Thousands filled the main auditorium of the spacious, awe-inspiring Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, a bedroom community roughly 22 miles outside of downtown Dallas. On a stage bathed in blue light, a solo violinist masterfully performs the opening sonata and is then joined by another violinist. The trill of a flute from a flautist complements the succession of strings, serving as the prelude to the full symphony orchestra that captivates the audience with its stirring composition.
With each crescendo, the event host provides offstage narration, offering thematic context through his commentary. “Data is music. It has a voice. When we add a second voice, we have connectivity. We have harmony. “From here the many complex elements of our business come together to form one simple movement of people…technology…and possibilities. It is this orchestrated movement of capabilities that seamlessly blends influence, networks, clouds… an entire ecosystem wrapped in security.
“A singular symphony of technology envisioned to transform the future…
“From this we will accelerate innovation…streamline execution…elevate trust…transform leadership.”
That was the opening act of the AT&T Business Summit. And with it, the introduction of the next phase of the continuum of commercial disruption. The introduction was fitting in communicating that the elements of the classical business model—one true to an emphasis on customer service and collaborative creativity married with a focus on the top line and bottom line—will adapt to the new rhythms of competitiveness, productivity, and performance demanded by an increasingly fast-paced, interconnected world. AT&T Business CEO Thaddeus Arroyo told the audience of roughly 3,900 business leaders that represented more than 800 companies from 22 countries— or what he calls “the bleeding edge of the rapidly growing digital economy”—in his opening session: “The game is now about how to get the right data where and when you need it and using it to power amazing new experiences. At this year’s AT&T Business Summit, we’re going to focus on uncovering the smartest ways to tap into this power of everything connected around us. The pace of change has only accelerated—therefore, we must be more integrative in our thinking and more agile in our actions.”
Accelerating Innovation: Discovering the Best Tools
To achieve that end, the event’s coordinators, led by its Executive Producer Trevor Laurence, designed an expansive program that included the following:
• More than 150 sessions with topics ranging from cybersecurity and data analytics to the future of work and machine-to-human collaboration.
• The Innovative Showcase, its “immersive exhibit floor” where attendees gained the opportunity to engage with the best and brightest minds in tech; gained updates on the industrial transformation of healthcare, finance, and the like; and experienced the latest tech innovations, including interacting with a humanoid robot called “Pepper.”
• “Deep dive” consultations and demos on the latest developments in AI (artificial intelligence), cybersecurity, blockchain solutions, VR (virtual reality), and the Internet of Things (IoT), among other technologies.
• Private briefings for C-suite executives on the latest trends and strategies during a special CXO Summit.
• Success strategies, industry insights, and leadership lessons from a star-studded list of speakers including author Malcolm Gladwell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, entrepreneur Chris Gardner, and actress-entrepreneur Queen Latifah.
In developing the program, Laurence was also mindful of ensuring that diversity was reflected in the array of speakers as well as subject matter. In fact, AT&T teamed with The Female Quotient, an organization that promotes the expansion of female senior managers in the workplace, to set up The Equality Lounge, a venue showcasing intimate discussions on gender diversity and inclusion within corporate America. The session on “Women of Color in Business” during the first day included Bozoma Saint John, the high-profile chief marketing officer for talent agency Endeavor, and Anne Chow, AT&T president for National Business, as panelists who shared experiences about the trials and triumphs in white, male-dominated corporate environments.
“What is impressive about our event is that it has the right audience of decision makers and influencers. We are engaging those that can drive change,” Laurence says of the participants at this year’s event, citing that 37% of attendees hold the position of VP or higher within their organization and 96% of last year’s attendees recommended the event to colleagues. “The Summit has given us a platform for thought diversity.”
Laurence admits the event has also provided AT&T with the opportunity to demonstrate its own corporate transformation, changing the perception that it’s a telecom company and “opening the aperture that it has pivoted” as a leader in technology and innovation and “an enabler for edge-to-edge intelligent networking.” Moreover, its recent acquisition of mammoth Time Warner with assets such as Warner Bros., CNN, and Turner Broadcasting positions the renamed Warner Media unit to be among the world’s content leaders, complementing AT&T’s DIRECTV NOW unit and serving as a competitor in the streaming space occupied by Netflix and Hulu.
