AT&T To Partners: We Need Your Help With IoT

AT&T is doing big things in the IoT arena, but the carrier is developing products that really need to become solutions. That's where AT&T needs help from the channel, the carrier told partners during its second annual Partner Exchange Summit in Dallas this week.

Abhi Ingle, senior vice president of big data and advanced solutions for AT&T, told an audience of solution providers that business process around mobility is one of the largest opportunities facing the business world today. AT&T has embraced the opportunity and has gotten busy building sensors and platforms for various use cases -- such as connected cars and cargo management. But partners will be critical in constructing complete solutions that allow end customers to respond to the data they're now taking in.

"People don’t want products, they want solutions, and you are the solution providers. [Partners] can and sell sensors for us, but that's just the connectivity. Knowing something is broken is great, but are you going to admire the problem? Doing something about it is where the money is," Ingle said.

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Luckily for AT&T, creating solutions is the bread and butter of its partners and the channel is ready to heed the call.

Comlink Networks, a Texarkana, Texas-based IT integrator and managed service provider represented in the audience during Ingle's keynote, is already starting to put together IoT solutions for its customers and is excited that AT&T will expand its IoT strategy with the help of partners, said Howard Pittman, president of Comlink Networks.

The provider was among the first to join Partner Exchange in 2013 and said that developers at the AT&T Foundry innovation center dedicated to IoT in Plano, Texas, is taking a lot of steps out of the application-building process for solution providers, which will allow partners to develop solutions quicker.

"The AT&T Foundry gives us access to systems, processes and genius they have within their company, and that frees us up to focus on the problems our customers have, what inefficiencies they have, and enables us to more quickly jump on that opportunity to bring that value and solution to our customers," Pittman said.

DataXoom, a Berkeley, Calif.-based solution provider focusing on mobility solutions, is working on higher-bandwidth IoT applications, like video or mapping applications, said Rob Chamberlin, DataXoom's co-founder and executive vice president. Working with AT&T through Partner Exchange will give the provider a leg up on the competition, Chamberlin said.

"This program is very entrepreneurial and supportive. We look at AT&T as our go-to partner because they have recourses here we can't get elsewhere," he said.

AT&T has primarily been focusing its IoT strategy on the consumer and enterprise spaces, but the carrier has also opened its IoT platform up to systems integrators to develop applications for their end customers, said Mobeen Khan, AT&T's enterprise IoT practice leader, in an interview with CRN.

While AT&T can create the components to collect big data, partners can take these off-the-shelf products and focus on the data analysis and response piece because they're privy to their end customers' unique needs, AT&T's Ingle said.

"It's about taking very complex processes and breaking them down into very simple ways. Some of these solutions we can offer you, some you develop on your own," he said.

For example, partners can take AT&T's secure messaging platform -- which isn't yet available to partners but something the carrier should explore opening up, according to Ingle -- to build a solution that can collect endpoint data and distribute the data to the right group of employees. From there, these employees could then communicate with each other based on the information to address any issues, he said.

New York City-based solution provider MetTel sees a big opportunity for the channel because IoT is set to explode, said Max Silber, vice president of mobility for MetTel.

MetTel began several years ago creating custom plans around end-user devices that weren't cell phones or tablets to help customers "turn on" new endpoints, Silber said.

"IoT is a great opportunity for this channel, as well as every other channel because it's being implemented in every vertical … and it touches every product that people use every day," he said. "Being empowered to be an active player as IoT develops is key to growing our business and success in the coming years."

AT&T wants to tap its solution provider network to hit the businesses -- especially SMBs -- that they wouldn't be able to reach on their own, Ingle said.

"That’s one of the reasons why we believe having an ecosystem of partners who can customize those offerings and make them become real is [important], and that’s what we are looking to you to help us do," he said.