Selling 5G and IoT to enterprises: Openness and flexibility are a must

In conversation with Robert Boyanovsky, Vice President of Enterprise Mobility and IoT, AT&T

During the recent 5G Transformation Forum, industry experts convened to parse the business and technology strategies that will successfully allow the telecoms sector to sell in to a wide range of enterprise verticals. Among the key takeaways were the need to be open to partner up to match variable enterprise operating and procurement models. AT&T’s Robert Boyanovsky, vice president of Enterprise Mobility and IoT, shares his perspective in this Q&A.

Q: AT&T has done some interesting 5G work in manufacturing with Samsung’s semiconductor fabrication facility in Texas, and with healthcare systems in the U.S. At a high level, how do you think about gaining that vertical expertise and matching it to your technological expertise? 

A: In AT&T Business here we’ve been on a vertical journey for a while starting with our sales organization and then backing into our marketing organization and then the product space either mobility or IoT. We build solutions that meet what their challenges are. As you start talking to customers, it’s about what they’re trying to achieve–it’s either an experience they’re trying to drive, an operational improvement that they can’t unpack today with their current technology that new technologies can deliver for them, and it’s about a business case. 

In the telco world here we get excited about use cases. Our customers, they get excited when they have a business case and a case study to prove in the technology to a business outcome. Samsung Austin Semiconductor was one proving ground for us, great partner for us in the United States. We’ve also had some deployments in Rush Hospital in Chicago in the medical space. Those two verticals are super important. You think about where we are today as as a society and what’s happening with COVID around the globe, manufacturing and healthcare which would include manufacturing vaccines as an example, are really important verticals to get right for society as a whole. It’s been a good journey for us and it really gives us the credibility in the conversations to have with these enterprises. They want to know you have a depth of understanding for their business. I think that’s really helped us gain momentum and market share.

Q: In any discussion around enterprise digital transformation, IoT is a big part of that. AT&T ended 2020 with around 80 million IoT connections. Help me understand the market in regard to the need to partner with providers like AWS or Azure versus AT&T’s desire to sell connectivity and the platform. How do you grow market share across the board while also embracing partnerships that might be necessary to penetrate markets you want to support. 

A: Sometimes we get excited as technologists to showcase the tech. We talk about the use case but we kind of forget about the buyer and why they’ve got to make the investment and they’ve got to sell this investment internally as well with the same rate of return and capital measurements that we all have when we make these investment decisions. 

When we started deploying our edge compute platform two years ago, we had this mentality of we’re gonna pick the solution and we’re gonna sell it to our customers. At the time we had launched with [HPE] for their hardware. And as soon as we got excited certifying their gear with the local edge compute software running on it, the first sale we had was a Dell shop. So we were like very quickly going wait a minute, that’s not what we wanted to do. And I reminded my team and the Labs organization that supports us, that customer on the other side is the buyer. You have to be flexible in your ecosystems. That was on the hardware side but it’s so true on the CSP and the software side. You can’t pick one and win because every enterprise has their own support, they have their bias, they have their own infrastructure with fill in the blank CSP. I think we learned a pretty quick lesson early on in our MEC deployment that we need to be open and flexible. The key to the enterprise is around these edge solutions, yes, there’s ultra low latency. We definitely have seen that sub-10 millisecond latency but the excitement…is the privacy and the security that these enterprise customers get from the solutions is what really excites them…These customers look at different pieces of your value prop different. For the partnering and the CSPs, you really have to be open. That’s kind of how we’ve positioned this today with the CSP. Depending on what the infrastructure of the demands of the enterprise are, we will bring in a Microsoft or an AWS to solve the need. 

The other thing you can’t lose sight of is you need an umbrella of the connectivity layer. The IoT sensors that are inside the four walls or coming in and out of the four walls from outside to inside need cellular connectivity. That’s step one. There has been a lot of pull through of basic indoor cellular systems with this advent of edge compute and localizing the edge and giving the customers what they want which helps drive monetization of the environment. It’s been a good learning for us but this definitely is a partnership ecosystem. We do better when we have folks…across the globe pushing the entire ecosystem forward because it’s going to be the CPSs, certainly it’s going to be the telco providers out there, and the application ecosystem has got to come along for the ride. And together that’s how there’s value unlocked in the enterprise.

Q: Based on your engagements in this area, what commonalities have you observed and what key learnings have emerged that are central to successfully selling in to enterprises?

A: Where’s the $13 trillion coming in 5G and where’s the big ecosystem wave…what is the killer app? I don’t think we have that in our hands right now. I would say that in order to spur this along, you’ve got to have flexibility, you’ve got to have ecosystem partners…you’ve got to have a strategy around where you’re going to put your investment whether that’s mobile 5G, edge and fixed.

When I talk to customers, especially in the IoT space, having a carrier you can talk to that’s got professional services to help you figure out your roadmap for your digital transformation is going to be really important. You need to be able to trust someone to come in and articulate, from experience, how other customers in their industry have made the transformation.

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