AT&T Needs New 'Underware,' Says CEO

ATLANTA -- Supercomm 2003 -- For the second day running, delicate hand washables have hit the headlines at the Supercomm 2003 tradeshow.

Yesterday, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) bragged about its new BRAS (see Cisco Pads B-RAS Offering). Today, David W. Dorman, CEO and chairman of AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), joked, in his keynote address, about his company needing a change of “underware."

Underware, in Dorman’s parlance, means the operations support systems (OSSs) that control everything carriers do. AT&T’s panties have got themselves in a twist from rolling out so many services using dedicated networks and management systems, just as has happened with other carriers, according to Dorman. Now, AT&T is tackling the issue under its Concept of One strategy based on offering multiple services over a common Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) backbone.

Simplification of provisioning, billing, and other tasks associated with using business services will soon be as important as technology to carrier success, Dorman told a large audience gathered in a darkened ballroom of the Georgia Convention Center this morning. Customers are looking for a better "experience," he said.

Monolithic systems, multiple complicated OSSs, and a history in which carriers profited from having separate voice and data networks will soon hobble service providers that won't be able to keep up with customer demand for streamlined voice and data services, together with better security and reliability. That demand is specifically for faster, more unified processes associated with IP services, Dorman said.

MCI in OSS Chaos).

In his keynote, Dorman gleefully laughed off concerns that his marketing folk might have about him using the term "underware." "I think we could have some fun with that," he said.

In the past, insufficient attention was paid to underware, says Dorman [ed. note: with some carriers, we hear, not changing theirs more than once a week]. Carriers spent most of their money on building their networks, and vendors haven't wanted to share their systems and software fiefdoms with competitors. "Marketing wars have proliferated databases and billing systems, exacerbating the problem," Dorman declared.

So what's Dorman doing about changing AT&T’s underware? Dorman was surprisingly specific. Of its $3 billion capex bill in 2003, AT&T will devote $500 million, Dorman said, to "improving the customer experience" by adding software to help improve billing, order management, and provisioning systems, Dorman said.

Among other things, AT&T will start using a new Master Services Agreement with business customers to replace multiple tariff-based contracts. In the past, contracts with enterprises that use several services from AT&T have snarled customer resources by calling for lots of lawyer time and internal maintenance.

AT&T also plans to improve the efficiency of its billing systems by about 25 percent, Dorman said, by the end of 2003. And for business customers, it will replace 30 billing systems with one by the end of 2004.

AT&T also plans to offer Frame Relay customers Web-based self-provisioning capabilities within 2003. Will that help? Depends™.

AT&T will rely on outside software suppliers for help in creating these systems, Dorman said, though he wasn't specific in his talk. One of the big beneficiaries is Accenture, which has landed contracts worth more than $3 billion (see AT&T: We're Saving Millions and AT&T Ponies Up $500M More ).

Some audience members apparently thought Dorman's message a fluffy one. "Not very enlightening," muttered one attendee (who obviously has underware problems of his own).

But the underware message struck a chord with at least one other audience member. "I haven't heard any U.S. carrier articulate their unified IP strategy so clearly," said the head of an Atlanta-based carrier consultancy. He said Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI) had begun to quantify the savings possible from drawing together billing systems for a range of services, but he hadn't heard anything comparable this side of the Atlantic until this morning. "Usually I can detect BS, and I didn't hear any this morning."

In an unusual move, Dorman opened the floor to questions after his talk, fielding one from an Asian service provider who complained he couldn't compete with the debt-shedding capabilities of bankrupt U.S. competitors.

Dorman answered that, while some U.S. carriers, most notably MCI (Nasdaq: MCIT), have managed to shed massive debt thanks to restructuring, they may not be able to realize the same margins as non-Chapter 11 carriers, nor be able to grow top-line revenues as quickly. That's because they haven't been able to preserve the customer traction that more stable players have, he insists.

Dorman didn't hold back his feelings about MCI. At one point, he noted that a "very large spider" was crawling over his podium. "That's now a very dead spider," he said. "I'm not sure, maybe it was a WorldCom bug... Sorry, I couldn't resist that."

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

materialgirl 12/4/2012 | 11:58:28 PM
re: AT&T Needs New 'Underware,' Says CEO Interesting how the same battle is ending in the storage industry.... After years of maintaining proprietary walls, storage vendors are finally swapping APIs, and storage networks are finally being built. After enough pain is felt at gear vendors from buyers on strike who are tired of BS, vendors throw in the towel and work together to make something that actually pays users to use. Perhaps the telecom gear vendors have not felt enough pain to come up with the goods. Maybe another dunk in cold water of capex winter will help.
BobbyMax 12/4/2012 | 11:58:17 PM
re: AT&T Needs New 'Underware,' Says CEO The problem of OSSs can only be addressed by Lucent and no other equipment supplier. Most of the OSSs currently in use by RBOCs were developed by Lucent/Bell Labs. But Lucent cannot undertake this maasive work for free/ Consequently the beneficiaries should sign a contract with Lucet providing that Lucent agrees to do the work.
dogmeat 12/4/2012 | 11:58:14 PM
re: AT&T Needs New 'Underware,' Says CEO Telcordia (Bell Labs spin off) did all the big systems at the ILECS. Osmine compliance, right? Problem is the Telcordia stuff doesn't address advanced service technologies and there is no clear market leader.

But, even if there was a product suite and qualified integrator, the silo-wars would drag them down. Every Telecomm I've worked in GLOBALLY have silos that ARE AT WAR internally and any OSS system that spans a group of silos (as it must) get dragged down in the whims of powerful executives and technical people who won't compromise on any point for overall success. Oh yes, then there's the operations people who don't trust the technology to work or have been burnt badly by the dot-com OSS vendors who died mid-project or who's stuff was just plain crap...

This stuff ain't easy... I haven't found anyone that's cracked the code at the Tier-1's just due to their sheer operations size.
grapsfan 12/4/2012 | 11:58:09 PM
re: AT&T Needs New 'Underware,' Says CEO Dogmeat, you're right...but Bobby needs a MUCH bigger correction on this one.

The absolute LAST company that a service provider should turn to for their OSS help is an equipment vendor. Telcordia & Bell Labs may have been under the same umbrella at one time...but there likely to be almost nobody at Lucent who wrote code in the Telcordia systems. So that prior relationship is moot to the solution. Bobby, the fact that you think that past history makes any difference emphasizes with me what a complete imbecile you are more than anything else you've ever written (and that's saying something).

AT&T, MCI and others need an OSS solution that is willing to go across multiple technology silos and multiple vendors. An equipment vendor, even one the size of Lucent, does not have expertise in managing and deploying every technology (they're attempt to do so is one of the reasons they collapsed, IMO). And they certainly don't have any reason to be interested in creating an interface to another vendor's NE that competes with theirs. I mean, really...imagine this conversation:

AT&T: "Hey, Lucent, we've selected Cisco as our next-gen ADM vendor. Work with them to get an interface from their NE into your OSS."
Lucent: "AT&T, if you would just select our next-gen ADM, you would have seamless integration into our OSS."
AT&T: "No, we've selected Cisco...sorry about that. Since you are our OSS vendor, we'd like you to investigate this and we'll work out a schedule."
Lucent: "AT&T, if you would just select our next-gen ADM, you would have seamless integration into our OSS."
AT&T: <sound after="" dialogue="" hair="" more="" of="" out="" pulling="" rounds="" six="" this=""></sound>
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