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Q&A: AT&T drives enterprise mobility with innovation centers, apps focus


Connected Planet spoke to Chris Hill, vice president of advanced enterprise mobility solutions at AT&T, about how the role carriers must play in helping enterprises realize their mobile strategies. Not surprisingly, AT&T is strongly focused on this area, which includes solutions such as mobile enterprise application platforms, machine-to-machine communications, connected device management, and more.

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To help drive such initiatives, AT&T will soon unveil innovation centers in key locations around the world to provide a place for developers to collaborate with AT&T and its host suppliers and other developers.

Connected Planet: What are the challenges enterprises will encounter this year and how will service providers play an important role?

Chris Hill: Enterprises have to re-write the way they do business. They can’t put things together fast enough because of the explosion in the number of operating systems and devices entering their organizations. They struggle to keep up with the design of native applications for different mobile operating systems, device types and screen sizes (iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, ets.), and they know that their applications have to look and perform consistently—regardless of form factor.

More and more, enterprise customers in different verticals struggle to figure out wireless and mobility for their industries, and to see the full potential of a fully connected enterprise.

Since last year, we see an uptick in how many lines of business are driving the enterprise to look closely at mobile enterprise applications and device management. They need help designing applications on certain platforms and allowing middleware to handle the operating systems and device abstractions, as well as leveraging pre-built adapters to ERP and back-end systems.

Connected Planet: Why do you think enterprises would turn to AT&T rather than large IT firms, SIs and professional services firms?

Chris Hill: In surveys we’ve conducted, we found that greater than 50 percent of CIOs trust their communications service provider to help develop their strategies in their mobile environments. Rather than turn to big IT firms, enterprises would rather leave mobile systems integration to a trusted provider possessing a breadth of assets, such as MPLS networks, VPNs, cloud solutions, compute power, storage, and so on. The point solutions today will evolve into larger, integrated solutions that take advantage of the amassed assets in carrier environments. It is the carriers that can help them, as they realize that what is up and coming is far different than anything they encountered with previous wired or enterprise application environments.

When you think of the “art of the possible,” this all becomes very exciting for us because enterprises are thinking about how their assets can talk and communicate with different components of the supply chain. Something seemingly simple like a vending machine can now have applications that tell the supply chain when a certain flavor of soda has run out, as well as indicate to consumers a route to another nearby machine with that flavor. For that to happen, there are business processes, devices and enterprise applications to build and manage—all of which fall under our realm of expertise, as we have experience in each of those facets, as well as deep expertise in vertical and horizontal capabilities. If you look at what we can do with device management and mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAP), there are so many possibilities of how we can help.

Connected Planet: So what is AT&T’s vision for this year to help enterprises take advantage of such opportunities?

Chris Hill: To play a primary role, we will focus on managed mobility services, machine-to-machine and the development of mobile apps. We will be bringing best-of-breed solutions into our portfolio so we can become the primary provider of the broadest set of platforms possible. We want our enterprise customers to have a variety from which to choose. For example, we have about 36 prepackaged solutions for horizontal and vertical capabilities already, and we will continue to grow that as we look at advanced mobility and those capabilities residing above the network and device layers (e.g., platform elements like middleware, mobile device management, MEAP, and suites of growing network and service enablers like network location services through APIs that integrate into app platforms or that dip into enterprise apps).

Connected Planet: What will the areas of differentiation be?

Chris Hill: We will build a runway for releases and portfolio pieces in three critical areas:

- Mobile applications and platforms for resale—where we prepackage, test and certify solutions for enterprises, making them available for a low cost through SaaS models we develop with ISVs proven in certain market segments (for example, workforce management, location-based services for electronic forms and dispatch, fleet tracking with dispatch capabilities and re-routing; asset tracking of non-mobile assets, as with magnetized motion sensors that tell the location of valuable equipment.

Because the device, network and applications all have to work nicely together, we can go a step beyond the packages and offer differentiated services, such as first-level call support when issues come in around performance, software, devices, and so on. We can devise differentiated levels of care for troubleshooting and help-desk functions in supporting customers.

Like I said earlier, we already have dozens or so prepackaged solutions for horizontal and vertical capabilities. For example, in fleet management, we have about seven ISVs that handle different facets, such as school bus, truck loads, and so on.

- Configured solutions and professional services—useful for larger customers dealing with proprietary applications that they develop and have to integrate into back-end systems. If they have to, for example, integrate a unique form factor (e.g., ruggedized tablets) into a mobile apps platform, we can help them connect to their back-end systems.

Professional services are something we can ramp up because of our acquisition of mobile SI firm inCompass, which will help us build our role in the configured app space, as well as M2M, where end-to-end network-centric solutions are needed.

We can also help enterprises with the repurposing of data and telematics. For example, for 12 years we’ve connected vehicles for diagnostics (as with Onstar services), but now we can work with customers to take that same data and repurpose it (using MEAP platforms) for business-to-consumer apps. So using telematics connectivity, all electric vehicles can be “OEMed” (for consumer apps (such as checking battery level, door lock and unlock) that can be downloaded from app stores.

- SDKs for enterprise IT departments, developers (as well as ISVs and SIs)—where we take in those platform capabilities to our internal environment and develop for our customers the advanced APIs and SDK for location aggregation, presence information, message aggregation, and anything else that helps them build services on an a-la-carte basis.


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