It was such a simple system of communications back in 1866 when the Atlantic transocean telegraph cable was completed. The telegraph sent electronic messages between two continents for the first time at a blistering speed of seven words per minute. Since then the range of telecommunication options has expanded “a bit” along with the coverage area. And the only thing that isn’t a telecommunications option now is the telegraph – the relic that started the multifaceted network that now connects the world.
“Networks today are so sophisticated and so demanding that if you don’t know how to manage them on a proactive basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter where they are on the globe, you’re going to have difficulties,” says Rick Roscitt, president and CEO of AT&T Solutions. “It’s a full-time job just studying networking technology — the network hardware alone has changed generations five or six times in the last two years.”
Roscitt says that complexity is one of the difficulties of managing a global network. Generations of technology have been laid on top of already-existing, imbedded technology for years. And what a company winds up with is a very fast moving additive set of technologies and choices that has become increasingly more complicated. So if one doesn’t keep up with the skill set required to understand each of these technologies they’ll never know if they’re making an optimal trade off.
That is why Roscitt feels it is imperative to outsource to a company that specializes in networking solutions. “It used to be that if you wanted a big job done, you’d go to a general purpose IT supplier like Andersen, IBM, EDS, or CSC, and they would do it all for you — one stop shopping,” he says. “But the complexity, sophistication and mission critical nature of how companies are using networking now requires just the opposite, not a generalist, but a specialist.”
The sheer multitude of countries that network centric professional service firms like AT&T Solutions must work through is tremendous. Citibank, one of AT&T’s clients, is connected in over 100 countries and MasterCard, another client, is connected in 61 countries and counting. So AT&T has the task of making the network, and everything it touches, uniform, while also dealing with a country’s physical diversity, and nuances that vary from one region of the world to another.
To be able to do this, Roscitt says that a vendor has to have people on the ground that understand not only the subtleties of each geographic region, but must also be able to understand in an intimate way what the clients’ needs are. “You have to be able to custom design networks that accommodate the very diverse needs of each individual client and the ability to consistently, on a global basis, deliver to those needs,” he says. “You also have to understand the culture of customer service and care, and maybe have a little luck too.”
Transforming the Way Business is Done
AT&T Solutions supports everything within the networking fabric including the hardware and the software. They consult, design, build and deploy global networking platforms. Besides MasterCard and Citibank, AT&T Solutions’ clients include Merrill Lynch, BankOne, Textron, McGraw-Hill and IBM. And each client comes to AT&T with a variety of different needs. Companies want everything from lower costs to a total business transformation and everything in between, Roscitt says. But one thing, for sure, is that most businesses demand very high performance standards from their network.
“If you are Citibank and you are moving $3 trillion a day over your network as a money transfer clearinghouse you can not afford down time,” he says. “If the network goes down before the Fed window closes and you have accepted the wire on one end, and you can’t clear with the member bank through the Fed, you’re sitting on overnight exposure that is enormous and unacceptable.”
Merrill Lynch wanted AT&T to build them a whole new platform. The financial consultant was using an outdated Legacy platform that they existed on for years, and they wanted to deploy a market-based program called Trusted Global Advisor. The program would basically take Merrill Lynch from an order-taker and an advise-giver to a deliverer of customized services. The program allows them to customize financial information that is very uniquely suited for each individual client, then package and deliver the information in the form the client wants. Delivery comes in several forms including e-mail, electronic pages, first class mail or the traditional phone conversation. “Before the system was implemented the Merrill Lynch staff had to work very hard to customize packages,” Roscitt says. “And so what ended up happening is you customize your top ten clients and you can’t go much further. So they are getting a much more superior level of service.”
With AT&T’s recent acquisition of IBM, which is now between contract and closing, they will be able to offer even better services, Roscitt says. The network platform that IBM was using goes to 93 countries in almost 800 cities and provides the fabric in which to lay a lot of business on top of. IBM was one of AT&T’s biggest competitors. With them out of the mix, and AT&T steamrolling ahead with a strong list of clients, Roscitt says AT&T’s biggest competition is the companies that are convinced by their technology teams that they can lay down global networks with an in-house staff. “You always compete against them,” he says. “They have the deck stacked in their favor a little bit because they know all the data, they know all the knowledge, they know where all the bones are buried, and they know what it really costs to do the job. So I think that is the biggest obstacle to growing even faster, but that’s OK. [Overconfidence] is the biggest killer of competency; some competition will do you good.”
Lessons From the Outsourcing Primer:
- The sophistication of networks has made managing them a full-time job.
- Network centric professional service firms have to have people on the ground who understand the culture of the country they are in and the needs of the customer.
- Networks must be tailored around each individual company’s needs.
- Most companies demand very high performance standards from their network because downtime can cost millions.
- Large global networking companies like AT&T Solutions are always competing with companies that think they can do better work in house.