By Gloria Lombardi

Digital transformation is thinking mobile cloud first. This may be even truer for telecommunications corporations and AT&T – the global provider of mobile services – was in fact one of the first carriers to understand how enterprises can leverage those devices and applications to solve business problems and maximise internal processes.

I recently spoke with their AVP of Product Marketing Management for Unified Communications & Collaboration Vishy Gopalakrishnan (pictured right), to discuss what AT&T is doing today to help organisations transform their businesses across the world.

The pervasiveness of the cloud

Gopalakrishnan talks of AT&T having a wealth of knowledge on collaboration, mobility, and the cloud, because of its focus on both a large customer base – from global multinational companies down to small businesses – and all the major solution providers. The latter includes Box, Salesforce, IBM, Amazon Web Services, Window Azure and more.

“We have been seeing a wide range of user requirements, analysing how each platform impacts on those businesses and evaluating the potential of mobility in each instance. We have been collecting a wealth of learning that we keep applying to our services.”

In that context, AT&T does a rigorous job. “We do discovery and exploration first.” With all the multiple digital solutions often competing among each other, Gopalakrishnan’s teams ensure to spend all the necessary time with their customers to fully understand what outcomes they want to achieve. “Only then, we propose the appropriate solution.”

Indeed, they diagnose before prescribing. “We start from understanding the problems and requirements of the organisation, as opposed to the technology.”

AT&T has a research team to ensure the company always has a good perspective on what is happening in the market. What is more, they have created a Customer Advisory Council, where they invite organisations to give their own feedback on how they see the market and the related challenges imposed to their own business.

Concerns around moving to the cloud

In conversation Gopalakrishnan repeatedly emphasises that the combination of cloud and mobile makes businesses more agile and responsive. It also helps them become more cost efficient, productive and innovative.

Yet, different organisations have different governance and compliance issues that can hide the appeal of those benefits.

Intriguingly, this is often influenced by the specific industry they are in. “Some sectors are more reluctant and have much more concerns before moving to the cloud. For example, healthcare companies can be very apprehensive.”

One of the main preoccupations is around security with open data. “Businesses that are global in nature may have different cloud needs in each country. They have concerns about ensuring that cloud providers manage their data well whatever is the company need in each of their specific market and region.”

At least that is the argument that some make for ensuring that the right control is in place. What is happening to their data when it is in motion? How can they secure that? How can they maximise performance and minimize risks?

AT&T does not want to overlook their customers’ challenges; in fact, Gopalakrishnan talks about a big programme called ‘AT&T NetBond‘ that they have developed just around the management of networking in the cloud. “It allows organisations to create highly-secure, private and reliable connectivity to cloud services in minutes without additional infrastructure investments and long term contract commitments.”

He also says that AT&T NetBond can isolate traffic from the Internet and from other cloud traffic reducing exposure to risks and attacks.

But it doesn’t have to be always cloud

Many providers have concentrated on making the cloud safer. Despite that, there is still a place for on-premise solutions. “Sometimes organisations have very specific requirements around particular pieces of data that need to be on premise. Other enterprises may be working with applications that for the way they were designed and architected they don’t feel comfortable about moving them to a cloud environment.”

Focus on the people

Gopalakrishnan adds some helpful thinking about people management. “Whatever the technology you are implementing, you have to be very mindful of the existing organisational culture. This is especially true when dealing with communication, collaboration and information sharing tools.”

Change management is never far from Gopalakrishnan’s lips:

“You have to allow the workforce to familiarise with the solution. It is like learning to drive a car. To someone who has never driven a car, you cannot give them one and expect them to run it at 60 miles an hour straight away.”

He suggests ensuring a clear understanding of which part of the organisation needs more guidance; deploying the solution in a very strategic and controlled manner; learning from that, and finally scaling it.

Gopalakrishnan doesn’t forget the role of communication: “You should never underestimate the amount of time and support you have to give when rolling out those tools. While doing that, you really need to communicate clearly how the technology has been deployed, how it works and most importantly how it impacts your people’s daily work.”

Unified Communications

When it comes to looking for breakthroughs in Unified Communications (UC), Gopalakrishnan is probably in a good place to tell me where we are now and what to expect in future.

“Until a few years ago, the majority of our work technologies were separate. Today, they have become much more integrated – audio, video, conferencing tools, social platforms, instant messaging. They are also increasingly becoming mobile first, recognising the fact that workers are collaborating more and more through their mobile devices.”

Yet, he thinks there is still plenty to do to make this experience better and more human. “There is a long way to go to make workplace communications really unified. For example, if I am in the middle of an instant messaging (IM) chat session and I want to quickly escalate to a video call, presently I can do it but not without having to go to the second tool and being asked to log in. Also, once the meeting is over, what happens to the conversation that I have just had with my colleagues?”

Gopalakrishnan, anticipates that in the future we will move more seamlessly among a variety of tools as well as go back to the ‘collaboration meeting room’ and pick up specific conversations. “We will be able to go back to what was said so that we can take it forward to get our job done.”

His expectations go far to sharing. “More should be done also around quickly sharing documents from a range of different platforms – all while still communicating with our co-workers.”

This will have to come at some point. “The Millennial generation has already entered the workforce. The way they communicate and work is very different from the past. For them, sharing is the default. I believe more will happen in this respect too.”

AT&T Mobile Office Suite

On the Unified Communications side, I asked Gopalakrishnan about AT&T Mobile Office Suite. This is the new cloud-based and integrated collaborative solution that AT&T announced at Mobile World Congress on 2nd March. At the core of the offer is Microsoft Office 365. The solution launched and became available to customers in April.

Gopalakrishnan calls it “the complete office in the cloud” because email, calendar, instant messaging, video conferencing, file sharing and Lync voice calling all work together and connect with the Office desktop apps.

Despite having been just announced and currently available in the US only, AT&T Mobile Office Suite has already attracted a big number of customers – from small agencies to big corporations in the energy sector as well as financial services asset management companies.

“Organisations that have employees who are ‘road warriors’ and spend the majority of their time on the road, but equally need constant access to collaboration applications are very keen on moving to this solution.”

Only time can tell whether this collaborative solution will spread widely and whether it will keep its promise – to help maximise people productivity while they are on their smartphones. What is certain is that staying connected to our own business is more important than ever. Doing that in the palm of our hand has become for many of us a necessity. Solutions like AT&T Mobile Office Suite may change the way we collaborate, redefining the way we do business.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate