Exide nabs AT&T for digital transformation, SIs watch cautiously

Exide has announced that it has used AT&T’s FlexWare platform for a global digital transformation project, which is now live in Exide’s battery manufacturing and recycling plants. This is somewhat outside the wheelhouse for most MNOs, but it shows how the largest operators have been bracing for an uncertain future.

Digital transformation is a trend that is being driven largely by the cloud computing environment. Prior to the cloud, it was exceedingly difficult to link together all of the disparate systems that an enterprise would be using. This is no longer the case, and to some extent, the cloud can simply be viewed as a translation layer between these distinct processes.

However, this ambition to connect the systems was always driven by the belief that data was inherently valuable, and that any and all data that a business generated should be collected and stored. Unfortunately, this preoccupation with simply having the data led to very big storage bills, without much in the way of useful outcomes.

The next phase of digital transformation is being driven by AI-based data analytics, which will be put to task turning the data into something actually useful – an actionable insight, as most seem to term them. The AI and ML tools are needed to sift through the historical data, looking for patterns that might lead to something useful, while over in the live data environments, dealing with data from the present, these AI and ML tools are going to be used to quickly spot notable points within streams of real-time data.

The IoT angle is that there are legacy, current, and future business functions that needed to be connected to the internet, in order to take advantage of all this sweet, sweet digital transformation goodness. Whether this means a direct link like Ethernet, WiFi, or LPWAN, or an indirect one like a QR code or RFID tag. Machine-vision applications would advance that indirect market significantly – tracking things without having to touch them at all.

Of course, all this digital transformation needs an awful lot of integration work, and that’s where the likes of AT&T come in – although the MNO’s presence will concern the more traditional systems integrators (SIs) and consultancy firms, such as Capgemini, HCL, IBM, Infosys, or Wipro.

For AT&T, moving into this role is just moving up the stack a little bit. It already handles the device connectivity and cloud elements, providing its business customers with portals and programs with which to manage their assets. Progressing to connecting these portals and systems to other business tools isn’t exactly a radical evolution, but for the SIs to move into the mobile networking space would be a bigger step – although one that is easier now than ever.

This could be the motivation behind AT&T’s move, as the threat of private LTE and 5G-based small cells, along with the evolution of WiFi, mean that it could lose control of its more lucrative business gigs. AT&T will have also seen Nokia and Ericsson, two of the top-three mobile infrastructure providers, moving into the services game, and AT&T, like most major MNOs, will be looking to avoid becoming a dumb pipe.

AT&T’s Exide contract could prove a very compelling use case, with which to seduce other prospective customers. The two seem very enthusiastic about its outcomes, and Exide will be using AT&T FlexWare to target customers in its industrial and transport strategic markets.

“Our global presence in today’s fast paced technology environment presents the unique challenge of blending reliable legacy platforms with emerging digital solutions.  This requires a data transport infrastructure that supports a broad number of traditional and disruptive applications,” said Brian Woodworth, Exide Chief Information Officer. “AT&T is leading the way as a trusted and visionary provider of network edge solutions, so naturally we turned to AT&T to collaborate with us on our digital journey to become the preferred supplier to our customers across the globe.”

FlexWare itself is a service that AT&T provides to let customers like Exide connect their various disparate locations together, and treat them as if they were part of one single network. This is termed SD-WAN, for software-defined wide-area network, where software components are tying the different locations together, which are link together via regular IP tools as well as MPLS.

To this end, FlexWare doesn’t have much to do with AT&T’s wireless business, rather the core network and back-end systems that connect all those radio towers together. This should let the customer run tools that are then common to all locations, which of course, makes things easier from the digital transformation perspective.

“Our technology will give Exide the support it needs to continue operating at high standards and to prepare for new opportunities in a 5G world,” said John Vladimir Slamecka, AT&T Region President for EMEA. “We’re building a platform that is ready for new data hungry apps made possible with the arrival of 5G; such as AR and VR. That’s why we are moving compute resources closer to the network edge, opening the door to new experiences and opportunities.”