Transcript for The Year of Mobile Collaboration: What to Expect in 2016, According to AT&T
Jim Barton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I’m joined today by Vishy Gopalakrishnan. Vishy is Assistant Vice President of Collaboration Solutions at AT&T. Vishy and I have had a conversation preparing for this podcast, and in that conversation we discussed the fact that our topic, which is going to be about mobility and collaboration and what to expect coming in 2016.
There’s a lot of talk about the technology, and quite frankly, that’s in some respects, the least important. Yes, technology is important. Yes, we’ve got to make it work. But what we’re really looking for is, “what is it that’s going to help make people more productive and more useful, and how does this all work?” Part of this conversation we’re really talking about the workforce itself and the culture and all of that.
So, Vishy, I want to open it up. We’ll skip over the technology issues, because AT&T clearly has got the technology issues down. I’m an AT&T customer. All my friends are AT&T customers. We use you for collaboration all the time. So you understand the technology. You’ve been there for years and years and years providing technology to everyone. Let’s jump into the use cases and how these things are twisting, and the things that we should be looking forward to expecting and how our industry is going to shift. Vishy, welcome, and I threw out a whole lot to get you started, so I’ll let you get started and we’ll continue this.
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: Alright. Thank you, Jim. Thanks for having me, and thank you for being an A&T customer. As you said, Jim, AT&T has been in the collaboration business for almost 138 years; from the time that Alexander Graham Bell called out to Mr. Watson. Ever since, what we’ve been looking at is different ways to enhance collaboration, figure out ways to make it frictionless, make it easy to consume, and I think especially for some of our largest global customers, how do we make it available at scale, reliably and securely?
As you touched in the preamble to the broadcast, most definitely the technology components, when you look at collaboration and UC, those are important, there’s obviously some pretty dramatic changes going on on the technology landscape in terms of how the historically disparate technology stacks around voice and IM & presence and web and audio and video are coalescing, but I think as that is happening I think a couple of things are happening at the same time.
One is the fact that more and more of these capabilities are expected to be consumed and our customers expect to consume them in a mobile-first fashion, with the kind of ubiquity of mobile devices, whether they are smart phones or tablets or devices like the Microsoft Surface or the iPad Pro, the fact that customers just expect these experiences to be delivered mobile-first, given the amount of time all of us spend with our mobile devices, and kind of the instantaneous nature of interactions that people expect from mobile.
I think, secondly which you touched on again, is the demographic element of what this means. At AT&T one of the things that we look at is as every incoming cohort of college graduates comes into whether it’s AT&T or work for our customers, those workforces for them sharing is the default. What they expect that is that not necessarily that they get to use Instagram and Snap Chat at work, so it’s not necessarily about the tool itself but what the tool means in terms of sharing, whether it’s sharing information, sharing tips, guidelines or just collaborating in general, and the fact that what these workforces increasingly are going to expect is that the collaboration needs to be frictionless.
Regardless of what I want to do, when I want to do it, regardless of what plane of glass I want to collaborate via, the technology is not going to rear its ugly head or come in the way of doing that. Then more importantly, that the culture that has to allow for that kind of frictionless collaboration will be there, because what ends up happening, when organizations become more collaborative, there is a market increase in the level of transparency that comes along with it. Then the question becomes, as more and more people expect more collaboration, increased transparency, are you ready for that level of transparency? So, we believe that this may not be something that you as an organization, as an IT organization, look at immediately, but it’s something that you need to factor in as you look to evaluate technologies that you deploy for collaboration.
Jim Burton: I think that’s a very good point, well multiple points. One thing, I actually have a document that you had written, that I found very interesting, and we will make sure that’s available on our podcast so people can read it. But, one of the comments you’re talking about and kind of looking at what’s going to happen in the next year, video will be the new voice. I have certainly found that more and more of my interactions, which used to be simple voice calls, one on one voice calls even, and certainly my meeting calls, are turning from simple voice into video. Let me get your insights on that as well.
