Towards the end of last year, global data services company AT&T announced a new five-and-a-half-year deal with Shell to provide managed communications and network integration services for the global oil firm.

I managed to catch up with the guys at AT&T to understand more about this significant deal and ask them a few pertinent questions.

HG Insights: Are AT&T bringing any interesting technologies and/or approaches to the solution?

AT&T: “In the past 8 years AT&T has greatly expanded its focus on the Oil & Gas industry. We’ve been able to directly and positively impact our Energy customers by providing innovative connectivity solutions in remote places and difficult-to-access locations, such as oil rigs and other offshore platforms, often exposed to harsh weather conditions.

Utilizing a combination of our own network assets (wired and wireless), as well as a broad set of partner solutions, we’re offering global customers such as Shell faster and reliable communications across their business operations, helping them gain competitive advantage by harnessing data to predict, learn and make near real-time decision through the Internet of Things (IoT).

We’re operating in a world where virtually anything can be connected to the Internet. While the rising pace of the IoT and the digital business transformation enabling IT and OT to converge has already allowed to achieve advantages in efficiency, response time, process quality and safety within specific industries and business functions (in particular: logistics, facility management, mining, etc.), until now health & safety concerns and cost-prohibitive intrinsically safe Wi-Fi solutions have slowed down IT/OT alignment within industrial and asset-intensive companies such as manufacturing, energy, oil and gas transportation.

By proving 4G LTE and soon 5G network access for sensors and devices deep within the core of a refinery or other industrial facilities, we’re now offering both outdoor and indoor coverage at very competitive price…. allowing companies like Shell to achieve data-powered business process optimization, security enhancement and costs reduction.

In a nutshell, we are delivering the future to our customers by allowing them to connect in new ways and taking advantage of the transformational benefits of IoT.”

This report continues after the following message from HG Insights:

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If you would like to get more insight into the deal between AT&T and Shell, gain unique account-level intelligence on these organisations or identify opportunities across the wider IT market – Contact us now.

HG Insights: Did AT&T face stiff competition during the procurement process (considering there are only a small number of companies able to do a deal of this scale)?

AT&T: “Shell was looking for a trusted advisor who could put everything together to help them transform their businesses. And we could offer that.

As one of the six oil and gas “supermajors” and the seventh-largest company in the world, according to the Fortune Global 500 list of year 2017, Shell is within every telecoms and network providers’ radar when it comes to acquiring new business. But, while other vendors may deliver point solutions, we’ve proven to Shell we can deliver a dynamic, reliable, global network platform to stay ahead of their industry trends and best address the challenges they face around the world.

There are complexities to deploying truly global offerings, and we believe AT&T are uniquely positioned to make that process simple, highly secure, and scalable. We deliver in-country solutions and fully managed services that help to make business for international customers such as Shell seamless regardless of geographic location. Very few companies can provide such a comprehensive set of services and rich partner ecosystem to reach all corners of the world with a consistent user experience, as we do.

By bringing together our core technology and network integration capabilities we will help Shell transform its complex IT operations towards more consistent, market standard services that will drive cost efficiencies whilst enabling a more agile, future-ready IT landscape to quickly adapt to changing markets.”

HG Insights: How does this deal fit into / align with AT&T’s overall business strategy?

AT&T: “Business is moving faster than ever and companies around the world need to be agile to stay ahead of the game. IoT, cloud, virtualization and the need to digitize everything has fundamentally changed our own network infrastructure and consequently how we architect networking solutions for our customers.

We have transformed our global network from hardware-centric to software-centric to be able to offer on-demand, multi-network, wide-area network, cloud and software-defined business services.

Our software-centric networking approach allows us to provide customers with lower costs and handle network traffic differently, by scaling through software updates rather than deploying new equipment.  This approach is faster, cheaper, more flexible, more scalable and highly secure.  By offering software defined networks and network function virtualization via our Agile Connectivity solutions (Network on Demand, Network Functions on Demand, Universal CPE, Hybrid VPN, etc.) we allow our customers to transition from specialized network equipment, which is more expensive and less flexible, to a network that runs on flexible, nimble software and virtualized equipment.  This allows workloads to become elastic and more efficient.  “Plug and Play” and “Near Real Time” availability of service at scale become the norm, as network bandwidth can be adjusted in minutes and is based on demand. Additionally, with our software-defined network (SDN), we’re building security directly into the architecture, design and functionality and deploying it universally across the network.

And in the near future the shift from LTE to 5G will deliver massive bandwidth and low latency. As a result, we expect Machine Learning, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality capabilities will explode.”

For me, this is another indicator of the rapidly increasing importance of networks (see also my previous post) and how they must now sit at the centre of any IT strategy. And with the rise of Big Software, it brings networks into the IT melting pot, forcing CIOs to change the way the way that they need to think about this technology, and how they can best use the providers’ capabilities.

About the author

Andrew Burgess has been the lead architect within several major change projects, including strategic development, IT transformation and outsourcing, in a wide range of industries across four continents. He has developed and implemented sourcing strategies for global organisations, running sourcing programs and helping re-organise IT departments to maximise their value from sourcing. Andrew was recently awarded ‘Automation Champion of the Year’ by the GSA, the industry association and professional body for the global sourcing industry. He is widely considered to be a leading expert in the growing Legal Transformation and Outsourcing market and has recently written ‘The Rise of Legal Services Outsourcing’ in collaboration with the London School of Economics (LSE). Andrew’s latest book, ‘The Executive Guide to Artificial Intelligence‘ has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan. Andrew is a council member of the Global Sourcing Association and is Head of Consulting at HG Insights.