AT&T's Smart City Solutions: Q&A with Reed Pangborn

Sat, 2013-05-04 13:38 -- Jesse Berst

Reed Pangborn is AT&T's area vice president for government, education and medical. In that role, he is responsible for helping cities "mobilize" their applications. An active runner, hiker and skier, he is a happy resident of Phoenix, where it is easy to have an outdoor lifestyle.

Reed grew up in the Seattle area but moved to Southern California to get his undergraduate degree from Claremont McKenna College in government and psychology -- good preparation, as it turned out, for the career that followed. His first foray into telecommunications was with McCaw Cellular. When McCaw was sold to AT&T in 1994, he joined AT&T where he has steadily risen.

As I talked with Reed about the smart cities market and AT&T's plans, I was struck by several of the points he made:

  • The smart cities market has two main thrusts – one about increasing employee productivity and one about increasing citizen engagement.
  • Industry has the responsibility not just to enable new applications, but also to extend the life and value of legacy applications.
  • Some cities are making the mistake of building isolated, siloed applications on a department-by-department basis. Instead, they should first seek to create an enterprise platform, then build individual applications on top.

You'll find the full Q&A below. You might also want to review AT&T's information-packed policy guide for cities that want to jumpstart mobility initiatives.

 - Jesse Berst, May 2013

Why the increasing attention to smart cities?

There are multiple factors. For one, cities have reduced budgets, requiring them to become more efficient. A mobile enablement strategy becomes a platform to enable employee productivity. Cities can cut costs by creating "smart" workplaces and by enabling telecommuting. Fleet management is one great example. You now have the ability to track the vehicle, optimize the route and conserve fuel. It's terrific for public works crews and first responders.

For another, cities face big challenges – energy efficiency, water conservation, traffic congestion. Wireless technology is key to solving these issues.

 For another, citizens have new demands – they want information from city government anytime, anywhere, on any device. You can't pick up a newspaper without reading about the Apple App Store or about a new Samsung device – mobile technology is prevalent in every aspect of our life now. In that same fashion, mobile technology is transforming government and how it delivers services to citizens.

The number one driver is enhanced citizen experience in quicker access to services. The next biggest driver is efficiency and taxpayer value.

What stands in the way of rapid adoption of smart cities technologies?

One challenge is doing solutions in a silo and failing to use overall IT governance. When we recently surveyed local governments, only 10% had an enterprise mobile strategy. Another 35% have one in development. In fairness to departments, if the city doesn't have a strong IT leader, the departments understandably don't want to wait to start making improvements. But if you fail to have an enterprise strategy, it costs a lot to fix it later.

Another challenge is budget and staffing. And when it comes to those funding issues, it is our job in industry to demonstrate the value.

Do we have a lot more to invent? Or do we have the technology building blocks in place already?

We will see innovations that seem like science-fiction now, but we already have a wealth of technology today. What's changing as bandwidth improves is that you can deliver a lot more in the mobile environment.

Have you seen any creative or new ways to solve the financing challenge?

The issue is how to continue offering services with reduced budgets. There are some new financing schemes that can help with both capex and opex. We provide financing for some of our customers through AT&T Capital. The key thing is to show a track record for what has worked. The great thing about the public sector is that if they succeed they are very good about sharing their lessons with their peers.

Can you cite any governments doing a particularly good job with citizen engagement?

In September 2012, the County of San Diego rolled out an application called SD Emergency. It is a smart phone application that runs in the cloud. It lets them push notifications out to citizens across a large geographic area. It became one of the top apps in the App Store after it launched, and it is just a sample of what the future has in store.

Has the smart cities market hit the tipping point?

I think we will see steady growth as cities look to improve transport, safety and energy. Over the next few years, 70% of the investment will occur in those three areas, where you can demonstrate clear ROI.

How important is the smart cities market to AT&T?

We have dedicated resources to this market and to mobile application development. And not just for the government portion, but for other parts of the smart city such as smart homes. One example is our Digital Life home security and automation application, which lets you stay connected to your home using your smart phone, tablet or PC.

What is AT&T's role in the smart cities ecosystem?

We are a solution provider that helps cities reduce costs while increasing efficiency. We supply a variety of critical services – connectivity, security, payment, location-based services – we have a lot of pieces of the portfolio. Our mobility applications platform is the foundation. We also have cloud computing capabilities, and we partner with other providers to do even more.

What does AT&T do better than any other company?

Bring technology to the mobile platform and connect to all the endpoints.

When AT&T wins in a competitive situation, why does it win?

We have dedicated resources for public sector clients. We understand their pain points, what are the biggest opportunities for gains, and how to leverage their existing investments – how to extend applications that were built 15 years ago. I know the term "trusted advisor" is overused, but that is the role we play due to our brand recognition, our service quality, our problem-solving, and our track record.

Are there any common misconceptions about AT&T and its capabilities?

That we are just about connectivity. Our services go well beyond just connection. We have end-to-end solutions for essential services such as security, M2M, asset management, financial services, etc. We need to change the perception that we are just a phone company.

What is the single most important thing city leaders should do today to position their cities for leadership and success?

Take a platform approach first, then decide which pain points to address.

What do you want cities to know about AT&T?

AT&T's breadth and expertise at designing solutions for cities – our ability to tie city services into a mobile platform to improve employee productivity and citizen engagement. We can create a platform to serve multiple needs, giving cities the flexibility they need to address budget constraints.