New applications in vertical markets will see AT&T bring a new type of consultancy to operators, writes Alan Burkitt-Gray
Kathryn Morrissey: there is a big growth area in health care for remote monitoring of patients
AT&T is gearing up to promote consultancy to telecoms operators around the world, helping them gain the benefit of its experience with its highly successful IPTV service. It is the beginning of what AT&T executive Kathryn Morrissey calls “a whole new type of consulting service”.
More pertinently for the moment AT&T is also focusing heavily on promoting telepresence services to its global enterprise customers. Which means, appropriately enough, that Morrissey — executive vice president for wholesale in AT&T Business Solutions — is doing this interview with Global Telecoms Business via telepresence.
Morrissey is in New York, on the centre of three screens. A colleague is in a different part of New York, on the right-hand screen. Both appear, though, to be sitting at an identical boardroom table. Global Telecoms Business seems to be on the other side of the same table, but is in London, at another of AT&T’s offices. Someone has left a bag on a chair: no, that’s in New York, so it’s Morrissey’s.
Telepresence is not just high-definition TV, but high-definition threefold — with three screens at one side of the table, and three seats at the other. Cameras are positioned so that the perspective works. The audio is high quality, without echo or distortion and there’s no delay.
It eats up bandwidth, but it’s a long quicker to head across the city to have a meeting than to get on a plane. And hugely cheaper. AT&T’s telepresence network, using Cisco kit, is already so successful that people are having to book time in the meeting rooms well in advance.
“You used just to be able to turn up,” says a London executive of the company. “Now our room is full most of the time.”
It’s an effective symbol for the first topic of conversation — globalisation. “More and more customers are looking to deal with a partner which has scale on a global basis,” says Morrissey. And that also mean mobility. “That clearly is where we think customers are going to,” she adds. “We’ve seen it in the consumer space, but I think more and more the trend is that enterprise customers want to mobilise as many of their applications as they possibly can, so that their employees can be more productive.”
They need “information to make decisions at any time, anywhere they are in the world on any device they want to use”, says Morrissey. “We are really seeing a big focus on mobilising.”
AT&T has had a close relationship with Apple as the distributor of the iPhone for use on its US mobile network. That has given the telecoms group good visibility of what’s happening in the world of mobile applications — and she sees a trend towards a demand for apps for the enterprise market.
More than that, AT&T is planning to stimulate the business. In May 2010 it launched a division, within AT&T Business Solutions, to promote mobile applications for business.
“We’ve seen a lot of work going on on the consumer side but now we are really finding that enterprise customers are looking to us to say help us develop scalable applications as we mobilise our business,” she says.
The “whole purpose” of the new unit “is to hasten the development — how to get there quickly to market apps for the enterprise space”, she notes. “We’ve seen smarter devices coming out and faster networks. Enterprise is getting more comfortable in dealing in that space and mobilising their workforces.”
But it’s not just for conventional — but mobile — communications. “It can be anything from machine to machine to sensor management and energy management,” says Morrissey. “We think there is a big growth area in the health care space for remote monitoring of patients as we get smarter devices. So I think you will see us be very active in terms of developing apps for the enterprise space.”
Health, education and the public sector generally are part of Morrissey’s remit in the US and for US-based institutions when they need international services.
But the apps side will be global. “Our customers operate on a global basis so the apps will have to be global,” she says. The new unit will support high-end enterprise customers and smaller business customers that are looking for ways to mobilise their operations.
And it will be a partnership with other companies. “We definitely don’t believe that we are going to develop all the apps, but we are very much interested in partnering with apps developers,” says Morrissey. “It’s going to be agonistic to devices, I think you will see. We have other devices besides the iPhone.” AT&T has been offering BlackBerry devices and phones using Google’s Android operating system. “We really want customers to be able to access information any time they want through any device that they want, so that could be their PC that could be the iPad, it could be smart phones.”
A key part of the whole trend to mobility in large enterprise customers is, of course, cloud. Almost every senior executive in the industry is excited about the prospects in 2010, and Morrissey is no exception: she sees cloud as an extension of what AT&T is doing to help customers mobilise.
“We really see cloud services as an enabler for our customers to manage their application — whether it’s hosting services, whether it’s storage, whether it’s computing services — to make it easy for our customers to expand their solutions, their apps, their hosting capability.”
We’re in a world where customers’ capital expenditure is limited: cloud can help, by providing the storage, hosting or computing in the network. “We think we’re uniquely advantaged in this service because the global scale of our network.”
That enables customers to lower the cost of launching new services. “It’s a utility model, pay as you go.” Companies can install apps that need extra resources and “it is easily scalable”, she notes. “Customers have peaks in their business. If you build your data centre for the highest peak that may only happen for a month or two in the year — think of tax filings. You then use cloud services to make up for those peaks and valleys in your business.”
Pay as you go “is particularly attractive” because companies unsure about new services or apps can use cloud resources to test them out. “We are very excited about it.”
