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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Kay Kapoor on AT&T's convergence strategy

Kay Kapoor’s career has taken her from the largest defense contractor in the world [Lockheed Martin] to one of the biggest consulting firms [Accenture] and now to the company that pretty much invented the telephone [AT&T].

But a common thread connects these companies and drives Kapoor’s motivation in the federal space – bringing leading edge technologies that help the government operate more efficiently.

Kay Kapoor

Kay Kapoor, AT&T Government Solutions

She joined AT&T as president of its government solutions business in 2013 because she saw the rising wave of the convergence of traditional IT and communications technology. Instead of using the term IT, a more accurate description is ITC, because all of the company's IT needs are now communications needs, she says.

She and I had a chance to talk last month about AT&T and the major trends in the market, and she sees an exciting but challenging time ahead, especially for companies poised to bring commercial solutions to the government market.

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY: Tell me where you are now, and where are you headed?

KAPOOR: I joined AT&T for two reasons. One attraction was joining an organization with a depth and breadth of resources and the powerful legacy of the AT&T brand.

The second reason is that I’ve spent my entire career serving the government space. I grew up as a software developer when we did custom solutions. Now, it’s a world where a lot of solutions are pre-packaged to a point. Companies that have applicable commercial solutions can bring them to the government market and scale them up and provide some thin integration and customization and can help the government quickly and cost effectively.

That’s why I joined AT&T. There is so much innovation embedded here.

I’m bullish that the federal team can harness the power of Big AT&T and bring solutions and customize them somewhat for the federal space and do it very quickly.

WT: Was there less connection between AT&T government and the rest of AT&T in the past?

KAPOOR: There was a great team and it was very successful before I got here, but AT&T brought me in for my deep knowledge of the space, and they’ve chosen to invest in this space. They’ve allowed me to bring in more talent.

They’ve allowed us to invest in customizing the products and solutions for the federal space. There is a real appetite from the corporate side for the federal space.

WT: Can you give me some examples of solutions that are being customized?

KAPOOR: We are seeing a convergence of information and communications technologies. There is the constant demand from customers for real-time information wherever they are and in whatever medium they choose.

In the federal space, information needs to be highly tailored for a certain agency or department. They are not just looking for any information, but they are looking for insights gleaned via analytics. And they want that information delivered in real time.

We are looking at things like high-speed, high-definition, video, audio and most importantly, security.

We are seeing a convergence of social, mobile, analytics and cloud, what some people call SMAC. But from the user’s standpoint, they don’t care. They just want the information. They don’t care if it is residing in the cloud or their desktops, as long as it is secure, and relevant.

We have the AT&T labs, but we also have the AT&T foundries, which is the lab model but with an agile development approach.

We can take a customer with a business problem into the lab and build a prototype quickly and decide whether it works or not. If it works, we can scale it and deploy with the security and other requirements the government needs.

That model has caused a pivot for the government from the capital expenditure model to the operating expense model. The government doesn’t have to invest gobs and gobs of money. And we don’t have to land at the government’s premises and charge by the hour for a year or more and deliver a milestone.

We can deliver much faster, and we recover our investment through payment by the drink, by providing a service.

That’s how AT&T corporate works, and that fits the federal model today because of the budget pressure.

WT: AT&T has signed several partnerships in the last few years. Can you talk about how partnering has evolved.

KAPOOR: The cloud is a good example. We have partnerships with Computer Sciences Corp., Salesforce, Microsoft.

But what we are doing is different. We call it a network-enabled cloud. We have the largest share of the network in the federal government, and on top of that network, we want to offer cloud solutions, unified communications, mobility. Solutions that ride on the network.

That is important because it allows for a more secure solution because there aren’t handoffs, and it allows for a transparent experience for the user. They don’t get a different look and feel on the desktop versus the handheld.

It is an elastic network capability. We call it NetBond: you are bonded to the network, and it scales up and down depending on the demand.

The partnerships are important because it gives our customers flexibility.

WT: Looking forward, how different do you think Network Services 2020, the successor to Networx, will be?

KAPOOR: Clearly, we are working it, and it is going to be a big vehicle, but there won’t be a lot of companies on it because they don’t have the network.

If I didn’t have the network, I’d have to bring in a partner and resell someone else’s network, and that just adds costs for the government.

But for NS 2020 beyond the network, I hope that GSA includes some of the new technologies like unified communications on the network, cloud on the network and mobility on the network.

I think GSA is looking at all of that. They have been very open. They are asking a lot of questions from a lot of sectors of the industry. They are being very collaborative, so I think they’ll come up with a good procurement strategy.

WT: What are your biggest challenges?

KAPOOR: Talent. We have to keep our people learning all the time, or we are going to be left behind.

From the chairman on down, we have a focus on what he calls Workplace 2020 and Workforce 2020. We push out a lot of training from leadership for the future to how to manage people using technology and tools.

Our labs work closely with Silicon Valley companies to bring in those companies to the labs and keep our people up to date and learning to work with new technologies.

But talent is a big challenge.

WT: Do these shifts going on in the market mean that AT&T is facing new competitors like Google and Amazon?

KAPOOR: That’s right. But I like that the Googles and Amazons are getting more traction. It demonstrates the appetite the government has for more commercial technologies.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Sep 09, 2014 at 9:23 AM

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