Streamlining Execution: Taking Advantage of the Power of 5G
The core message at the event, however, was how AT&T would enable businesses to take advantage of the next stage of disruption: The 5G Revolution. In fact, Marachel Knight, senior vice president, Wireless Engineering, Construction and Operations for AT&T Communications Inc., who has overall responsibility for design, engineering, build, performance, and operations of AT&T’s wireless network, shared with be how this next generation of mobile technology will be a business game changer in terms of bolstering operational efficiency, service delivery, and workforce productivity. Knight, who has also been named one of be’s Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America and is among our Top Tech Influencers, says that 4G, which ushered in the smartphone a decade ago, served as “the core of the software-defined network and 5G is actually building upon the LTE [long term evolution] network and existing infrastructure that we have in place. 5G is also the first network born in the cloud.”
She maintains 5G will offer the advantages of “enhanced mobile broadband—critical IoT solutions—and low latency applications,” resulting in ultrafast internet connections as well as immersion in augmented and virtual reality—customer service boons to businesses large and small. “We will find out 5G’s impact on business through more use cases,” says Knight, who orchestrated the 2017 Austin, Texas, trial that used millimeter wave (mmWave) technology to deliver DIRECTV NOW over a 5G connection. Such speed and hyperconnectivity, she maintains, will prove invaluable in streamlining processes, from industrial production to “smart cities” services.
After several years of trials, AT&T expects to be the first U.S. company to introduce standards-based, mobile 5G service to customers in parts of 12 cities in 2018 and in a total of 19 cities by early 2019. 2018 locations include Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, San Antonio, Waco, and Dallas, where AT&T is headquartered. In early 2019, the 5G expansion will reach California—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose—as well as Las Vegas, Nashville, and Orlando.
Chow says AT&T has already discovered and started communicating the benefits to businesses of all sizes. She cites as an example a 5G-enabled car wash during an Austin trial in which the business was able to stream a variety of experiences and services while in the waiting room. Minority businesses, she says, will also realize gains by embracing these innovations.
At the Summit, AT&T also announced initiatives that will demonstrate 5G’s direct impact on business efficacy. For example, the company partnered with Samsung to design “the first manufacturing-focused 5G Innovation Zone” in Austin, and it has also created blockchain products to help companies automate and digitize business processes through technology from IBM and Microsoft.
ElevatING Trust: Finding Cost-Effective Cybersecurity
“We are living in an exciting moment but we’re also living at a time when trust is under attack in this digital world,” Arroyo conceded as he introduced Barmak Meftah, president of AT&T Cybersecurity Solutions and CEO of AlienVault, the company’s recent acquisition within the space, in a session on how businesses can achieve a successful marriage between innovation and trust.
In the current environment, major companies and small businesses alike can be placed in the crosshairs of hackers and cybercriminals—or even worse, the victim of a devastating attack. Dealing with an invasion of the IT infrastructure or having confidential corporate and customer information compromised can result in a reputational, financial, and legal nightmare. As such, Meftah says cybersecurity continues to be an ever-evolving imperative. “Security has never been a technology problem per se, and it’s certainly not for the lack of spending,” he maintains. “It’s always been about solving it from a business risk perspective.”
According to Meftah, studies estimate that security spend is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2021. At the same time, the total cost associated with hacks and breaches could skyrocket to as much as $6 trillion over the same period. So the increased spending by businesses has not coincided with the reduction of business risk. Although Meftah maintains that some sectors like financial services and the Armed Forces have been able to mitigate the risk, they haven’t been able to achieve that objective in a cost-effective manner.
As a part of AT&T, Meftah’s AlienVault is reimagining the solution. Instead of a one-size-fixes-all point product, he’s taking a more innovative tack to prevent cyberattacks and contain costs.
AlienVault applies an automated, software-defined approach, buttressed by AI and machine learning, to reviewing threat analytics. Arroyo says it has been able to achieve the desired results: a new frontier in cybersecurity while helping elevate trust with its clients that their information will be secure.
Transforming Leadership: Embracing Constant Change
The purpose of the Summit, in large part, was to arm attendees with vital information on trends and applications that define the current stage of tech-driven business evolution. It was designed to diminish the anxiety of change and fully embrace its conversion and velocity as opportunity and renewal.
One of the most powerful perspectives on leadership and technology came from Queen Latifah’s discussion with AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan. Given her experiences in the entertainment industry, she shared her view on the power of innovation: “Technology has really caught up to who we’ve always been. We’ve been independent entrepreneurs. And what technology did was even the playing field. There was a time when there were certain people who controlled the keys, but with technology, everybody can get a chance to have their own set of keys. Now you can determine your future.”