Solution Providers: AT&T 'Batting 1,000' In IT Channel Offensive

As AT&T kicks off its inaugural Partner Exchange Summit in Dallas, Texas this week, AT&T partners say the event is one of several recent moves that prove the telecom giant's commitment to making inroads with the IT reseller channel.

The event, aimed at bringing partners up-to-speed on the latest and greatest in AT&T technologies and programs, comes roughly 18 months after AT&T introduced Partner Exchange, its first partner program focused exclusively on IT VARs and solution providers.

That program, since its launch in February 2013, has attracted more than 200 solution providers that are now reselling AT&T's cloud, networking and mobility solutions.

[Related: AT&T Pumps $300M Into New Partner Financing Program, Other Channel Resources]

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And, the telecom giant doesn't plan to stop there, according to Brooks McCorcle, president of AT&T Emerging Business Markets and head of Partner Exchange.

"Absolutely we will continue to grow the program," McCorcle said in an interview with CRN Tuesday. "We are adding to the program in a very measured and steady way, and that's the way we want to do it. As it continues to grow and gain a lot of creditability in the market, we have a lot of solution providers actually coming to us."

Brooks said more than half of the roughly 200 partners in Partner Exchange are new to AT&T, meaning they hadn't previously partnered with the company as a master or sub agent. What's more, many of those partners are new to the carrier services market, in general, suggesting the convergence between the traditional telecom and IT channels is still in full swing.

Brooks said AT&T's success in attracting IT solution providers to the Partner Exchange program -- which received $300 million in additional funding from AT&T earlier this year -- stems from one simple concept: collaboration.

"It's about the collaboration that we have with solution providers," McCorcle said. "They have sat at the center of this from day one. We said, 'We are going to build a business model around you,' and we have kept true to that promise."

AT&T partners, it seems, couldn't agree more.

"Getting the time and attention, getting the visibility, collaborating to make an impact -- the way AT&T has approached this program was really the closer for me," said Anthony D'Ambrosi, president of Bell Techlogix, an Indianapolis, Ind.-based solution provider and No. 233 on the 2014 CRN Solution Provider 500 list. "The approach AT&T has taken from the executive team on down has really made it easy to do business with them."

D'Ambrosi said AT&T represents the first carrier partner for Bell Techlogix, which has traditionally focused on the end user computing and infrastructure management markets, where it partners with vendors like Cisco, Microsoft and HP.

At first, D'Ambrosi was hesitant to partner with AT&T, fearing the size of the company might make it difficult, or slow, to work with. When he learned, however, that AT&T Partner Exchange was being hosted within its own dedicated business unit -- the AT&T Emerging Business Markets Group -- those fears dissolved.

"I had all the typical trepidations about partnering with AT&T," D'Ambrosi said. "But I was promised that this is not the traditional AT&T. This is a new unit within AT&T that wants to go to market a different way."

The fact that AT&T Partner Exchange resides outside the $128.8 billion telecom giant in its own dedicated unit has made access to AT&T channel executives and account managers quick and seamless, D'Ambrosi said.

"We can go to market, provide feedback on any challenges and see an impact and improvement," D'Ambrosi said. "The responsiveness with which the AT&T team works with us… it's just been a tremendous differentiator."

Chris Mountzouris, director of operations at Reno, Nev.-based solution provider Network Services, said his company has been doing business with AT&T for years in the telecom market. But it wasn't until the launch of Partner Exchange -- and Network Services' decision to transition some of its AT&T business into that program -- that his communication with AT&T became so strong.

"The quality of the relationship has been so further enhanced with the development of the Partner Exchange group," Mountzouris said. "In the past year or so, our relationship has just strengthened phenomenally. They are batting 1,000 at this point."

NEXT: AT&T's APIs A Game-Changer For Partners

Avi Lonstein, CEO of AireSpring, a Los Angeles-based telecommunications provider that's also partners with AT&T through the Partner Exchange program, described the program and the AT&T Emerging Business Markets Group behind it as a "startup" within AT&T.

"A startup within a company is really what this is," said Lonstein, who noted that AireSpring's AT&T revenue is on pace to double this year. "You really wouldn't even imagine it's AT&T at all."

According to McCorcle, another major differentiator in the AT&T Partner Exchange Program is the AT&T application programming interface (API) platform, which opens up AT&T APIs to give solution providers access to AT&T's core customer billing, product ordering and network monitoring systems.

The idea, McCorcle said, is that solution providers can use this platform to perform all customer billing and troubleshooting on their own, without having to directly connect with anyone from AT&T.

"It's our goal to make this program totally self-service for solution providers,"McCorcle said. "We are now over 50 percent no touch, meaning any transaction that a solution provider puts through AT&T Partner Exchange, over 50 percent of the time, nobody form AT&T even has to touch it."

Jason Porter, vice president of solutions development and business operations for AT&T Emerging Business Markets, said there are three ways solution providers can access the AT&T API platform: through a direct connection partners create from their own internal customer management system; through the AT&T partner portal; or, most recently, through

"We are a building our own portal [within] that is fully API-enabled, and we are doing that because there are a large number of our partners that use," Porter told CRN. "We wanted to meet [partners] where they are."

As of today, partners can leverage AT&T's API platform for the three services: the AT&T virtual private network (VPN), AT&T managed internet services and the AT&T switched Ethernet service.

Moving forward, however, the plan is to extend that platform to AT&T's software-defined networking services and mobility solutions, a move that will let solution providers proactively manage items such as customers' mobile data plans.

AireSpring's Lonstein said the AT&T API platform available through Partner Exchange has drastically reduced the amount of time it takes AireSpring to generate customer quotes.

"In the past, there has been a very difficult process trying to interact with a company like AT&T. Frankly, it was a very slow antiquated, swivel-chair process," Lonstein said. "Sometimes, just to get a quote for a multi-location opportunity, it could literally take several weeks."

"What we are seeing [now] is that we are able to process large-scale quotes in volume that are turned around in a near instantaneous basis," Lonstein continued. "It's completely taken the friction out of the process."

Bell Techlogix's D'Ambrosi said that, in addition to simplifying the customer quoting and billing process, AT&T's APIs have allowed his company to create a greater stickiness with their end customers, especially within its managed services arm.

"Allowing us to almost, in a sense, white-label the kind of solution we want to bring to the end user -- including billing and activations -- it's a huge recurring revenue opportunity for our company," D'Ambrosi said.

NEXT: AT&T Drives More Mobility Sales Through Channel

Through the AT&T Partner Exchange program partners can resell AT&T network services, including its VPN, firewall services, MPLS networks and more, along with its cloud and hosting services, which include the AT&T private cloud, co-location hosting services and both Compute- and Storage-as-a-Service.

Late last year the company also started to add more of its mobility solutions to the program, allowing partners to go to market with AT&T data plans, voice plans and a range of mobile devices that can run on AT&T's 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi networks.

One of the partners that was quick to ramp up with AT&T's mobility solutions was New York City-based MetTel, which now sells across the entire AT&T mobility portfolio, including smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi networks and enhanced mobile features like push-to-talk.

"We have really made it a point to try to take advantage of all the elements," said MetTel Executive Director of Mobility Max Silber.

Silber said MetTel's mobility business has grown at a clip of roughly 20 percent each month for the past several months, with a majority of that growth stemming from AT&T sales.

"We really are getting to that tipping point, where sales are starting to accelerate at a much faster pace," he said.

AT&T in August said it's merging its Mobility and Business Solutions divisions into one in order to streamline the delivery of its mobility offerings to the commercial or enterprise market.

AT&T said at the time that "business-related" customers now account for more than 50 percent of its total mobile revenues.

Silber said AT&T's eventual extension of its API platform to its mobility services will fuel growth even further for MetTel.

"The customer expectation in mobility is that everything moves about 10 times faster, so anything that is going to improve our efficiency and our speed is [huge]," Silber said.

Overall, Silber said AT&T's Partner Exchange Summit this week underscores the company's overall commitment to the channel and working collaboratively with its growing base of solution provider partners.

"It's an excellent model for how to interact and interface with an indirect channel," Silber told CRN. "The amount of effort and confidence and investment that is being pointed towards this channel -- it instills the most important part of any relationship, which is confidence and trust. It's all been incredibly impressive to us."