The following piece is excerpted from the 2011 Mobile Future Forward Book – Connected Universe. Unlimited Opportunities. It was written by Abhi Ingle, then VP, Advanced Mobility Solutions at AT&T and now VP of Innovation and Head of Foundry at AT&T
Technology and Structural Change
An observation of the technology industry reveals three broad trends having a visible impact on business today. First, mobile computing devices continue to add computing capacity and new capabilities at an exponential rate of growth (Figure 1a and 1b). (Moore’s Law is still very much in effect and shows no signs of slowing). Second, wireline and wireless connectivity is being migrated to a flat, high-speed internet protocol architecture providing the ability for the stack of services to be disaggregated. This allows applications to run seamlessly across multiple devices simultaneously in stationary, nomadic and mobile scenarios. Third, the explosion of cloud computing in terms of infrastructures, platforms and applications continues to develop and is now gaining acceptance in mainstream scenarios, both consumer and business (Figure 2).
Figure 1a and 1b: New Uses for Computing (Source: IDC) and New Model of Computing Innovation (Source: 2011. Intel Investor Meeting).
Figure 2: AT&T Mobile Data Volumes Up 8,000% Over Four Years (Source: 2011. AT&T).
Amplifying the impact of these technological changes is a sea-change in technology purchasing, evaluation and consumption in the marketplace. Technology purchasing–previously a top-down IT-driven process–has now morphed in to a bottom-up consumer-driven phenomenon. Alternately referred to as the “consumerization of IT” or the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) movement, it is having a tremendous influence on business IT, effectively redefining where and how technology decisions are made. (Ted Schadler (Forrester Research) and Josh Bernoff (Forrester Research) have written Empowered, an entire book dedicated to this trend alone).
Any of these advances taken individually is an exciting evolution, but the opportunity presented by the combination of these technologies and trends taken together is revolutionary. This troika of technological advancements and industry trends can be viewed through two lenses, either as an incredible opportunity or an insurmountable challenge.
This dichotomous view is understandable. There are formidable obstacles as companies realize that they may have to reengineer twenty years of PC-centric architecture to contend with multiple connected devices, multiple computing platforms and multiple applications (which may or may not run on all of the same platforms). It can be an overwhelming task even for the most forward-thinking organizations. We choose to view this as a rare opportunity for businesses agile enough to harness these trends to make dramatic business improvements by transforming classic enterprise IT architectures to real-time, business process driven, cloud-based mobile architectures. A systemic phased approach with the right partners can make this a manageable and self-funding transformation.
We find the three technology changes referenced earlier to be mutually reinforcing. For example, the advent of powerful smartphones, tablets and connected devices changes the computing paradigm to be one in which there are many devices per person. Having several devices inherently leads to the necessity to have data and applications accessible by multiple devices simultaneously.
What is the phenomenon ideally suited for housing applications allowing access from multiple end points? The cloud! And, of course, all of this would not work if all of these devices were not always on and connected through incredibly fast flat IP networks (wireless and wireline). The business network is, in fact, the most mature virtualized element, secure MPLS-based connectivity which increasingly forms the core of enterprise connectivity today was the original “cloud or virtualized” service. The virtualization of data centers, servers, storage, processing power and the XaaS phenomenon is taking the other elements towards the same evolution as the network, in effect creating a virtualized or cloud fabric in which network, processing, storage and software can flex to the needs of the enterprise on a dynamic basis (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Cascading Waves of Innovation (Source: 2011. AT&T).
Much has been written about the technologies involved in this change, but surprisingly little about a business framework that can fully take advantage of these changes. Capitalizing on this opportunity will require a holistic framework encompassing people, processes, assets (Figure 4) and linkages between the three in an architecture that provides the enterprise with the ability to sense, analyze and respond in real-time (Figure 5).
Figure 4: Framework for a Real-Time Event Driven Enterprise. (Source: 2011. AT&T).
Figure 5: Sense, Analyze, Respond Relationship. (Source: 2011. AT&T).
Consider two companies we have worked with recently on extreme ends of the spectrum. The first, a large beverage distribution company, with a history of successfully implementing progressive mobility solutions, wanted to retain its competitive advantage.
