AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- AT&T is approaching architecting the network in a fundamentally different way than just a few years ago, in large part by investing heavily in open source code, said John Donovan in a keynote yesterday.
"At this point, I don't recognize the world I entered into in 2009," said Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T Technology & Operations for AT&T, who started at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) in 2009 after working at VeriSign Inc. (Nasdaq: VRSN).
Light Reading Editor-at-Large Carol Wilson sat down with Donovan on stage, and discussed AT&T's shift away from the traditional, lengthy development processes to a corporate culture that moves faster by embracing more adaptive tools, like open source.
In order to move quickly, AT&T has doubled its use of open source code, to 10% in 2016 from 5%, and Donovan said the goal is to expand to at least 50% open source.
"[The competition] would love for us to sit around and move slowly but we have to move quickly at scale... If you sit around and try and plan from the shore, there's a lot of professional debaters," said Donovan, who also said the traditional tendency in operations is to create a debate society where months will pass with no progress.
In the move toward emphasizing open source and shifting away from the debate society, Donavan described a period at AT&T "where everyone froze." While senior executives exhibited adaptability and the frontline employees embraced new-found freedom to move faster, middle management struggled in moving forward. In order to reassure employees, Donovan suggested staying on message.
"Women adapt a lot faster in these environments than men," Donovan added, to which Wilson replied, "I could have told you that."
Donovan also described three psychological transformations organizations must go through to excel during this transformational period in the communications industry -- humility, courage and the willingness to work alone. Donovan advised organizations to break processes down to minimize the number of individuals involved in decision-making.
As AT&T's basic business model is changing dramatically, this shift has had a significant impact on AT&T's interaction with vendors. Donovan described AT&T's previous role as that of "professional shopper" in selecting products from vendors, utilizing the traditional RFP method and lengthy development periods in the lab. Around 2009 when Donovan joined AT&T, the company had to switch from specifier to the role of integrator and take the risk on themselves.
With an ever-increasing focus on SDN and the software-driven future, Donovan says AT&T has to scale at megabytes, compound Moore's Law and is finally getting a little ahead of demand.
"SDN isn't a pipe dream, it's a mathematical formula," said Donovan
In order to stay ahead of competition, Donovan stressed that organizations have to succeed on all fronts of a three-front war whose players are newer OTT competitors, long-standing rivals after the same revenue pools and internal players. Partial success isn't an option. "Winning two of the three is failure," Donovan said.
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading