Solution Providers 'Expect Great Things' From AT&T's Channel Push

It's been roughly nine months since AT&T opened its doors to the channel via AT&T Partner Exchange, a partner program designed to grow AT&T's midmarket footprint along with a loyal base of solution providers to help make that happen.

Today, AT&T Partner Exchange hosts more than 90 solution providers, with more, according to AT&T, being added "each week." The program, while still early on, is speaking volumes to the continued convergence of the telecom and IT channels, and to the ROI being realized by those solution providers playing both sides of the fence.

"We have not had one solution provider come in to visit us in our [Plano, Texas] location and not sign up for the program," said Brooks McCorcle, president of AT&T's Emerging Business Markets, in a recent interview with CRN. "I think that's a great testament to the way they feel when they come on-site here. They meet the people who will be interacting with them and supporting their team."

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McCorcle attributed the growth of AT&T Partner Exchange, introduced in February, to the fact that it's hosted within AT&T's Emerging Business Markets, the newly formed business unit within AT&T's Business Solutions segment. Housing the program separately from the rest of AT&T, McCorcle said, has helped AT&T eliminate one of solution providers' biggest fears when partnering with a service provider behemoth like itself -- namely, that their size makes them impossible to work with.

"The fact that we have built this program as a startup inside a Fortune 11 company makes AT&T accessible to this marketplace in a way that maybe it hasn't been before," McCorcle said.

McCorcle stressed that the program's success to date also comes from its use of open APIs, which allow solution providers to monitor end users' networks and resolve any issues without having to involve AT&T directly.

In addition, AT&T has been diligent about gathering partner feedback, and incorporating that feedback into the ongoing development of the program, McCorcle said. A new, easier-to-navigate partner portal and pricing engine are the latest results of that effort.

"It's literally including [partners] in the development of the program that has helped us be as successful as we have to date," McCorcle said.

AT&T Partner Exchange segments partners into tiers -- silver, gold and platinum -- which are determined based on the volume of business they do with AT&T. Discounts and incentives vary based on those tiers.

The program focuses on three primary AT&T product lines, including IP networking, mobility managed services, and cloud-based offerings such as compute- and storage-as-a-service.

NEXT: AT&T Partners 'Expect Great Things'

Tony Jimenez, CEO of MicroTech, a Vienna, Va.-based solution provider and No. 84 on CRN's 2013 SP500 list, said MicroTech "finally" signed on as an AT&T partner this June, after years of being interested in a partnership.

"We knew that when we signed on the dotted line that it was going to be something valuable for both AT&T and MicroTech, and that we would be heading in the right direction instantly," Jimenez told CRN. "We want to make this partnership succeed."

Jimenez said he wants MicroTech to "do it all," in terms of selling across the entire AT&T portfolio, but that it was MicroTech's growing investments in the cloud arena, as evidenced through its MicroKloud private cloud management solution, that made an AT&T partnership seem more timely than ever.

MicroTech -- a major Cisco, Microsoft and VMware partner -- is one of a growing mass of IT solution providers offering cloud and carrier services, in a bid to grow their recurring revenue base and position themselves for growth in an increasingly services-driven IT market.

Jimenez said his decision to sign on with AT&T also stemmed from his realization that embracing cloud and carrier services is "critical" for solution providers to be that trusted, one-stop shop for their customers. "We realized many, many years ago that it was going to eventually reach the point where customers want to go to one provider," Jimenez said.

Scott Madison, president of Network Services Solutions, a Reno, Nevada-based solution provider, said his company joined AT&T Partner Exchange about six months ago with hopes of growing its telecommunications and cloud services footprint.

"Frankly, from my perspective as president of the company, I think if we are not providing cloud solutions, [customers] will be sourcing those cloud solutions from a competitor of ours, because I know this is where this is all going," Madison said.

Network Services Solutions, like the roughly 700 existing AT&T agent partners, had a relationship with AT&T in the past. But Madison said his company joined Partner Exchange earlier this year largely because of the open APIs, and their ability to create a greater stickiness between Network Services Solutions and its customers.

"We prefer to maintain the first line of contact from selling the solution to implementation to the support role in the back end," Madison said. "It was almost as if [Partner Exchange] was built with our specific company in mind." Madison added that Partner Exchange, and the fact that AT&T is working hand-in-hand with partners to build that program out, distinguishes AT&T from other carrier partners.

"I'm expecting great things," Madison said. "For me to have access to a company that has the breadth and scope that AT&T has, and the fact that we have an avenue to come to them and tell them what we need in order to continue to have success -- it's very refreshing."

'Living And Breathing' Partner Collaboration

Bruce Flitcroft, CEO and founder of Alliant Technologies, a Morristown, N.J.-based solution provider, like Network Services Solutions' Madison, had partnered with AT&T in the past, primarily as an agent. Flitcroft said years ago, when acting as an AT&T agent partner, AT&T made up about 25 percent of Alliant's overall business. That number shrunk recently to roughly 10 percent, he said, because of "pressures in the telecom world" and competition from other telco players.

But with Partner Exchange giving Alliant the ability to sell across the full AT&T portfolio and really own the relationship with end customers, that number is expected to shoot back up to about 25 percent in 2014, Flitcroft said.

"By creating a fully integrated network solution -- with our VAR and telecom products -- it's creating a different user experience for our end-user customers," Flitcroft said.

Flitcroft added that the gross margin Alliant is making off of AT&T services sales, compared to margins off of "traditional VAR offerings" like product sales and software licenses, is much richer.

"Our [AT&T] sales funnel is much bigger going in to next year than it was this year, and we attribute that to the Partner Exchange program," Flitcroft said. "Almost every one of the new large opportunities we are seeing has a component of the AT&T Partner Exchange program."

AT&T's McCorcle, for her part, noted that the 90 partners AT&T has onboarded within Partner Exchange run the gamut in terms of background, with some already being telecom- and cloud-"savvy" and others being completely new to the space. For that second group, she said, AT&T is offering workshops and other resources to help them embrace AT&T's cloud and carrier services, and to start building up that coveted recurring revenue base.

"We are living and breathing partner collaboration," McCorcle told CRN.