The second, a 20-person company providing specialized healthcare supplies, with no automation, sought to capitalize on creating a real-time enterprise which they could never have afforded prior to these technological changes. Both of these companies have dramatically transformed their business processes around the concept of the real-time enterprise in which people, process and assets are always connected and can be optimized on the go.
Figure 6: Beverage distribution company scenario illustrates real-time demand and supply adaptation (Source: 2011 AT&T).
To understand how the beverage distribution company is thinking about the future and how they can capitalize on the technology changes, visualize this scenario:
A large group of bicycle riders are out on a long ride on their bicycles on a hot day and require a sports drink to rehydrate (Figure 6, Illustration A). Those of you familiar with road biking will recall that the form fitting lycra outfits that most road bikers wear typically limit what one can carry. Imagine that on the bicycle’s handlebar (where in the past a GPS device would have resided) is instead a sled for the rider’s mobile smartphone, GPS and near field communications, where he or she can use an application to locate the nearest drink machine (Figure 6, Illustration B) and get directions to it (Figure 6, Illustration C).
Once there, the rider can use his or her mobile device to pay for and receive a drink using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The process is repeated for the entire group of bikers, depleting the machine of all the sport drinks (Figure 6, Illustration D). In a non-real time world, the company would fail its’ consumer at the moment of truth – it would direct thirsty riders to an empty machine. But in our real-time connected world, the connected vending machine has already signaled its status to the cloud, has been taken off the database before the next set of riders would see, and they are automatically directed to the next closest machine.
Simultaneously, cloud based analytics ensure that “restock work orders” are routed to all supply trucks in the area (Figure 6, Illustration E). (All trucks are equipped with automated vehicle location technologies that are continuously connected). Each supply truck driver has a handheld device to receive the alert and the ability to accept a restocking order and go refill the depleted machine. As soon as this is done the vending machine resignals its status and is immediately shown on the next dynamic search a consumer makes. Imagine the efficiencies and revenue maximization as a result of these real-time interactions!
One could even imagine correlating this cycle to the weather/temperature or time of day to drive even further efficiencies. Clearly, not everything outlined in this scenario has been implemented to date, but by preparing for the future, this company is systemically transforming its business processes and moving to a real-time mobile IT architecture.
Now let’s take a look at the small twenty person specialized health supplies company harnessing these technology trends to completely revise the operations of their company around a mobile, real- time cloud delivered core.
Figure 7: Rehabilitation Company Specializing in Wheelchairs (Source: 2011 AT&T).
(ProntoForms is a trademark of TrueContext Corporation.)
The Scenario Prior to Transformation: The company– a privately owned corporation–supplies custom wheelchairs to customers. The company operated primarily via paper forms requiring extensive calling back and forth using basic phones and a classic company reception system despite the fact that the company could not afford to keep the company phone line staffed around the clock. The company also owned two delivery vans to pick up and deliver wheelchairs the company was either servicing or supplying. Since the company could not afford any more vans, multiple calls to these vans to ensure on time delivery and pickup was critical.
The AT&T Mobility Applications Consultant who called upon this company soon realized the company was too small to either host, manage or support any onsite software or even deploy and maintain PCs. The answer was delivering four applications through the cloud direct to smartphones (in this case iPhones) and to specialized tracking devices. What follows is a summary of the 4 different solutions and the problems they addressed. (Refer to Figure 7 for the following).
Solution #1: The company’s wheelchair technicians used paper forms for everything they did; surveying customers about their needs, taking down specs or noting repairs delivered. This equated to three different forms over four pages in length. Each day field technicians filled out the forms and turned them in. Then they were formally entered/rekeyed at the end of every day. This was a time consuming effort with frequent errors and inaccuracies that had to be found, corrected, and re-entered.
The company was transitioned to a cloud delivered, mobile forms solution. The Pronto Forms Solution delivered by AT&T converted a paper intensive environment into a highly efficient method of capturing data. The forms were automated on iPhones for the field technicians and eliminated all the paperwork and rekeying steps, cutting the previous process time by approximately 75% per form. The information is also available online as soon as the technician fills out the form.
Solution #2: As previously mentioned, this company has two vans on the road constantly making deliveries. But the owner has no visibility as to current vehicle location, if they are on schedule, and if the miles driven are valid.
The TeleNav Vehicle Tracker from AT&T, a vehicle tracking solution involving a box that can be attached to the van and a cloud delivered portal provides visibility of corporate vehicles at all times. This ensures the vehicles whereabouts, if the driver is on schedule, and how far the vehicles have been driven. All this leads to better customer service, better image, and increased safety, security, and business stability.
