In this Executive Insights podcast, UCStrategies’ Jim Burton is joined by Rich Shaw, VP of Voice and Collaboration Services at AT&T. Topics include an update on AT&T’s cloud products and services, including AT&T Collaborate, AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx, IP Flex, and AT&T’s Netbond service.
Transcript for Rich Shaw of AT&T Discusses Strategy for Delivering Differentiated Solutions in the Market
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I'm joined today by Rich Shaw, VP of Voice and Collaboration Services at AT&T. Rich, a couple of weeks ago, I had the fortunate opportunity to spend some time with Scott Velting from your team and we talked a little bit about what AT&T is doing in the voice and collaboration market. I'm wondering if there are any changes that you could share with us. I'm not trying to pull out NDA-type of information or things that you'll be announcing later, but anything that you can share with us that's an update since my conversation with Scott.
Rich Shaw: Sure, thank you, Jim, and I appreciate the chance to speak with you today. We have been investing in a lot of new features and capabilities that we think are really important to our customers as they're working with voice and collaboration services within their businesses. We've made a number of investments; one of the areas that we've invested in is we've taken our IP Flex product, which is a SIP trunking service. We've integrated it in with our AT&T Network-on-Demand capability. We think this is really an interesting combination to give our customers much more control over adding and growing the bandwidth that they use, and can give them a lot of flexibility as they're integrating our IP Flex services overall into their data network needs. That's one area we've invested in; we've also focused quite a bit on our IP toll free services. We're seeing a lot of customers wanting to move and migrate.
We made a couple of changes, one in particular that we think will be really helpful for our large outsourcing companies, we've created some shared use capabilities. They can have a common infrastructure, yet more easily be able to hand off toll free numbers between customers that they're working for in an outsourcing type of environment, so we've invested there. We've expanded our AT&T U-Verse, which is our small end broadband plus voice bundle that we put together, and we've added capabilities there to increase the number of lines. We now have one to six lines that we offer for those customers. That's yet another thing that we've done in the voice world.
In our collaboration space, we've taken some steps to integrate in the AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx product that we have, and we've tied it into our NetBond service. Essentially, our NetBond service is set up such that once you're NetBonded with AT&T, you can begin to get access pretty instantly to all the different services that are part of that portfolio. AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx is one of those, so if customers are looking to add conferencing quickly, this would be a way to do that within their business. We're also launching AT&T Collaborate, which is our flagship product that we're bringing to the marketplace. We've done some work with Cisco to really join together the Cisco-hosted solution from AT&T, along with our AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx. So, lots and lots of work that we've had in place and we're excited about some of those new features and capabilities that we're bringing into the market.
Jim: Well, you're not the only people who offer Cisco WebEx, and AT&T is known for their ability to help differentiate their offerings compared to some of your competitors. Is there anything you're doing differently with Cisco's WebEx?
Rich: Yeah, Jim, we are. As you know, we have a very robust global audio platform that we've had in place that delivers high-quality audio conferencing worldwide. What we've done is we've actually taken that platform and bonded it with Cisco WebEx, to create a unique product in the marketplace, AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx. It really enables our customers to continue to use or get access to the high-quality audio conferencing that they're used to, while layering in the capabilities from Cisco for desktop sharing, video conferencing, et cetera. So, we're really excited about that as a unique capability. So far, we've had a lot of success and interest from our business customers in wanting to utilize that capability.
Jim: You also mentioned your new product, AT&T Collaborate. I understand that's an over-the-top service. You might describe what an over-the-top service is for those people who may not quite understand that, and why that's important to customers.
Rich: Increasingly, our customers tell us that they're looking for flexibility. They're looking for flexibility in how they connect and looking for more options in connecting to AT&T services. As an over-the-top type of service, over-the-top really means you can use it in anyone's infrastructure. We'd like you to use AT&T internet service or AT&T VPN service, but if you happen to have other infrastructure in place, you can leave it there and utilize our AT&T Collaborate as an over-the-top service. That's the approach that we're using and we really think that gives people a lot of flexibility.
Jim: AT&T Collaborate is a pretty feature-rich service and I'm sure there's just a lot of customer use cases, but could you just give us some examples of how some customers are using the service?
Rich: What our customers are doing, as I spend time with a lot of our clients, they're asking a couple of key questions. They're trying to figure out, "How can I communicate and connect better to my employees? How can I connect better to my customers? How can I connect better to other companies and partners that we're working with?" It's really trying to take a mix of standard voice capabilities, being able to add in PBX services, presence, instant messaging, web audio and video conferencing to really create a unique way to collaborate.
I recently had a discussion with a CEO of a marketing firm and he was trying to find a way – they do a lot of creative work for Fortune 100 companies and he has a creative team that's located all over the United States – and he was really looking for a way to bring his team together every morning so they could spend some time brainstorming on new concepts and creative ideas. He was looking for a way to be able to have his colleagues share their output from the prior day's work, and really do it in a way that was much more media-rich than just a voice type of conference call. This is a capability and a way that we're seeing customers embrace as a way to operate differently and move from just a standard voice type of discussion into something that’s much richer.
Jim: Yeah, I see that all the time. Speaking of customers, when I talked to enterprise customers, they typically have two concerns about moving to the cloud. The first one is security; they really want to understand how they can have good security because they look at this as being an open environment, there's a pipe going from their facility to a cloud solution. What makes your portfolio highly secure?
