innovate and live.” In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts. 

The Role

As Director of UK Business, Anne oversees all business-to-business operations - “everything from our very small customers to large”. She brings products to market, does the branding and runs the sales and technical teams. “The business that I run is worth £2.5 billion, it's 50% of the overall business for Vodafone in the UK and it's the largest enterprise business globally for Vodafone.”

  

Technology for Good

Anne describes technology as “a beacon of hope” in these Covid times, enabling “human touch and connection”. She gives three examples. 1) “All the laughter it has brought” to families, friends and elderly relatives who have been able to keep in contact via social media and Zoom. 2) Increased digitalisation - by 400% -  in small to medium businesses in the past seven months and 3) accelerated technology adaptation in mission critical services such as the NHS and the courts. 

 

Overcoming technical barriers

Before Covid, Vodafone had “a lot of discussions with the NHS” around remote surgery but it was all “very conceptual and the adoption was quite low”. Patients were unlikely to opt for virtual GP visits or remote surgery via videolink. “Suddenly a global pandemic hits and those barriers just literally get removed… As citizens we have all adapted.”

 

Crisis Technology 

Vodafone has now used drone technology to bring specialised organs to islands off Scotland. They have connected ambulances live to A&E.“It is game changing providing live emergency care with patients in the back of the ambulance.” In April alone 70% of all GP interactions in the UK were done through remote consultations. Vodafone has teamed up with the medical school in Coventry University, who are using 5G augmented and virtual reality to allow live learning from the operating theatre. Vodafone has also partnered with Proximie, a UK 5G platform that allows clinicians to virtually ‘scrub in’ to any operating room. Anne gave the example of a young man who had a brain tumour removed in Manchester hospital while an expert surgeon in Florida instructed the on-site surgeon over Proximie’s solution.

 

3G, 4G, 5G, 6G

3G was “really about voice”. 4G was “about data”. 5G has always been about high speed and low latency (delay). “5G is a game changer - the speed is incredible.” In the beginning 5G was associated with “gaming and a more consumer angle. Actually my view is it's far more pertinent for enterprise. The use cases that we can see would be more around business than consumer.” Vodafone is already looking at 6G but they are looking to maximise all the capabilities that come with 5G first.

 

Conspiracy Theories

Anne says Vodafone has been the UK leader in terms of 5G and admits a lot of hype and controversy has sprung up around it. “We look to the WHO and all the industry bodies, and they give us advice on what's safe and what's not in technology. Nothing has come out of any of the major bodies to prove that there is anything wrong with 5G or anything that we should be concerned about.” She concedes that there is “a part of society that disagrees” and complains of damage done to a mast near Birmingham.

  

Remote Working

Anne herself was surprised at how effectively she can run Vodafone’s enterprise business remotely. Before Covid, she had spent three years commuting to the UK, leaving her home in Dublin on Sunday evenings and returning on Friday nights. Had you asked her back then if it could be done any other way she would have replied, “Never. Absolutely no way. And we’ve done it.”

 

Interdisciplinary Response 

Anne is passionate about using technology and collaboration to solve problems. Vodafone provide the connectivity for the NHS 111 number which people phoned if they had Covid symptoms. “We took an unprecedented number of calls per minute, which was quite phenomenal.” They worked together with government and third party organisations to fulfil one common goal: saving lives. She believes in using the same cohesion, urgency and technology to tackle problems like climate change - and that the future will bring more of “a convergence of telco and tech”.

 

This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaboration.