Smart risks
Big Interview

Smart risks


A near 20-year veteran of the company, this year saw AT&T’s John Nolan step into a new role that will bring greater collaboration between domestic and international teams located across 30 countries. Melanie Mingas reports.

John Nolan stepped into the role of VP of global connections and alliance management in March. 

An AT&T veteran of 17 years, he brought experience from across the wholesale, wireless and internet units where he had driven growth, built teams and helped re-work supplier partnerships.

“You approach any new job as a collection of your past experiences,” says Nolan, adding business development and relationship building to the rollcall.

“I’ve also got one of the best teams in the industry. I’ve built a high performing team, with people from around our business with diverse backgrounds,” he continues to say.

Succeeding George Sloan, Nolan’s new role sees him driving AT&T’s domestic and international activities in 30 countries, as well as closer collaboration between the respective teams across voice, data, international roaming, IoT and performance management.

It’s a diverse portfolio but one that reflects CEO John Stankey’s recent comments at a Goldman Sachs conference in the US. In his eyes, the changes underway in consumer and business behaviour must be reflected in AT&T’s operations, particularly content, customer experience and, of course, assets — of which AT&T now has more than $500 billion on the balance sheet.

“We are investing in key growth areas, we are more customer focused than ever, we are transforming our operations and creating value for shareholders,” says Nolan.

With reference to his specific work, Nolan reports that things have been moving quickly since March. There is an obvious focus on saving cash, but also on improving the customer experience and driving closer collaboration between the domestic team Nolan has managed for six years, and the global team.

“We have quite the transformation under way. We are doing things differently, taking smart risks, pushing our own fibre into new places. We are pursuing IP-to-IP interconnection that will allow us to implement STIR/SHAKEN and cut down on those robocalls. Nobody likes those!

“So, we are pursuing efforts in that space, as well as roaming around the world,” he adds, and that pursuit continues despite the current economic situation.

With revenues — including roaming — down for all players, AT&T is unlikely to have escaped unscathed. However, equally important to note is that recent external challenges haven’t slowed the pace within the company.

In September alone AT&T committed to being carbon-neutral by 2035, partnered with Microsoft to streamline cloud connections for IoT, and unveiled a suite of new 5G devices, including the first 5G roam-capable handset and a partnership with NTT DOCOMO to provide 5G roaming to US customers while in Japan.

Despite these gains internally, when it comes to the outlook for the wider industry, and the headwinds it must continue to endure, Nolan remains conservative.

“It continues to be a challenging time for the industry with limited visibility into the future at this point,” he says.

Against the backdrop of such trading conditions have come frequent calls for industry-wide collaboration, not just to keep services running at the current time, but to enhance capabilities quicker.

Building partnerships

As early as April the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum published an open letter calling for collaboration among ICT infrastructure providers, and similar calls have been heard from other corners of the industry.

For AT&T, relationships have been key to the addition of new products, services and technology over recent years. For example, last year AT&T teamed up with with Colt to complete the first successful application of MEF’s LSO (lifecycle service orchestration) Sonata APIs.

The streamlined back-end communi-cation with Colt allowed AT&T to place automated orders for its Ethernet services, enabling the validation of site addresses, and allowing AT&T to place automated orders on Colt’s network. “As one of the largest procurers of access worldwide, we can take an active role in driving market trends, enabling new technologies and creating solutions to extend coverage and fulfil the most demanding and mission critical needs of our customers.

“It’s our belief that standardisation of those business applications — and that interoperability between carriers — is a critical step in evolving the inter-carrier ecosystem to a more cloud-like experience. That will raise the bar for our customers and support their mission critical needs all over the globe,” Nolan explains.

Paving the way for “frictionless commerce”, AT&T’s global customers who had sites located in Colt’s network footprint could improve service qualification and ordering times from days or weeks to minutes. The APIs cut two days of cycle time off the service experience and, during the pandemic, allowed circuits to be turned on “almost in real time”.

Nolan says: “If you cut down on that friction and you automate using APIs, we can move faster, we can reduce cycle time, recognise revenues quicker, I think that’s important for everyone and for providing better customer experience.”

Hyperscale collaboration

Elsewhere in the business, collaborations have occurred with everybody from other telcos to hyperscalers.

Now IoT is taking things a step further by facilitating inter-industry partnerships, for example with the launch of such things as the Connected Car product line, which already counts 37 million connected cars on the AT&T network. “It’s a really exciting time,” Nolan says.

However, as with selecting team members, selecting partners requires a diligent approach, especially in such a crowded marketplace.

On the criteria used, Nolan explains: “I would say [we look for] leadership in the industry. We like collaborating with people who are innovative and leading the way in their own countries and markets, so we have strong relationships that have developed over the years because of how much business we do globally.

“We are looking for people with similar vision and similar passion for serving customers,” he continues.

One to watch

With an upbeat outlook and an eye for opportunity, the continued global crisis doesn’t dampen Nolan’s enthusiasm for what AT&T has achieved in the last 12 months — or for what is ahead in the coming 12.

But it does demand a different set of considerations and on that point, Nolan is cognisant of the changing business environment.

“I think the stress that the global pandemic has put on the world economy is going to force us to do business in new ways. Whether it be working from home and figuring out how to support our global workforce that is working remotely, or distance and remote learning for children who aren’t back in school, or whether it be how we manage things like contact tracing across populations that can’t stay inside forever. All those things are ones to watch,” he says.

On the tech front, his focus is set on the innovations that will continue to connect customers in new ways. “The broader AT&T is about creating connection and the focus on my side of the business is about giving customers what they want.

“Great connectivity and a great customer experience, but we also have a side of the business that has phenomenal content and providing better value and service to the customer is something that all of us are focused on,” he says.

As AT&T pivots to capitalise on a rapidly changing operational environment, assets and partnerships will continue to take priority, as will the technology that is expected to underpin the business model of tomorrow.

The focus now is on driving 5G — on which AT&T reached nationwide coverage in July — and deploying more fibre as the network continues to grow.

Nolan concludes: “The bottom line is that we are uniquely positioned for the future of connectivity and content in the industry, more so than anyone else, and we have the right teams in place to execute on that vision.”

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