Meet the people behind O2: Ant Morse
A series that looks at the people behind the technologies we support across Britain.
At O2 we employee thousands of talented individuals to support our diverse customer base. From front line staff working in store with the latest mobiles, accessories and consumer products, to technical specialists who can design your integrated mobile, Wifi and fixed networks, as well as identify the right managed services and digital solutions for your organisation. At O2 we believe that the solutions we provide are only as good as the people that help you make the most of them.
Ant Morse, Head of Digital Solutions – SMB
From building a remote-control for his TV as a kid to leading of team of digital specialists at O2, Ant’s one key objective is to make sure that technology has a purpose. We look at his background, his objectives and interests, and how a focus on digital wellness has helped him to maintain a healthy balance in his work and family life.
What do you do at O2?
I help our customers to identify and deploy useful digital solutions to support their business and people. You’ll often find me at events and on expert panels speaking about what the future will bring. I’m lucky to have a great team of technical specialists around me that keeps me focused and motivated.
How did you end up doing what you do?
I’ve always been obsessed with technology, even from a young age. I remember making a remote control for the family TV back in the 80’s, from a radio receiver and bunch of servos. This was in the days before many TVs even came with a remote control.
When mobile data first landed back in 1999 I knew it was going to be big, the start of a revolution where data was unconstrained and access to information was simple and available everywhere. It made me want to learn and understand more about technology and I’ve never stopped since.
Whilst the early days of mobile data proved the concept and possibilities, it took longer for the use cases, adoption and problem-solving applications to be realised. My interest was sparked though, and I sought out O2’s Head of Innovation to become my mentor. We shared many ideas and learning over the years and are still friends today, nearly 20 years on.
I joined O2 nearly 25 years ago, starting in sales. I quickly discovered that I had an ability to explain complex technology in straightforward terms, which proved to be a valuable skill when talking to customers. Since then, my roles at O2 have effectively mirrored advances in technology. I took on a technical sales role before running O2’s utility sector, focusing on IoT solutions, and from there became Head of Digital Solutions in SMB. One thing remains constant though. I still maintain the same focus on making the complex simple for our customers.
What gets you energised in the morning for the day ahead?
I wake up very early naturally and enjoy the peaceful, uninterrupted hours to catch up on things or to take the dog for a walk. I start summer weekend days with an open water swim – they take a bit of a push when it’s very cold but they certainly wakes you up!
Dog walks are great for listening to podcasts too, which expose me to a range of different perspectives and points of view. Some of my favourites include:
- Ted Talks – (multiple topics from health to tech) always deliver great content and inspiring views from experts and thought leaders on a number of different topics. If you haven’t heard Sir Ken Robinson’s views on creativity and education then you really should. It’s a treat.
- Tech Tent and Click (BBC) – Don’t ask me to choose between them because I couldn’t. They are both brilliantly produced podcasts from the Beeb, with excellent commentary from Rory Cellan-Jones and Spencer Kelly.
- Wired Podcast – offering weekly updates and rundowns on all things tech, with business and culture news that’s often a bit less ‘filtered’ than the BBC’s.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Although I love technology, I love what it actually makes happen even more. I can’t bear ‘tech’ speak, jargon or overuse of acronyms. Technology can be hard enough to understand at the best of times, without making it even more complicated. I can be a bit of a jargon pedant at times, calling out colleagues every time they use an acronym without explaining it first. I find it helps make conversations more inclusive and keeps people more focused on outcomes.
What’s been your proudest achievement in your career so far?
With kids of my own, it would have to be what I did to broker the initial meeting that resulted in O2’s collaboration and partnership with NSPCC. The partnership brought together O2’s digital and tech-know how, with the NSPCC’s expertise in safeguarding children. The result is a programme of workshops, events and resources to help children stay safe online.
What’s been your strangest encounter with technology?
