Culture and Console Connect

24 November 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Cover

PCCW Global has adopted the culture of Console Connect, the platform it acquired in 2017, CEO Marc Halbfinger tells Alan Burkitt-Gray

It will be four years in November since PCCW Global acquired Console Connect’s brand, platform, and technology team, with its network assets and customer contracts hived off and put under separate ownership under the name IX Reach.

Now, Marc Halbfinger, CEO of PCCW Global, recalls that it was more than a takeover. “In 2017 we took the decision that, culturally, Console Connect would be perceived as the acquiring party – we’ve stuck with that message. Console Connect is at the centre of what we do. It is a platform, an automated fabric.”

Halbfinger, a US citizen, has been at PCCW Global as CEO since 2007, though he joined the overall group in 2000, at the start of the “Pacific Century” that is represented by the first two letters of the name.

Pacific Century Cyberworks (PCCW) was founded and is controlled by Hong Kong businessman Richard Li Tzar Kai, son of Li Ka-shing, the 93-year-old businessman whose interests range from transport to the CK Hutchison group of telecoms interests.

PCCW’s boldest move was in 2000 when it bought Hong Kong Telecom (HKT, but the locals tend to call it “Hong Kong T”) from UK group Cable & Wireless for US$38 billion.

That was two and a half years after Hong Kong had ceased to be a British colony and became a special administrative region (SAR) of China.

The overall PCCW parent group holds 52% of HKT, and PCCW Global, its international arm, is a 100% subsidiary of HKT.
“HKT continues to perform well,” says Halbfinger. “Particularly in times of volatility, people enjoy consistency. PCCW Global is doing well.

Probably the biggest driver is the willingness to continuously transform. I prefer always to try and be positive,” but he adds the all-important rider: “Telecoms must aggressively reshape itself toward technology.”

Behind that remark, no doubt, is the fact that telecoms has changed immensely in the two decades since he joined the organisation and the group was acquiredby Li’s PCCW. Technology has changed, and “technology is front and centre of what we do.

The connectivity business is historically two-dimensional,” says Halbfinger. “Users would order up bandwidth from point A to Z for fixed periods of time. Now the requirement is to link applications such as CRM, ERP and other cloud-native environments.”

Now, “users feel the need to move ahead to a multi-dimensional environment, where they may be able to interoperate with any type of infrastructure, with quality of service, security, etc. And, over time, with complex settlement and perhaps leveraging distributed ledger.”

Cloud services are critical to the way we use the network now. “It’s necessary today to find a direct automatic way to connect to each of them – and we provide that place.” That’s where Console Connect is so important to PCCW Global’s strategy.

It is, he explains, application programming interface (API)-led, “and can be delivered over any infrastructure environment. The API-led platform can be leveraged on for complex ICT use cases.”

And, the service can conduct “hundreds of key applications, some not invented yet”, he adds. “Console Connect has global coverage and global distribution.”

A worldwide company such as PCCW Global has to conform with many laws at the same time, he agrees: “We’re in a position to operate globally with offices around the world. We are able to respond in different jurisdictions to a world that has many more compliance requirements than before.”

But this is where the conversation gets, shall we say, intriguing. That point about “any infrastructure environment” that can deliver Console Connect services. Why is this important? Look at the pressure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has put on carriers that stretch from US territory to China.

In mid-2020 the FCC refused to approve the last leg, into Hong Kong, of the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), which starts in Los Angeles: unconscionable to the US regulator.

These are difficult topics, especially for a company that is so beloved in Hong Kong and so much part of the place’s identity.

But an outside observer might surmise that, with Console Connect, PCCW Global has found a way of making itself independent of the fibre network.

At some point, at least. This is not a question for Halbfinger, the CEO of a company owned in that Hong Kong SAR.

He smiles: “Hopefully PCCW Global through Console Connect at its cultural core will be able to take part in that future.