Rich: What we've done, and we think a lot about security in everything that we do, it's important to us and it's very important to our customers. We've actually taken some steps, all the voice services that we carry via AT&T Collaborate are encrypted. So, when you're traversing, especially as an over-the-top service, that's important. If you're on a broadband connection at home, in a public space, the voice connection is encrypted to give you a higher level of security as you're working in this environment. I think the other thing that we've done is that we work closely with our NetBond capabilities as well, so if you want to begin to bring things on Net into a VPN type of infrastructure, our NetBond capabilities enable you to quickly hop on and get into a VPN environment, which also brings a greater level of security to that voice discussion.
Jim: I think the good news for AT&T is that you've got a reputation of being concerned about those types of issues and I think it's important for people to understand that you've worked hard on this one to address that security issue.
How is NetBond services available? Is it an over-the-top service and can anyone have it? Can you give us a little explanation about that service?
Rich: Sure. Our NetBond service is actually attached to AT&T's VPN service, so you would need to be an AT&T VPN customer to utilize NetBond. Essentially, if you think about a VPN connecting multiple locations together, the NetBond connection is essentially a portal into a broad suite of other services that you could begin to utilize within your AT&T VPN network, such as the AT&T conferencing service from Cisco WebEx.
Jim: Is NetBond available for other services?
Rich: It is. Once you have a NetBond connection, then you can activate services from any other company that's part of the AT&T NetBond infrastructure and ecosystem. A couple of other companies, as an example, Box, which is a highly secure storage services company, is part of that network. Many people use Salesorce.com and they can NetBond directly into Salesforce.com over their AT&T VPN service. There are a number of other services that you can activate by having a NetBond service.
Jim: The other issue that seems to come up all the time, and there's two parts to it, it's basically people have an asset in an existing TDM telephone type of infrastructure. It's either an asset that still works, even though they may have gone through "sweating" that asset, so to speak, they've gone through a depreciation cycle, or maybe they haven't quite gone through a depreciation cycle yet and they're still trying to figure out, "How can I move to new cloud products and services?" So, have you got anything to help customers preserve those existing investments?
Rich: Yeah, I get that question a lot from CIOs who have really talked about the investments that they've made. They may have infrastructure that they've deployed to their office locations, they've all embraced smartphones and have those with their employees. They may use some web and audio conferencing kind of capabilities. One of the challenges in all of those investments that they've run into is that they may not interconnect or work as well together. They're trying to find a way to step forward without having to go all the way back to the beginning and get rid of that infrastructure. With our services, especially with AT&T Connect, I think being over-the-top helps enable the re-use of existing hardware or pieces of the inventory or assets that you'd like to reuse and carry forward.
I think one of the other interesting things, you mentioned sweating assets and business sweating assets, I think that’s something that we're all trying to do, use it as long as we can and then move it out. Tying back to the security discussion earlier, increasingly, security is a reason why you can no longer sweat an asset. If you have something that’s end of life, end of support, you will oftentimes find independent auditors that companies are bringing in to help shore up and look specifically at their security, calling out the fact that if you have something end of life, end of support, and it's hardware-based, it's very difficult to be able to quickly tear out that infrastructure and drop in something that would be more secure. By mingling in elements of cloud, mingling in elements of encrypted voice communications, we think we're really offering a pathway to get companies to objectively look at the infrastructure that they have in place and then take thoughtful, meaningful steps forward to utilize that, bring it up to the standards that they're looking to have, both for voice and collaboration features as well as security, and let them do it in a very thoughtful way.
Jim: In prepping for this call, you and I had a little bit of a conversation. I wanted to kind of lead in that direction. We were talking about one of the things AT&T is doing is they are investing heavily in changing the portfolio and trying to come up with products and services that are leading the customer and helping them move not only to the cloud but into much better collaboration services. Do you have any specific examples of those types of products and services that you're adding to your portfolio?
Rich: What we're doing is, we've invested a great deal in our portfolio. AT&T Collaborate is our flagship offer that we're using and we think it can work in a number of ways for our customers. If they're looking for a very simple solution, a cloud-based PBX with IP voice services associated, they can use it in that fashion. Similarly, if they want to utilize presence, instant messaging and all of the conferencing services, web, audio, video with it, they've got the ability to do that, too. We think that, as a flagship offer, is something that can really help our customers transform.
We also know that we have a lot of customers who, when we look at some of the market leaders out there, Cisco is a company that has a great deal of market share, and we have a lot of companies that have standardized on Cisco. They're also asking themselves the same questions, "How can I take the assets that I have and maybe move away from premises-based solutions and move those into the cloud?" So we've created a family of services around our Cisco host, it's really a Cisco-hosted solution from AT&T that will really take the call manager functions, put those in the cloud, simplify that for our customers, and really use it as a way to transform. By interconnecting it into the AT&T conferencing with Cisco WebEx, we can really bring that entire suite of both desktop and collaboration services to our customers in order to go forward. We've had a couple of multi-national companies that have reacted very favorably and are in the process of now implementing that type of solution. We think by really looking carefully at the market, we've come up with some different ways that customers can evaluate their assets and very concretely step forward with our services.
Jim: Well, Rich, thank you so much for your time. It's been very enlightening. It sounds like AT&T has got some really good offers on the table that customers should be really excited about. Again, thanks for your time.
Rich: Thank you very much.