I am often an early adopter of technology, so when domestic robotic vacuum cleaners were launched, I had to have one. All was well until we introduced Roxy, our Boxer puppy, into the family. She chased it around the living room floor and barked at it incessantly. We put up with it, assuming that she’d get used to it as she grew older, but now she is two years old, and things have gone from bad to worse. She simply picks it up in her mouth, takes it outside and buries it in the garden!
What’s the one small thing in life that always makes you smile?
It may sound like a cliché, but it’s my family every time. We all work so hard and nothing beats sharing a family meal in the evening, or spending quality time together at weekends. We get to the Lake District as often as we can and we have a favourite, secluded place there that I call ‘our little piece of heaven’. It’s our secret, so I hope you don’t mind if I don’t tell everyone where it is.
How do you see your role evolving in the future?
The way businesses operate is undergoing massive change. More of us are embracing technology, and innovation is making multiple technologies work smarter together to deliver real user benefits. Flexible working has meant the decentralisation of the office, and information is getting easier to access and update every day. We’re seeing more and more devices being connected, providing richer insights and enabling some of our dull and repetitive tasks to become automated, freeing up time in the field to focus on the more interesting elements of our roles.
Meanwhile the younger generation, who have grown up with technology, will place more demands on their employees to use technology to push for ways to work smarter rather than just longer hours.
As a result I think my own role will change from being a supplier into what you might call a ‘digital navigator’. There’s a lot of choice as to how things can be done in a digital world, and I see myself supporting businesses in that evolution to becoming fully digital. By putting people first for all decisions about the best technology fit for them and what they need to deliver, I’ll be making sure that no matter how much change happens, we’ll always find what fits that unique business or individual.
How do you switch off and wind-down?
I hit the gym at least twice a week. Working out with my headphones on (northern soul every time) is the perfect tonic to what is an otherwise pretty hectic life. I really believe in the principle of healthy body, healthy mind … but I’d never turn down a decadent dinner and socialising with friends.
What does a healthy relationship with technology look like for you?
Managing screen time is very important to us as a family. We impose a two hour a day limit on the children, and we also have a ‘no tech at the dinner table’ rule – unless, of course, it’s for redeeming a voucher at a restaurant (technology pays sometimes). I’m very happy with what Priority from O2 gives us.
I like to swap my Apple watch for an analogue one at weekends and we also take a one-week family holiday each year free from technology (I call it my ‘tech sabbatical’). That means no tech at all. We simply give the number of the hotel to a few important people in case of emergencies, and then sit back and let the mind enjoy some uninterrupted space while truly enjoying each other’s company. I recommend it to everyone.
How long would you survive a full digital detox for?
Well I know that I can do a week each year, but I reckon that’s about my limit. Technology is just too embedded in my life. It’s how I digest news and keep in touch with family and friends. It’s how my robot vacuum helps with the cleaning, and how I capture some of the best moments in life.
Keeping the right balance is important, so being able to recognise and pull back from that ‘always-on’ lifestyle when you need to is a lesson everyone should learn. Digital wellness is so important, and sometimes a full detox isn’t necessary, but knowing when to step away is. Sometimes just picking up the phone and having a conversation instead of trying to read between the lines of an email is all that’s needed.
What are you most excited about that the future will bring?
You won’t be surprised that it’s the future of tech that gets me most excited. I believe that we are at the very beginning of the fourth industrial revolution and over the next few years we will see artificial intelligence, robotics and video and cloud collaboration making a huge impact on the way we live and work.
I believe that the possibilities for technology in healthcare and education in particular are what will dominate discussion and focus in the months and years ahead. Throughout the year I run regular educations sessions in local schools on AI, Machine Learning and coding, and I can see in the students’ faces that they just get how technology will shape their future.
Overall, the future will be about connecting people, removing mundane chores and tasks, and providing experiences that have an impact on a positive life outlook.
I’m excited about what the future is going to bring – not just for me, but for my kids and society as a whole. I believe we have a moral obligation to use technology for good, and to provide an opportunity for everyone to benefit from what it can enable. O2 takes that obligation seriously (links to Wayra, Think Big), and I’m glad to be a part of a team that is shaping what that future will look like.