Solution #3: The owner often needed to send out communication blasts to employees to see if someone could fulfill a particular task when they were short staffed in one department, but the owner and employees were only able to receive messages from customers on a 1:1 basis, slowing communication down. The implementation of AT&T Enterprise Paging allowed the owner to send one message to all employees via a simple text messaging portal and confirm receipt/delivery of messages.
Solution #4: After-hours management of the business was practically non-existent since the company was so small, yet their customers were dependent on their wheelchairs and needed the ability to reach someone in the company immediately.
AT&T Office@Hand, a cloud delivered PBX to the smartphone with a very simple web GUI, provided the customer with the ability to better manage and control after-hours service. It unifies employees in a business-on-one-phone system and includes auto-receptionist, multiple extensions, voicemail, call handling, faxing, and other features. The owner can assign a receptionist, a “sales, technician or repair” department on the fly depending on which employees are available.
The bottom line: The company was able to accomplish with $99 smartphones and asset tracking devices and a monthly software subscription fee of <$500, what would have previously involved buying $800-$1000 PCs , tens of thousands of dollars of enterprise software, a PBX system and an IT person to deploy and manage the software and communications. The difference is startling! Contrast capital and OPEX running into $200,000 vs. a CAPEX of <$1500 and monthly subscription fees of <$500 for the software. Even better, all of this is delivered by one company (AT&T) with a simple monthly bill that includes: Voice charges, data charges and applications charges all as one consolidated bill with one point of contact. This scenario even 3-4 years ago was unimaginable prior to the convergence of the three technology trends. It is the ultimate democratization of technology.
Changing Roles for Everyone In the Value Chain
The trends that we outlined above have profound implications for everyone involved in the technology delivery, evaluation, implementation and support chain. Consider the two examples outlined above. Each of these involved solutions comprised of innovative applications that live in the cloud and are delivered to smartphones or “always on connected devices” and paid for via subscription models.
Consider my own company, AT&T. Many of you are likely surprised that the role AT&T is playing in a rapidly evolving market such as this, and many of you might be skeptical of the need/value /competency of AT&T to play such a role, and rightfully so.
To illustrate my position, I would ask anyone who is curious to conduct a simple experiment. While inside of Apple’s App Store or the Android Market, type in “business application” and stand back as you compile thousands of results. How does a small company determine which application is right for them? How does a small company perform the due diligence to determine which platforms each application will run on, and on which models provided by which service providers? How does a business support, manage and develop to these platforms? Finally, try to find application providers able to provide enterprise billing as opposed to a consumer centric credit card only option.
We came to the conclusion that AT&T needed to adapt to the times by morphing our role to provide solutions to help businesses harness the mobile cloud phenomenon. As a supplier of mobile hardware, virtual private networks and data centers which can serve up mobile applications, we are uniquely qualified to deliver integrated solutions to customers.
But the change from delivering monolithic communication products to a collaborative enterprise partnering with dozens of hardware and software providers is not easy. It requires a significant transformation. First, in our people; hiring and training Mobile Application Consultants, ecosystem managers and vertical specialists. Second, in our process; moving from a product sale architected, managed and supported by AT&T, to a complex solution assembled across many different participants and supported through partnerships. And third, in our assets; from managing a network to a fixed set of devices, to managing a network that connects virtual private mobile application clouds to millions of smartphones, tablets and connected end points.
We felt we had no choice but to make this journey to stay relevant in the brave new world of mobile IT, cloud platforms and connected devices. The AT&T objective is, in effect, to help businesses master the melding of communications and computing together by knitting a series of ecosystem partnerships and providing a platform for other companies to innovate on via hardware and software and services. We believe we can simplify the process of harnessing technology for many business segments and serve as a broad distribution channel for small innovative companies (such as the types of companies showcased in the examples provided earlier) that struggle with brand, distribution and enterprise billing.
Given the far reaching impact of these changes, we believe it is important for all participants in the value chain to rethink their role, assets, people and partnerships for the years to come. Provided below is a quick synopsis of practical implications and considerations for different participants.
