Transcript for AT&T's Scott Velting Talks About Voice, Collaboration and AT&T Collaborate
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I am joined today by Scott Velting, cloud services executive for AT&T.
Scott, one of the big questions we have got in our industry is the definition of unified communications and collaboration. It seems like each vendor has a slightly different approach to that, not that it really makes a difference that there are different approaches, but I think to help us get grounded, give us your definition and then give us a little insight as to what AT&T is doing in this space.
Scott Velting: Jim, thanks for having me today. When we look at unified communications, it can be a nebulous term sometimes, but the way we look at it is, we know that our customers and end users are trying to do really some basic things. They are trying to connect with each other, with various audiences and that could be via voice and all that that entails, it could be through audio conferencing, web conferencing or video conferencing, instant messaging and presence. They may want to share documents with each other, so the ability to bring those experiences all together, using a common toolset; that’s how I loosely describe what we mean when we talk about unified communications. How do we enable end users to do all those things and to do it within a tool that can manage all those things and that allows our customers at AT&T to manage that environment for their employees or with their partners and vendors.
Jim Burton: That’s great, and by the way, I agree with your approach to that definition. One of the things that is kind of interesting – this whole marketplace is evolving. We’ve got people that add components to the solution across the board and then we have people that add much more in-depth solutions to that market. How do you see the marketplace for UCC and what kind of trends do you see emerging?
Scott Velting: I think the need to really drive to a truly unified type of solution, I think that need is escalating, escalating rapidly. We have come from an environment where the real promise of unified communications really has not been delivered upon by the industry, because people still use many different tools to accomplish those functions that I described. But I do see some trends that are really driving a need for a true unified solution. One obvious thing that all the employers are dealing with and experiencing is they are bringing on more and more of the younger generation, of the Millennial Generation, and that generation grew up very comfortable with tools that easily enable sharing and video conferencing and texting back and forth and that group of employees is very comfortable communicating in that fashion. As those individuals enter the workplace, companies are challenged with, “Hey, how do we support those employees in ways that they are comfortable communicating? How do we best do that?” I think that’s a key driver.
I think, also, as you see more and more companies developing applications that can be utilized in the workplace, and that’s driven by this explosion in software capabilities that we are seeing on many fronts. So, I think the applications are there, but I also think the network and the speed of the network and the ubiquity, meaning it’s available in many more locations at much higher speeds now than we’ve seen in the past, both on the mobility side as well as on the wireline side, I think those are probably three of the major drivers that are really pushing a growing interest in getting to a truly unified type of a solution.
Jim Burton: I think you have kind of answered my next question a little bit, but maybe you could dive a little bit deeper. What are the changes and the shifts that are driving UC&C?
Scott Velting: I think those three would probably qualify for that as being major drivers. I will tell you, other things that we are seeing at AT&T, trends that are emerging that we are responding to with our product portfolio and with our strategy. We’re seeing an escalating push from TDM or legacy voice services towards Voice Over IP. That has been going on for quite some time, but the trends we are seeing indicate that the pace of that change is just rapidly increasing. We are also seeing, like many others, we are seeing growing interests in customers who maybe traditionally have had a non-premise solution, where they’ve got a PBX or a key system onsite, and that houses all the features, to support their voice communications and maybe some of their conferencing communications. We are seeing growing interest in cloud-based services, obviously, and so that’s why you’re seeing an explosion in competition for the cloud-based services that support not just the voice and conferencing environments, but things we have mentioned a little earlier like the content sharing and instant messaging and presence and whatnot, as well as things like contact center.
So, we are seeing growing interest in the cloud-based services from that perspective and we are also seeing a rapidly changing perspective on how do people think about voice, which is traditionally AT&T’s bread and butter is in the voice space. Over the past several years, we are seeing that perspective changing where customers in the past may have thought about voice as kind of a “contained discussion,” (as in) “How do we solve for our voice solution?” More and more customers are saying, how do I solve not just for voice, but all those other capabilities that I mentioned… the IM&P, the conferencing, the content sharing? “How do we solve for all of that as an integrated solution or a unified solution?” So, that’s driving AT&T, as well as many of our competitors, to think differently about how we tackle those types of questions. We’ve got to think more broadly and we’ve got to make sure the solutions that are being brought to market address those needs.
Jim Burton: I could not agree more. It’s really interesting if you think about just your title, being a cloud services executive, the impact that the cloud is having on the market. I would like to stick on that subject a little bit more. What are you seeing in the marketplace as far as what is the impact that cloud solutions are having because, as you pointed out, it used to be a CTE-based solution, now everything is moving to the cloud. What kind of feedback are you getting from your customers and where do you see them headed? What are they really looking for in solving, using a cloud solution versus the old traditional approach?