Some are wary about using resource out of the company. “Well there will always be customers that want to touch, feel, and hold,” she says. “But the economics of the environment that we’re in are forcing enterprises and small businesses to look for a simpler way to do it”, especially when they are capital constrained. “What we’re looking at is a hybrid environment for companies where they use partly their own infrastructure and then partly cloud based services as they get more used to it.”
And it’s no longer in a trial phase, says Morrissey. “It’s a real business for us. We have started services and have been steadily expanding those services. The cloud is a natural extension of mobilising apps — to put those apps in the network cloud. So we just think it is a continuation of our overall strategy and it is very interconnected.”
AT&T offers some of those apps to other operators in the telecoms business — including, for example, one that it developed internally for fleet management. “We run a lot of trucks out there.” The company has an app that helps it use fuel better and manage routes. “We have sold that in the US to a number of companies that also have large fleets — particularly in the telecom space.” As a result, “it has reduced accidents, it’s increased productivity, it’s increased fuel efficiency”, she adds.
“We are really bullish on the mobilisation and globalising. In the 30 years of being in telecom this is the most exciting time to be part of a large carrier organisation.”
There is a repositioning of carriers away from their “focus on traditional voice and data services”, she notes. “It is a really positive time to be running a global carrier.”
Which leads naturally back to the consultancy services that AT&T is starting to offer other carriers around the world.
“We are all seeing in this world that we live in the acceleration of solutions being brought to the marketplace — so if you look at a carrier that wants to get into triple play or to launch IPTV in their own market, whether that is the Middle East or India, we’ve obviously had a lot of learning as we have launched our own services over the last four years and built it to a scalable product.”
It is time, she adds, “to monetise some of those learnings”, some of the results of AT&T’s extensive research and development.
“We will provide consulting services to carriers that want to launch in the own markets so that they can take advantage of our learning. They can take advantage of some of the intellectual property and patents that we have developed.”
Sometimes AT&T sends its consultants to the customer country, “but we have just had a carrier that wanted to launch IPTV in its country. Instead of sending all our consultants to them, there’re going to come over here to the US and shadow our experts in the field,” says Morrissey.
This is “opening up a whole new type of consulting service” for AT&T. At the end of May 2010 “we announced that we were going to open up our intellectual property on a licensed basis to global carriers, so that they can take advantage of some of our innovation”, she says.
“We are looking to share some of our intellectual property in what we have developed in the wireless space,” she adds — but not just in wireless networks: “We run a large global network and we have developed management systems, security systems, monitoring and so on.” The results of that expertise too will be offered to other operators. At the launch, at the ITW conference in Washington DC, “the response — as we demonstrated what we were willing to do — was very well received. So that’s another next generation of services we are offering in the global wholesale space.”
Projects that AT&T will be involved in run “from early feasibility studies down to helping an operator design call centre applications, or providing assistance in terms of network, security issues or fraud issues. We will be taking advantage of a lot of the services AT&T has already developed.”
Does this mean that AT&T will be competing with traditional systems integrators, companies such as Accenture, HP or IBM? “No because we are very focused on network-only applications,” she says. “We’re not going into IT so there’s not a conflict with the systems integrators. And I also support the system integrators.”
In any case “we have a great partnerships with the likes of Accenture, IBM and HP” and IBM has outsources its network to AT&T. “We support not only their internal needs from a networking prospective, but also their outsourcing deals as the preferred network provider for them.”
The consulting work is a couple of years old now, but the willingness to offer the results of AT&T’s intellectual property was announced only at the end of May.
“It’s a nascent business for us, but it’s the opportunity to bring added value to customers, global carriers that may not be building up their infrastructure in their own country so are not necessarily competing against us,” she explains. And there’s the opportunity to earn revenue from the R&D that the group has invested in.
The prime market for this new business for AT&T is developing carriers in developing countries, she adds. New technologies such as IPTV or telepresence won’t be within their existing ability. “There is less need for the consulting services” in the US and other developed markets, confirms Morrissey.
It’s new business for AT&T at a time when some carriers are consolidating and people are starting to question the future of the traditional voice business. But then, smiles Morrissey over the telepresence network from New York, “we’ve been predicting forever that voice will be going away, whether it’s international voice or domestic voice, and everybody will go to VoIP”, but that hasn’t happened yet.
“We still have a strong TDM base, and I just don’t mean AT&T, I mean around the world of voice,” she says. “Obviously carriers like ourselves have deployed IP MPLS networks” and voice and other applications will move over to them, “and we will continue to see VoIP traffic growing”, but it’s hard to predict when TDM will fade away. “It’s years since they’ve been predicting its demise,” she notes.
Why is it lasting so long? “I think it’s so established. There are small players that haven’t deployed VoIP networks. There are a lot of wireless carriers that are still doing TDM as they’re really more focused on launching their data networks, and TDM’s working so they just want to let it keep progressing while they’re focused on other areas.”
Meanwhile that gives AT&T a great opportunity to offer the benefit of its development of new applications both to enterprises and to other carriers. GTB
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