AT&T Takes 'Startup Mentality' to Wholesale

After proving out the agile startup model in its Partner Exchange, AT&T's Brooks McCorcle says the carrier is looking to scale it up to wholesale -- and eventually the entire company.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

May 15, 2015

4 Min Read
AT&T Takes 'Startup Mentality' to Wholesale

CHICAGO -- International Telecoms Week -- AT&T has spent the past two years transforming how its partner solutions division does business, and its next goal is to scale that model up to its wholesale division -- and eventually the entire company.

Two years ago when AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was given a directive to improve how its Partner Exchange program reached mid-market solutions providers and resellers, Brooks McCorcle, head of AT&T partner solutions, decided she would set up a startup business within the walls of AT&T. This would not be the same as the carrier's Foundry, where it fosters innovation through startups. Instead, it would be an AT&T business with its own employees, working against the constraints of a traditional carrier. (See AT&T Opens Up for Partner Program.)

That said, McCorcle borrowed a lot from the Foundry, including 30 of its brightest employees from all areas of business, the open floor plan, glass walls, the scooters and ping pong tables type of vibe and the motto of implementing changes fast and correcting mistakes after they have been made. (See Pics: AT&T's Foundry of Things.)

The end goal was to build a business model around solutions providers that was flexible, responsive and improved the customer experience -- all within 90 days.

"By putting the 90 day stake in the ground, it caused them to think differently about solving it," McCorcle said in an ITW interview. "We built the basic model and put the IT team together with the business team and customers, and they worked in four to six week sprints to build the functionality that is the engine behind the partner exchange."

That was about two years ago. One year ago, AT&T decided to API-enable the entire platform so that its customers could more easily tap the carrier's resources to automate functions of their sales cycle, such as instantaneous quoting, determining service availability and compiling contracts. (See AT&T Opens up WebRTC API, AT&T Unveils Mobile Security API and ESDN: AT&T Calls for SDN APIs Now.)

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AT&T's Partner Exchange division lives on the third floor of its Foundry in Plano, Texas. And, with two years of success around its belt, the carrier is turning towards figuring out how to scale this new model of doing business, including the API platform and the culture shock that may come with it, to its wholesale business.

McCorcle is confident this model will translate to other parts of the carrier, because she said AT&T had allowed her to stay independent with her own marketing, pricing and operations support. She's also feeding those employees she brought over to Partner Exchange back into AT&T to help spread the culture. What's more, this isn't the first time AT&T has tested the waters on a more startup-like culture. It's Digital Life division, under Kevin Peterson, and its Network On-Demand business, under Josh Goodell, are run the same way. (See CTIA: Digital Life Pays Off for AT&T and SDN Powers AT&T's Rapid On-Demand Expansion.)

"When we want to start up new different ideas within the size of a company like AT&T, it's nice to give them the space and independence to do well, then incorporate them back into the larger AT&T," McCorcle said. "It works well for startup ventures."

The approach differs slightly from that of carriers like Telefónica and Orange (NYSE: FTE), which actually spun off their startup divisions --Telefonica Digital and Libon, respectively -- instead of trying to build them in-house. Interestingly, both of these carriers ultimately brought the companies back in-house, noting that they now plan to incorporate their learnings throughout their businesses. (See Disrupting Telefónica in a Small Way and Innovation Makes Life Better for Orange.)

AT&T also says its ultimate vision is to transform the entire company. It's a process that certainly won't happen overnight as we're talking about a huge, established operator with a long history of operating in a certain (typically slow, top-down) way. But, the good news is, AT&T and others like it increasingly seem open to evolving how they do business to keep up with a more API-driven, open, fast-paced industry -- one business segment at a time.

"Part of it is opening up the space, then it's who you put in the space," McCorcle says. "We are starting to open up floors. We're starting to see that kind of culture. It's also about who you put in that space. If you put marketing all in one floor, where are the IT people they work with? We want project teams working in open spaces downtown. Making this kind of cultural shift is big, but it's one that our chairman has championed. It's the culture he wants at AT&T."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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