Q&A with eir evo’s Clair Gheel

  • Sync NI sat down with Clair Gheel, Business Development Director at eir evo, to discuss her role at the company and the company’s recent and future projects. 

    eir evo has made a significant investment into Northern Ireland. Can you tell us a bit more about your role as Business Development Director and what motivated you to join eir evo? 

    As most of our customers will know, we've been in the local market serving enterprise and public sector for 15 years. Our wholly owned fibre network, Belfast-based operations centre and a dedicated customer support and engineering team have been in place since 2007. In the past 18 months, we have completed a £10 million upgrade of our next generation 440km core fibre network that connects all major towns and our 3 data centres in Northern Ireland. Together with the acquisition of Evros Technology Group, we are making advancements not just in telecommunication solutions but with new ICT offerings into the market. This has really been a very exciting time as we build for growth and the sales team has grown 4-fold during this time. 

    My new role as Business Development Director is just one development that signals our commitment to the market here, by becoming a key partner to Northern Ireland organisations and a key player in growing the local economy. My remit is specifically to drive growth in the local and central government sector, helping them to deliver on their digital ambitions and bringing together our significant expertise across the ICT spectrum to their advantage.

    I have been working in the company for 5 years. Prior to that, I was working for myself as an independent consultant, but I really missed having camaraderie with colleagues and wanted to get back to team working again. Our position as eir evo in Northern Ireland is unique in that we have the agility and collaborative approach of an SME organisation but with the strength of a tier-1 operator. This has really given me the best of both worlds.

    As new digital technologies become ever more pervasive, the Telecoms industry has also been evolving at speed. Can you tell us about some of these developments?

    In the last decade the main driver in our industry has been digitisation but more recently we've seen that accelerated by the pandemic. The need for people to work remotely has clearly skyrocketed and that hybrid environment has put pressure on all organisations, small and large, to embrace a digital-first approach. Everyone has had to enhance and develop their capability right from the ground up. As a result, the solutions we design and deliver - from data networks and voice collaboration right up through the ICT chain to cloud and security – have become fundamental across all sectors. But the expertise and support we provide has become even more critical as organisations are forced to adopt new technologies or choose alternative solutions that they are perhaps unfamiliar with.

    Areas like Cloud have become particularly important. For many organisations, legacy operations meant that everything was often still shared in an office environment and data stored on premise, it's now become much more important to share that information in the cloud. Furthermore, businesses need to put more focus on the employee experience and collaboration capability – the ability to work remotely, have virtual meetings and access applications from anywhere. That brings its own challenges, not just reliable connectivity but also robust security which now forms part of a much bigger agenda for everyone.

    Why has cyber security become one of the main considerations for telecoms providers and how serious is this threat? 

    As businesses, we have always been concerned with security. 20-30 years ago, we protected our valuable assets with door locks and intruder alarms. Then as reliance on data grew, it became the most valuable thing that we stored. Whether it be our identity, our financial data, or HR data, it became incredibly important and at risk of leaking if it wasn’t protected. 

    One big difference between now and decades ago is the rise in complexity of cyber threats. When computers were less sophisticated, the ways in which hackers attempted to break into them were also basic, such as emailing a simple executable malware file. Cybercriminals are now bypassing systems, deleting backups, and using automation to react to security responses. Thankfully, innovations in real-time security analytics help to identify incidents more reliably, firewall technology powered by cloud-based machine learning allows for previously unknown threats to be recognised automatically and software tools have helped replace many of the manual processes with automated detection and response. 

    There is also an increase in the volume of cyber-attacks every year. Frustratingly for businesses, technologies that have become intrinsic to their productivity – like cloud and hybrid working – have become a particular target. Whilst it’s hugely important for organisations to ensure that the threats are protected by locking down systems and managing identity and access, it's equally important to protect against human error and develop new processes to become more cyber resilient. A defensive or reactive strategy is no longer enough. Thankfully, growth in cyber security awareness inside organisations is helping to secure the newly adopted working models. Aligning their IT operations to a security framework is the next step for many.

