AT&T's Elbaz on How AT&T Foundries Create a Culture of Innovation
Five years ago, AT&T embarked on its AT&T Foundry program, which was designed to spur innovation and foster collaboration by bringing together leading innovators with cutting-edge technologies.
Earlier this month, AT&T Foundry cut the ribbon on its latest, and sixth, Foundry Innovation Center. The newest member of the Foundry ecosystem, AT&T Foundry Connected Health, is focused on providing digital health services from inside Texas Medical Center's (TMC) Innovation Institute in Houston, Texas. (See AT&T Boots Up Connected Health Facility .) The rest of the Foundry Centers are located in Plano (2), Texas; Palo Alto, Calif.; Israel; and Atlanta.
With each Foundry, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is looking at technologies that can improve, refine or add to its existing products or customer experience. To learn more about how AT&T is driving its digital transformation through its Foundry Centers, Telco Transformation interviewed Igal Elbaz, vice president of ecosystem and innovation at AT&T Services. This is the first of a two-part Q&A with Elbaz.
Telco Transformation: The first Foundry opened in 2011, who came up with the concept? Was it John Donovan?
Igal Elbaz: Yes, that's correct. John Donovan (chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T Technology and Operations) envisioned a space where startups, developers and all parts of our company can come together to take the innovation process to new levels through a mix of openness, speed, technology, design resources and expertise. Our mission is to take ideas from concept to commercialization faster than previously possible. We're proud of the way we've remained true to this vision while growing tremendously. AT&T Foundry has become the innovation model used across the company now.
TT: How important are open, flexible APIs for the Foundries?
IE: They're critical. AT&T's API Platform started out as an AT&T Foundry project. We helped build the APIs that opened our connected car platform. APIs are how we make our network services available to innovators outside our company, or help internal developers get their work done faster to enable new capabilities for our network and our customers.
TT: Building an open ecosystem that includes vendors and third-party developers is a key element?
IE: Many, if not most, Foundry projects involve third-party developers, startups and other innovators working side-by-side with AT&T employees. We also work closely with many of the top open source organizations to share insights and guidance, as well as use their software in our own projects. AT&T Foundry is a front door for many of these startups and groups into AT&T, giving them a venue they often can’t find at a company our size. At the same time, we also work with large companies, either as customers or as collaborators on individual projects. Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Amdocs, Cisco and Intel are the formal sponsors of the AT&T Foundry, and together with AT&T have invested more than $100 million in the ecosystem.
TT: Can you talk about some of the enabling technologies that are being used at the Foundries to drive innovation?
IE: Various teams use different tools both in their work -- like the latest in virtual reality or 3D printing or open source technology -- and for communication and project management. Part of the mission of AT&T Foundry is to explore the viability of emerging technologies for our business. For example, customer care might ask us to help them find a tool to tackle a particular issue they're facing. So we always try to stay on top of the latest technology in the market. We do this through both internal research and development as well as collaboration with the startup community. We meet with about 500 startups every year across the AT&T Foundry ecosystem.
TT: Has there been any unexpected benefits, services or applications that have come out of the Foundries?
IE: One unexpected benefit has been on a corporate culture level. We're finding that AT&T Foundry innovation extends beyond services and applications, and into the way we work as well. Our model of 12-week sprint development cycles, a "fail fast" mentality and open floor plans were first used here and are now becoming standard companywide.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation
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