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CIO interview with Sorabh Saxena, Senior VP at AT&T

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What is your main focus at AT&T? 

This is an epoch marked with incredible change. The technology and the customer demands are evolving at a breakneck pace. We are charting the course for the industry by proactively transforming our technology landscape. My focus is both external and internal, as we change into a software and platform-focused company.

To support these initiatives, internally, the most important focus area is to re-skill our large workforce. Externally, we’re are embracing open source to build a software-defined network. Open source prevents vendor lock-in, accelerates innovation and engages the global community of developers. Open source is a two-way street: we consume open source, but we contribute back to the open source community and invite like-minded companies to collaborate with us in the open.

AT&T is a massive company, even by telecommunication standards. How do you prioritize tech initiatives?

Our chairman has defined five strategic priorities: Deliver an effortless customer experience; lead in connectivity and integrated solutions; serve our customers globally; operate with an industry-leading cost structure; equip our people for the future. All the strategic priorities work together for AT&T to be the premier integrated communications company.

Our technology organization defines its key initiatives to fully support the chairman’s priorities. We have seven big plays: Digital first & customer experience; application & business process simplification; platform & technology delivery transformation; network and systems to the cloud; security by design; capabilities evolution & collaborative workforce; and enable business growth and efficiency

Together, these seven big plays guide our methodology in prioritizing tech initiatives.

How has the CIO role evolved over the years?

The CIO role has been under constant change and this incredible pace will only increase exponentially over the next 5 years as all businesses, essentially, become technology businesses. As a result, CIOs have been transitioning from a transformational role to that of an innovation leader across the business. The CIO role now, and surely in the future, will be comprised of leaders with the ability to see the technology emerging early, then ideate and deliver business innovation at scale ahead of competition.

CIOs will become even more critical to define and deliver new ideas that are operationalized very quickly through all functions -- product marketing, operations, development and others -- wrapped into a single business delivery model. They must manage the operational expense at lower cost points, yet successfully harvest from there and invest into innovations that support the future. It is important for CIOs to build strategic relationships with their peers and grow the business effectively today in preparation for the future.

What initiative are you most excited about at this moment?

That’s a great question! Selecting one out of our seven major initiatives would be like being asked to choose a favorite child! We’re excited about all of them as a singular, connected program. Our focus is on being the premier integrated communications company for consumers and businesses alike. We have wireless, landline, television through Direct TV, and more global reach as we go further into Mexico.

What challenge will no longer be an issue by 2020?

For a CIO trying to convince the corporation, no matter what industry vertical you are in, that technology is critical to business success. Everyone is completely onboard now and are convinced that technology is playing a central role. The CIO’s don’t have to convince the business of that, in fact the challenge has & will continue to reverse, the role will become more important and as a result the responsibilities will grow well into the future.

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