BT is raising its game in Scotland. The telecommunications giant, responsible for around a third of all connectivity in the UK, is investing heavily north of the Border. 

After securing the £350 million Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) contract in April, more than 6,000 public sector sites – including schools, hospitals, GP surgeries and council buildings – will be able to access its vast and growing digital network. 

The six-year framework should see much of that vital critical infrastructure switch across to BT’s growing fibre network, with gigabit speeds to match. 

The result: more capacity and capability for each and every public sector organisation for whom good connectivity underpins the ability to transform services.

With the SWAN procurement award there will now be a huge investment and engineering programme, with customers potentially migrating from the incumbent Capita network to BT; that work will dominate phase one of a switchover and take place over the course of the next two years, but the long-term benefits will be transformative. 

Alan Lees, director for BT Business in Scotland, said: “We’re scaling up our team here in Scotland to deliver what will be one of the biggest public sector digital transformation programmes we’ve ever seen. There are currently hundreds of SWAN users a month expressing an interest to join us on that journey, and we’ve been delighted and humbled by the response.”

As a statement of intent, the company has recently carried out a multi-million pound refurbishment of its flagship Alexander Bain building in Glasgow. 

With a workforce of 7,000 in Scotland, BT Group is rolling its sleeves up and pledges to “accelerate the digital transformation of Scotland’s public sector” – including to some of the most rural areas across the country. 

And it’s about more than just installing boxes and wires, says Hayden Edwards, BT’s director of the SWAN framework. 

“We’ve got the power, the ambition, the investment, and the reach through our senior leaders to do some seriously exciting stuff now in Scotland,” says Edwards. 

“If people think it’s about network switches, then we will have failed to land our message. This is about delivering health, education, and local government services in a way that meets modern expectations. We have seen through Covid that people are now more accustomed than ever before to interacting digitally. Our plan is to secure that future.”

On the ground, there are exciting conversations taking place about next generation connectivity, and what it can enable. Edwards, who deals directly with SWAN members, has been in talks with one council about upping its network speeds by a factor of 100. 

Schools in that location will – as a result – be able to deliver digital education in a way that enables pupils and teachers alike to take advantage of some of the most cutting-edge classroom technologies. 

“Whether it’s augmented reality, engineering tools or design, some of the capabilities afforded by much stronger connectivity can totally transform the learning experience,” says Edwards. 

“Not only that, but during lockdown not all kids or teachers always had the required connectivity to get online. We’ve got to be able to make sure that the resilience and robustness is there, going forward.”

Lees agrees. “If we just provide some nice plumbing around the country, and don’t utilise it or show what we can achieve, then it will be a pointless exercise. 

“We want to be able to lead on IoT [internet of things] solutions that are transforming the way we deliver healthcare in the home or enable local authorities to deliver their services in new and innovative ways. 

“So, it’s incumbent on us to make sure that our customers know the art of the possible. All these kinds of technologies can help keep local areas safe and connected, whilst supporting the green economy.”

With climate targets being delayed by the UK Government, BT remains firmly committed to its environmental agenda. It has no plans to alter its own target to cut carbon emissions from the business by the end of March 2031, and help customers avoid 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by the end of March 2030. 

As the joint-largest private purchaser of electricity in the UK, the company has already committed to sourcing 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources where markets allow. 

Delivering full fibre broadband is one such way that have enabled green targets to be met, with an estimated 935,000 tonnes of carbon saved through digital and remote working. 

With ransomware attacks on the UK reaching a record high last year, and the most frequent reason for UK Government Cobra crisis management meetings, BT is also keen to ensure that cybersecurity goes hand in hand with digital working. 

“Throughout all our conversations on digital transformation, security is always high on the agenda,” adds Edwards. 

“We’re a core critical national infrastructure network and we take that responsibility seriously. Maintaining that, and keeping our customers safe and secure, requires research, investment, and continual upgrades to stay ahead of the threats that exist online.”

Economies of scale matter, too. BT provides unmatched network coverage in the UK – and can deliver significant savings for end users, and ultimately benefit the taxpayer. Lees says doing “more with less” is not just an empty slogan, when it comes to BT’s offer in Scotland. 

“We do live by that mantra as an organisation,” he says. “We have identified savings where customers can shave £900,000 off their IT estate bills. But actually, the conversation we like to have is how can they put the investment to better use, delivering better and more efficient services downstream from an upstream cost centre saving. 

“In simple terms, by letting the technology flourish, we can make an economic argument for our customers, too.”

All of this, of course, chimes with the wider economic picture in Scotland. There is currently a productivity lag between Scotland and the rest of the UK, according to a recent KPMG survey which found Scotland performing worse on average in nine out of 13 productivity indicators. 

The Scottish Government’s recent innovation and economic transformation strategies unsurprisingly make productivity a major focus. 

The performance, therefore, of the SWAN contract will rightly be scrutinised. It’s a challenge BT is keen to embrace. “It’s the national network for our public services. It’s a bit like the rail service, but for digital,” says Lees. 

“We all want the trains to run on time, so we’ll be proud to be held to account for high standards. But we also want to look for those small performance wins that will help make things run more smoothly with the minimum of disruption. And the final piece is capacity, where we can continue to invest in adding more track.”

Whatever happens during the period of the contract, there is palpable excitement from SWAN members, who are looking towards a brighter future. 

With access to BT comes a whole range of other benefits, working with the likes of its own mobile brand – EE – which has been the first to deliver 5G consumer services in Scotland, as well as a host of other vendors associated with the BT Group. Getting that message out to customers is key for Lees.

He says: “We’ve started a full programme of engagement with SWAN members. Hayden and his team have been out meeting as many customers as they can, in person and at offices. We want to bring in the personal touch as much as we can, to get to know people and build those trusted relationships. 

“We’ve already brought on the four biggest users of SWAN, who are contracted to migrate across to the new network, and we will continue that work. At the end of the day, we want to build a community of users who will hopefully share positive experiences with others.”

To that end, a new SWAN website has recently launched, and the BT team are keen to share best practice, tips and advice with the community – to foster a spirit of innovation and collaboration. 

“We’re here to be sounding boards, but we also want to work as closely and productively as we can with our customers. We’ve also established relationships with Scottish universities, looking at how we can potentially leverage artificial intelligence and emerging technologies in the future, and where they might be deployed. 

“After all, our public services belong to us all. We’re all invested in making them, and Scotland, better.”

Partner Content in association with BT Business in Scotland.

Alan Lees and Hayden Edwards will be speaking at Digital Scotland on November 21 at the EICC in Edinburgh.