Alyson Edmunds is Head of Digital Innovation at O2, where she works with new tech and start-ups to connect everything and everyone to create a digital future. Prior to this, she worked for O2 on roles relating to mobility and innovation.
“…my advice is to find your ‘why?’, conquer your fears, believe in yourself and your business, as well as network, network, network!..”
From analogue to digital
I’ve worked in the mobile industry from as far back as the old analogue days and I feel blessed. I stumbled across the industry all those years ago. I’ve seen the launch of the Motorola StarTac with its ingenious flip, the introduction of email on the move from Blackberry, the amazing (for its time) Xda as a personal digital assistant, all the way through to iPhone, to the rise of collaboration tools and cloud computing being so prevalent today.
The speed of innovation and disruption is accelerating and today corporates have a very different perspective on innovation. My role is customer centric and I spend a lot of time with executives in our enterprise channel who want to understand our view of industry trends and how innovation will impact their business processes, customer demand and future profitability.
At O2, customer partnership is important and so I run workshops and innovation boards to help customers make the right choices and I have a whole heap of fun researching the latest trends and start-ups.
Drive, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship
Incredibly nimble start-ups are disrupting corporates – they often look to pick off pieces around the edges of a business before coming to dominate an entire industry and we’ve seen this with the likes of Uber and Airbnb.
A large part of my role is working with start-ups through the Telefonica Wayra Start Up Academies and identifying where there is a fit with the business challenges our customers face. Many of our customers recognise internal innovation is not enough and some don’t have their own start-up division, so when they come to Wayra and listen to a start-up pitch they have a massive impact.
I’ve never had a customer walk away and not be inspired by the start-ups’ drive, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship. Plus, for me personally, it’s great to help watch a start-up grow through the support we offer from industry expert fireside chats to mentoring and pitching practice.
Wayra has a start-up academy called Fair By Design in Oldham. This academy is looking to solve some of the poverty premium issues facing citizens on low incomes, where access to basic services can cost an average of £490 extra per annum to those people who are already the most vulnerable.
I often ask myself why it’s easy to call one of the loan providers who advertise on TV and get accepted for a loan within five minutes – but at a massive 1000% APR – yet very few people in the UK know about credit unions and the fantastic services they offer? One of the start-ups in the Fair By Design Academy is looking to change this.
We also have start-ups who work with our enterprise customers on improving corporate social responsibility through digital and financial skills for customers and communities, as well as working with unemployed people on a return to work course, followed by offering work experience and interview skills at the end. Wayra also has start up academies around the UK in cyber security, healthcare, transportation and so there always lots of fresh thinking from the start-ups to share.
Developing female founder talent
45% of Wayra start-ups have a female founder so we know there’s amazing talent out there, although I 100% agree there needs to be more female founders. This is why I’m involved in STEM for the second year. I truly believe we should be encouraging more girls into this fantastic tech industry. We need to open their eyes to the fantastic opportunities ahead and help them believe in their ability.
If I look within O2 I feel very fortunate to work for a company that is excellent at developing female talent. Currently we have three female board members, a good proportion of female senior executives and a very active Womens’ Network group.
For female founders, my advice is to find your ‘why?’, conquer your fears, believe in yourself and your business, as well as network, network, network! Never stop learning and be authentic. Most people who know me would say my glass is always half full. Life is far too short to be negative.
It might sound simple to your readers but I’d like to try my hand at podcasts so if anyone has any tips I’d love to hear from you. In my personal life I’d love to return to Vietnam and Cambodia and do some more travelling – I might take a rucksack but I think I’m more a ‘flashpacker’ these days – my days of cheap hostels are long gone. One thing’s for certain, it’s much easier to be a digital nomad and work anywhere in the world thanks to the fantastic innovation we’ve experienced over the past ten years.