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AT&T: IT and Telco Convergence Driving IoT Innovation

At the carrier's Business Summit this week, executives told us that the lines between telco agents and IT service providers are blurring, and it’s leading to an IoT boom.

Kris Blackmon

September 27, 2018

4 Min Read
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AT&T BUSINESS SUMMIT — Telecom giant AT&T is uniquely positioned to both witness and facilitate the convergence of the IT and telco channels.

At its second annual Business Summit this week, the company laid out its strategy for driving its dominance in the internet of things (IoT), and executives on Thursday told Channel Partners that bringing together the expertise of telco agents and managed service providers (MSPs) is key to that strategy.

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AT&T’s Kevin Leonard

Kevin Leonard, VP of alternate channels at AT&T, says that in the last year, partners that grew up in the telco channel are having different conversations about how they bring integrated solutions to their customers, and it’s something AT&T has to think about as it uses its indirect channel to move its products.

In response, AT&T is helping to facilitate alliances between partners with different skill sets with the hopes they learn from one another and build more robust portfolios that leverage more of the company’s solutions. Agents today are learning more about device strategy, MSPs are learning how to work in the network rather than just on the network, and both types of partners are rethinking their business models to focus more on packaged solutions that integrate both the connectivity/networking and the device/software sides of complete solutions. Nowhere is this convergence more apparent than in AT&T’s IoT initiatives. It’s a critical part of the company’s future go-to-market strategy.

“We want them to learn from each other. We’re moving fast. What other firm invests as much in the future as we do?” asks Leonard. “I defy anyone to point to someone else.

There’s no greater time for us to be in the channel and say, ‘We can facilitate this for them.’ We’re in a unique position, at this date and time, that we haven’t been in a number of years.”

AT&T is heavily focused on industry-specific IoT solutions today. Last year, the telco reorganized its IoT business and sales teams to be vertical-focused rather than product-focused, and the Summit this year reflects that. In contrast with last year’s conference, IoT isn’t represented on the expo floor as a separate entity; instead, it’s organized by verticals like health care, manufacturing and transportation throughout the showcase.

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AT&T’s Mobeen Khan

“The idea is that there’s transformation going on in each of these industries,” says Mobeen Kahn, vice president of IoT strategy and product management, “And IoT is embedded and an integral part of that transformation.”

AT&T has 44 million connected devices on its network, and half of them, Khan says, are “on wheels.” The transportation-manufacturing industry is an early adopter of IoT sensors for everything from tractors for agriculture to consumer vehicles. The rest of the 50 percent represent a long tail of use cases that present a nascent opportunity for AT&T partners to develop and sell IoT to customers in all verticals.

Providing partners packaged solutions is a key part of that strategy, and the company’s new indirect sales channel structure reflects its determination to provide edge-to-edge solutions. Eleven months ago, AT&T brought together its three legacy partner programs: ACC, Alliance and Partner Exchange. Leonard says the company is grabbing the best parts of all three to bring integrated solutions to its partners that incorporate connectivity and software/devices.

Both Khan and Leonard say that combination is a perfect storm for moving AT&T’s partners to the forefront of IoT-enabled digital transformation. But the question remains: How does …

… the channel define IoT today?

“I try to demystify it,” says Leonard. “IoT in my mind is nothing but a connection. [Partners have] sold connections forever. It’s not just bandwidth. Now you have to understand their business processes. How can you improve their core competencies as opposed to their network?”

Khan says partners are looking at it as more than just embedding IoT, but as predictive solutions that help solve problems before they happen. AT&T roughly categorizes partners on the IoT journey into three broad categories.

New entrants as a basic level can just sell connectivity, but it’s the intermediate level where the telco would like to see most of its partners come into the IoT market. These partners can leverage the company’s prepackaged IoT solutions to solve their customers’ business challenges across the board, providing everything they need for a turnkey solution. And AT&T’s most advanced partners are actually helping to develop solutions, driving innovation and strategy based on customer needs. Regardless of the skill level, every partner should be in the IoT game, say the executives.

“Solution providers come in all different shapes and sizes, and the beauty of AT&T is that … we have solutions for them all,” says Leonard. “We guide them and help them according to what’s best for their business models.”

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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