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: Absolutely. At AT&T we’ve been lucky enough to participate, as I said, in the collaboration space for a long period of time. But I think, if you remember back when AT&T and Cisco started the telepresence market back in the circa 2007 timeframe, or so, there was a lot of expectation of what telepresence meant, and I think it was pretty revolutionary when it came out, but I think we are at the point where, in keeping with broader trends, around cloud and software stacks, that allow you to do things previously only custom hardware could do. What that opens up is the ability to completely democratize video. Gone are the days when for you to participate in a video conference you had to be in a specific place, secure a specific room, and hopefully on the other end, the other party or parties who wanted to indulge in a video-collaboration session had compactible video equipment. There was a whole series of constrains that you had to overcome to participate in what would admittedly be a high-fidelity immersion kind of video experience.
Then you fast-forward to today where most of the devices that we carry around in our pockets and our bags have amazing two-way cameras which are pretty good for, as you mentioned, in terms of just doing one-on-one calls. We see that happening across our customer base. Whether it’s for your team meetings that all of a sudden, instead of just being a pure audio or an audio and web conference, now becomes full-blown video conferences.
With video you have much deeper engagement. On audio or web conferences where, I don’t know if there’s any scientific research, but how many people are multi-tasking and actually paying attention to what you say, versus if you are in a video session, whether it’s one or one or a big team meeting, you’re on video and you’re engaged. I think that kind of engagement drives better discussions, better outcomes, etc. I think we see this trend growing more and more. We have a lot of our folks use, at AT&T, video for pervasive video, video that you can do from your laptops, your tablets, etc., in conversations with our customers. We see a lot of our customers use it to engage with the perspective suppliers, partners, as I said, potential candidates, and I think it provides a very different level of intimacy that is very difficult to do.
Some of our executives who travel quite a bit, they are typically used to doing video meetings, but when they travel and they’re in a place where they can’t get access to a “video room,” they are now able to have video meetings from their tablet devices. So have the same level of engagement, even when you’re out and about and traveling.
Jim Burton: You bring up a really important point; I agree with everything you said about this whole video market and how it’s evolving, but one of the things you talk about as people are traveling, we are living in such a global economy, and I know that AT&T has a lot of big, global accounts. How is this working in a global market and making it at a global scale? How are you able to address that market?
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: We’ve had, if you start with our telepresence solution that we’ve had, it’s been globally available in about 60 countries. The way we’ve set it up is that the video bridging, especially on the telepresence side, has been available in about 45 countries or so for the last several years. That allows us to manage that kind of immersive video. The second thing we’ve done, well I’ll just stay on the telepresence side for a second, with Jabber guest, we are now able to actually even allow folks who have the Jabber client to be able to join into a telepresence meeting without necessarily having to be in a telepresence room or by a telepresence endpoint, and for those customers who have a strong Cisco preference, we partner with Cisco and we’ve actually worked with them. We’ve been a WebX partner and a Web XCMR partner, so that allows us to now kind of extend the reach of that kind of Cisco video to anybody, any of our customers who have either a laptop or smart phone or a tablet and use CMR or WebX to actually get into a telepresence room.
Jim Burton: So you’ve mentioned Cisco multiple times. Do you have a relationship with Microsoft?
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. We’ve been partners with Microsoft for a long time. We’ve been doing quite of a bit of work with them on both fronts. One is around the Lync/Skype for Business, the server version, where customers turn to us and look to us to host their Lync/Skype for Business server in our global data center footprint and actually manage that end-to-end for them as a managed service.
We’ve also been working with Microsoft on the Office 365 flavor of Lync/Skype for Business. We’ve been reselling that in different parts of the market for quite some time now.
Jim Burton: One of the things that I find fascinating about our industry, the promise of Unified Communications was to integrate the silos of communications, or to unify the silos of communications, so we could we click to communicate. We’ve certainly come a long way. How do you see the collaboration today becoming a little bit more frictionless and how you might work with the various tools and things? We know that has been something that has slowed down user adoption, but I think we’re making pretty good progress. Where is AT&T on this?