Changing Role of the CIO and the Enterprise IT Department
As outlined, in the Advisory Board Article (The Space Race – The Competitive Implications of Next-Generation IT Architecture, Research Summary, The Research Board. June 2010) on the changing role of the CIO, dramatic changes are occurring in the IT department as well. In effect, many companies have gone from having IT departments that DO things (own and drive projects) to an IT department that MANAGES things (potentially working with outside service providers).
This change has an influence on the balance of power between IT departments and Line-of-Business (LOB) departments. In some cases LOB departments find themselves in the unique situation of no longer requiring the assistance of IT and go directly to an external service provider (supplanting the internal IT department). In these cases, the IT department finds itself in the unique situation of having to compete against other service providers as an alternate provider. Enterprise IT should ask themselves if their highest value is in buying piece parts and spend time integrating these solutions or developing them in-house? Or does it make more sense to turn your department into high value business process analysis groups supplemented by strong architects who can put the various solution providers together?
The answer for each company will vary, but there is little doubt that a journey towards the latter is necessary. This may warrant changing hiring profiles to shift from maintenance and integration talent to personnel with strong architecture, business analysis and skills in user interfaces and experiences.
1) Software Providers: Consider how software is going to be delivered in the future. Do you stick with shrink wrapped software or begin delivering software over the cloud? Should you do that yourself or partner with others to do that? Who should the partners be? Should the cloud be private or public? Once again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, for the larger companies such as SAP, it may make sense to build out their own cloud as well as partner with service providers like AT&T. For the smaller companies, they need to also consider the value of distribution, brand, billing and support services in addition to just the cost/capital to build out the cloud.
2) Hardware Suppliers: The success of the iPhone and iPad, tightly integrated mobile platforms and hardware, has every hardware manufacturer wondering if they need to also provide an end-to-end controlled experience. HP has clearly chosen to go down that path with the purchase of Palm/WebOS. Dell on the other hand has bet on a loose coupling with Android and Windows Phone 7. Nokia on the other hand has tightly coupled itself to Windows Phone 7 while Samsung and HTC continue to play across both. How far do hardware manufacturers go down the route of content/application services? How far into systems integration and services do they extend without alienating their downstream channels? How does the entire PC ecosystem transition the set of support, management and application services from the WINTEL era to the post PC, multi-OS environment? These are important issues that the established hardware ecosystem is dealing with even now.
3) Systems Integrators: As hardware and software players forward integrate, is it enough to ally with purely software providers to build “practices” or does it make more sense to ally with new emerging or established service providers? Is there a way for Systems Integrators to move upstream and focus on complex custom application development and service/change management (which most service providers will have little appetite for) and leave the simpler pre-packaged and configured applications to be delivered directly by software providers and/or service providers?
4) Service Providers: Does one move up the value chain and become an integrated supplier of cloud, application and mobile computing service or do you strip away complexity and focus purely on providing bandwidth? What is the set of systems integration and software relationship needed to accomplish this? What is the set of cloud/network APIs that will need to be opened up to truly build a platform on which an ecosystem can build and thrive on and act as a pull through for the infrastructure services? Again, as with all other players in the value chain, the answer will be different depending on the scale, scope and ambitions of the service provider.
Whichever path the companies in the value chain pick, they must all remember the familiar dictum of “adapt or die”. The list of companies throughout many different industries that were unable to adapt to changes in innovation is long. Consider some companies that were considered “unsinkable”: One invented the instant film camera (among many other camera-based devices) that was on the market from 1948 through 2008, or the computer company that employed over 33,000 and had revenues of over $3B in the 1980s, or the airline that was a cultural icon of the 20th century and shaped the international airline industry… All utterly dominated their respective markets for extended periods of time, then failed to either recognize change, or adjust to it, and ended up perishing.
The current force of technology change is powerful enough that if Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley is to be believed, we are in the middle of a significant evolution in computing. She calls it the “5th wave” (Figure 8).
Figure 8: The 5th Wave of Computing (Source: Morgan Stanley).
One can debate whether it is the 3rd, 4th or 5th wave, but the historical shift in market position and innovation that have accompanied every such wave, one thing we can all agree upon is that the only constant will be change itself. I hope that companies will seize upon this opportunity to unleash an era that we will look back on as the ultimate democratization of computing and connectivity.
At this time of uncertainty, it is edifying to remember a quote from the 35th President of the United States:
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
- John F. Kennedy