    On the back of some significant business wins, what sectors of the NI economy, in particular, do you believe will benefit most from eir evo’s portfolio of products and services? 

    In this year alone, we have had some major achievements and are proud to be serving core sectors of the economy including Northern Ireland Schools, Southern Health Trust, and Local Government Councils along with many of Northern Ireland’s indigenous firms such as Dale Farm, Hastings Hotels, and leading organisations such as Ulster University. Speaking about the area of the business I am committed to; we also have vast experience in central government, and we have extensive expertise which we can bring to the table. However, the reality is that there is no specific sector that will benefit most from our portfolio.

    Any organisation stands to gain from the advice we can offer to them on the different agenda items that they should be considering in their digitisation roadmap and the steps they should be taking. With our breadth of expertise and solutions across telecoms and IT, and our leading partnership credentials with the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, RedHat, Veeam, and Fortinet (the list goes on!), there really is no stone left unturned. For some of the smaller businesses and organisations, we have a real role to play handholding them through, explaining all the jargon, and helping them to understand which elements are right for their goals. Whatever the technology, whatever the sector.

    How does eir evo differentiate itself from other established providers in the market? 

    We're in a really unique position here with the agility of a market challenger, the commitment of a local partner, and the credentials of a tier 1 player. Ultimately though, our success has been built upon our customer-first approach. By that I mean our focus on delivering real opportunities for our customers through an intimate understanding of exactly what they're trying to achieve. We care about their business, their successes, and their struggles. Our customers know that and place significant value on it. Now we are also in a position to build on that with a helicopter view across the entire ICT spectrum, with really deep resources and experts in areas like intelligent apps, cybersecurity, or cloud migration that we can draw on and bring to our customers. 

    We have Gold and Platinum partnerships with many leading technology brands but most recently, we were awarded Microsoft Ireland Partner of the Year in recognition of how we go that extra mile for our customers and work with them to get value out of the technologies they use. That was a great acknowledgement of how we do things differently.

    What future developments within the telecommunications industry can we expect to see within the next 5 years? 

    Due to the speed of change in recent years, organisations are now reinventing workflows and experiences they never intended to digitise. We will see cloud-first becoming the norm as organisations look for agility, scalability, and cost savings when developing new processes or adapting old ones. With the cloud, systems can be built piece by piece. Equipment, maintenance, and staff costs are lower and access to powerful software and platforms requires a lower initial investment. 

    We are also starting to see a more coherent transformation of the workplace as organisations fully adopt and embrace hybrid working. In the recent past, many organisations have struggled with disparate, fragmented tools that often make the workplace more inefficient. A renewed focus on unified communications and the integration of toolsets will deliver significant improvements for businesses and their bottom line. 

    Our customers are also seeking advanced capabilities and intelligence layers on top of their digital foundation - their networks, unified communications, cyber security, and applications - to help them become more efficient in their operations and reduce unnecessary complexities. Areas such as automation and control will become must-haves rather than nice-to-haves as their value is understood and realised and as the available technologies continue to evolve.

    For example, SD-WAN or softwaredefined networks is providing some customers with more flexibility and control, allowing traffic to be securely and intelligently directed and usage to be adjusted. Further optimisation using advanced technologies such as AI and ML will enable organisations to improve automation of tasks in network management. In the area of intelligent cybersecurity, technologies like SIEM (Security Information and Event Management), SOAR (Security Orchestration and Automated Response), and XDR (Extended Detection and Response) are helping our customers to step up their security game with real-time monitoring, user behaviour analytics and orchestrated response activities.

    In addition, hyper-automation - implementing business-wide automation to drive higher value, at a high quality, at high speed - is already helping organisations to advance their digitisation through the use of low-code apps.

    As these advancements in technology continue and the myriad of digital solutions expands, organisations will find it increasingly difficult to stay on top of their ICT estate. For most IT leaders, the decision will come down to how much focus they want to place on managing the status quo versus planning ahead to deliver innovation and continuous improvement for their organisation. For this reason, many will look to the experts and rely on managed services for the crucial components of their infrastructure that keep the business switched on and the attackers out.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story