Scott Velting: I think one thing that we hear consistently is they like the ability to plan in a more stable manner. Meaning, it is an OPEX-based model, something they pay for on a recurring basis each month. They pretty much know what their monthly charges are going to be and they can plan for it, so there is some stability in that, as opposed to with the on-prem model where there are capital investments to be made in equipment. There is the ongoing maintenance, the upgrades to that equipment and that drives, of course, the need for internal resources to support all that. I would say that is one aspect, it is the OPEX model that the cloud solutions are more amenable to. That is one thing our customers like.
I think another thing they really like is the flexibility; the flexibility to take advantage of this explosion in services that are now out there in the marketplace. They like being able to, based on their own individual unique needs in the businesses that we sell to, they like to be able to pick and choose from the applications that best meet their needs and support their businesses and support their employees. So, I think the cloud brings with it some of that flexibility and then, related to that point, they like the fact that they can utilize some of those applications and really deliver to their employees an integrated solution more easily than they could with the on-prem model. What I am getting at there is really the ability to take maybe some existing workflows that our customers’ employees may be dealing with on a day-to-day basis in terms of how they interact or the things that they do, the tasks that they do. But then being able to integrate the experience of plugging in a click-to-call capability, for example. So if an employee is in a certain application, a certain tool all day long, they can stay in that application and they can call their contacts easily or they may get pop-ups as to who is calling them. It just makes that employee more productive, it makes the workflows more efficient, and again, I think the cloud services that we are seeing enable that type of an activity for our customers’ employees.
Jim Burton: In Enterprise Connect this year, early part of March, AT&T unveiled a new service called AT&T Collaborate. Could you talk about that a little bit?
Scott Velting: AT&T collaborate, simply stated, it’s AT&Ts, I won’t say it’s our first step, but it’s a new step in a little different direction for us in terms of enabling a cloud PBX-type of a solution, but it’s not just PBX. It’s really a cloud UC solution because it has the voice and all of the voice features associated with it, enterprise-grade voice, enterprise-grade features. It also has the audio video web conferencing capabilities, desktop sharing or content sharing, instant messaging and presence. It’s got all those capabilities wrapped into it, but another thing that’s unique about it is a lot of us have heard the press about where AT&T is headed with our network. The fact that we are investing heavily in software-defined networking, network functionalization, and so the AT&T Collaborate platform was built in a manner that is consistent with that and so we built it into a virtualized environment. Many of the components are virtualized, we housed it in the AT&T cloud, we made a strategic choice not to outsource that. We wanted to have it in our cloud and control that environment and control the orchestration for the service within that environment. So that was a pretty significant step for us.
Real simply, if we look at AT&T Collaborate as a product, what is it to the potential customer? You can think of it as, again I mentioned it is a cloud service, but we sell it in four different main seat types. Our customers can by AT&T Collaborate with the basic voice seat, so if they are simply looking to go from a TDM voice environment and they want to get into the Voice Over IP game, they can buy that basic voice seat which comes with not just voice features, but we also provide a mobile client as part of that basic voice seat. We’ve also got an enhanced voice seat type or it’s really, think of it as a feature bundle that gets tacked on top of that basic voice seat, and that’s for customers that really need to enable more receptionist types of capabilities and feature sets. The ability to park calls and transfer calls, a little bit more dynamically. They can also track calls by department, give certain access codes to individuals. So that’s a bundle that would be tacked onto that basic voice seat. But, we’ve also got a full-blown communications bundle that, again, would get added to that basic seat, so it is an add-on to that basic seat. But, that is where you get that full-blown audio video web conferencing, instant messaging and presence, as well as the content sharing capability. And then we also have a contact center bundle that would get attached to that basic voice seat for customers that want that. Think of that really as… it’s not a highly robust contact center requirement because AT&T has a full portfolio of contact center solutions for customers that have more robust needs, but think of this as a contact center solution for customers that have some more basic needs, some basic reporting and analytics, but they can enable a group of internal users with contact center capabilities very easily. So, that in a semi nutshell, is basically what AT&T Collaborate is.
Jim Burton: Well that explains a lot. Let’s dig just a little bit deeper. How is this product made available and how are customers implementing and using it?