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: I think at AT&T what we do is we realize that there is a tremendous amount of innovation going on across the industry itself. We obviously look to work with some technology providers who provide a significant portion of these capabilities. Then where we can meaningfully integrate with some of our core network services that are required to make UC & collaboration happen, like SIP trunking, VPN, audio-conferencing, etc., that’s where we partner with these companies.
For us, at AT&T, when we look at where collaboration needs to go and what can help improve the experience, I don’t think there are too many surprises. I think number one, those experiences that are designed to be mobile first, I think those have a much better shot of winning.
I think, number two, those experiences around UC that recognize that, when you can make the act of collaboration as seamlessly imbedded into a business process, so collaboration doesn’t have to involve a conscious attempt by somebody to actually step out of what they’re doing and then initiate some piece of collaboration, I think that always is going to help.
I think the third piece we’re finding more and more is those experiences that for an enterprise IT organization come with operational simplicity, so whether it’s in the form of ready minimal to no on-premise installs required, it kind of just overall simplifies the operational issues that come with these kinds of fundamental transformations that happen. I think that’s what it is.
I think the second piece that I mentioned in terms of those experiences that can deeply embed themselves into a business process. What do I mean by that? Today, when you have to do a video conference, it’s a separate action you take. I call or I initiate a video session but the reality is what you discuss or talk about, the content that gets shared; that particular snapshot of that collaboration activity…what happens to it when that call ends? How do you make sure that the next time you have a meeting with that same person, how does the context or that collaboration stay persistent across the fact that, say, you and I talk over a video call today, and a week later we talk again…how do we, in some sense, “pick up where we left off?”
Today most of that is in disparate places. Your entry points…”here’s a document, I took some meeting minutes, I’ll send it to you by email.” Then we get on a video call and what happens? “Hey, Vishy, do you have the action items from the last call?” That kind of a prosaic example, but that’s what we spend a lot of time on. To the extent that some of these things can persist, whether it’s the notion of a workshop room that persists across collaboration, that can actually embed the right context, the documents, the notes, the PDFs, etc. that got shared, that are available as you progress. Then, all of a sudden, now you are talking about a very different level of experience for employees when they think of collaboration.
Jim Burton: I agree, and I think, quite frankly, that’s kind of the next step in communications is how you have that information available when you need it. It’s persistent. It’s there, so when you’re entering into a call, all the information about the last conversation you had with this person or with this group is served up to you and you can pull up whatever it is you want. Of course we know that there are a number of your partner vendors that are working on those technologies. I think that’s a lot of what we’re going to see and be excited about in 2016.
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: Completely agree.
Jim Burton: Vishy, we’ve talked about a lot of really good stuff and some great progress that’s been made in the state of the industry, but what’s next?
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: I think AT&T, if you’ve been following the work we’re been doing broadly as an organization, our go-forward strategy has three pillars. Our belief is that, (a) in the future with AT&T the network is on-demand, which means we are differentiating what’s happening broadly in the market around software defined networking, network function virtualization, to make network capabilities on demand. Number two, we believe that with AT&T your cloud is going to be secure because we see more and more customers leveraging capabilities in the Cloud; and number three, what we also firmly believe is that the office is mobile.
When we say that the office is mobile, that actually touches on a lot of the things that we just talked about. All of the different things that are required to help you be productive, regardless of where you are, regardless of what kind of pane of glass you’re looking at, but that your office literally follows you. So you don’t have to make a conscious decision that “now I’m in the office,” “now I’m out of the office,” and there’s never a discrepancy between what tooling, what capabilities you have. But you are physically in what you call “your office location” versus when you’re not.
Jim Burton: It’s an exciting future for all of us. I know that AT&T has a blog, the Networking Exchange blog, which has got a lot of great information. So, we’ll put a link on that so that people that listen to this podcast, if they want more information, they can go to it.
Vishy, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been very enlightening, and it’s exciting. It’s exciting to see how AT&T continues to be a market leader and keeps up with the changes in our fast-paced growing industry. So thanks again for your time today.
Vishy Gopalakrishnan: Thank you, Jim.