Scott Velting: First of all, it’s important just to be aware that we are positioning AT&T Collaborate for really almost any size customer, from small to large. It’s available right now in the domestic U.S., so that’s where we are starting. We actually launched the product, I don’t think I mentioned that before, but we actually launched the product shortly after the Enterprise Connect announcement. As of the end of April, we have had the product in market, but then again it’s U.S. domestic for now. We do have plans to bring it globally, but what we are seeing right now in terms of the response, the response has been tremendous; a lot of interest, a lot of feedback. We are seeing really interesting use cases with larger customers and I will just use as an example, in the retail space. Customers who have maybe many locations, they have got a small number of users at those locations and in the early examples that we have seen in those types of situations, they are really interested in going from a Legacy TDM voice environment to get into the Voice Over IP game. And then they are interested in some of the unified communications capabilities using some of the video capabilities. For example, for walking around the store and showing merchandise to customers or maybe contacting another store if they are out of stock and they want to do a quick video conference or contact another store to rectify that situation for a customer. We are seeing interesting use cases like that play out, but we are also seeing smaller customers, single-site customers or maybe a couple of sites where maybe they are highly tech-savvy and they want to get into the full-blown unified communications environment and tap into some third-party applications like Google Apps. Maybe they want to integrate it with Microsoft Skype for Business for example, because that is one thing about AT&T Collaborate that is very powerful is the ability to do that type of integration. And so if a customer loves Skype for Business and they want their employees using that all day, that’s fine, we can still sell into that environment and have AT&T Collaborate provide the voice and the voice feature capabilities, maybe even the audio conferencing capabilities in that type of a scenario.
So, we are seeing a mix. We are seeing different size customers express interest, but those are a couple of the early use cases that seem to be getting a lot of traction.
Jim Burton: That’s actually very exciting. It’s interesting, you can almost understand the incredible return-on-investment that people will be getting because of the value that you are adding to this type of solution and the pieces that you are providing.
So, I have one last question for you. AT&T has such a broad product portfolio and this clearly is an important part of it, but how does it fit in overall to the portfolio and is there an impact it’s going to have on other components in the existing portfolio and maybe even a little bit about how you might see the portfolio evolve.
Scott Velting: That’s a great question. So, first of all, we want to make sure AT&T’s portfolio is positioned to address any type of customer regardless of what their preferred deployment model is. Meaning, do they want it on prem, do they want to be in the cloud, do they want a hybrid type of scenario or maybe a hosted type of solution, a data center hosted type of solution? We want to be able to address any type of deployment model the customer may be interested in and if they have a preference for a certain vendor. There are customers that love Cisco, for example. We want to be in position to support that need as well, but then bring to bear the AT&T network and resources and all of our network integration services to make that customer successful as well. So, to your question: where does AT&T Collaborate fit in the mix? Well, AT&T Collaborate, that’s intended to be our lead offer, as it begins to scale here, it will evolve to be our lead offer in the cloud space. So, if a customer wants to go to a shared cloud environment with a very powerful solution, AT&T Collaborate will be our lead offer in that space.
That said, we also do a lot of work, and I mentioned Cisco just a minute ago, we do a lot of work with Cisco and we have got a solution in our portfolio, if customers need a more robust solution, than maybe AT&T Collaborate can initially deliver and maybe they are a strong Cisco shop, we’ve got products in the portfolio to address that type of a customer as well.
We have also got products in our portfolio that can address those customers who like the on-prem PBX, maybe they love it or it has not fully depreciated and they want to maintain an on-prem solution. We have got SIP trunking products in our portfolio, our IP Flexible Reach products, we’ve got an IP Toll-Free product offering and I mentioned this earlier, but we have also got a portfolio of contact center solutions for customers who have robust contact center needs. We kind of hit the spectrum across what customers may be looking for in the voice and collaboration space, but the sweet spot for Collaborate is really in that shared cloud environment. Customers who want to take advantage of all the features, capabilities of third-party applications that are inherent with that solution.
Jim Burton: I have got to tell you, one of the most important things I think I have heard you say, besides the exciting features and capabilities, is really the fact that your objective is to give the customer what they want. So, if they want to work, in the two example you give, if they want to work with Skype for Business you will work with them to do that, if they want to work with Cisco, you will work with them to do that and work with them to help integrate into whatever business process they might have. It seems today, that while we have got all these opportunities with different features and functions and capabilities that different vendors are providing, tying it all together ends up being the challenge that you’ve got and, of course, that is the best of all worlds: grab the features and functions from one vendor that might serve your purposes best and working with another vendor. So, I applaud you on that.
Scott Velting: Thank you, Jim. That is one benefit that, I think, we bring at AT&T is we have got such a broad network, such broad reach, we’ve invested heavily in the core of our network, our MPLS network, as well as our mobility network, and we bring those resources to bear. Years of experience dealing with enterprise-grade, real-time communications over public networks, we bring all that to bear and then, to your point, we know we need to meet customers where they are at and deliver the solutions that they are looking for. That is why we have such a broad portfolio and we spend so much energy on it.
Jim Burton: Well that’s great. Scott, thank you so much for your time today. I think this is a lot of valuable information to help those that are listening to understand better that AT&T offer and how you fit with your new cloud services and your AT&T Collaborate solution.
Scott Velting: Jim, thanks for having me.