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One-On-One Interview with Aisha Umar

CNS: You were appointed Sales Centre Vice President - Canada, AT&T in mid-May. What are your short-term and long-term goals for the company?Umar: There are two key goals. One of them is increasing the presence and awareness of IT...


September 1, 2010  


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CNS: You were appointed Sales Centre Vice President – Canada, AT&T in mid-May. What are your short-term and long-term goals for the company?

Umar: There are two key goals. One of them is increasing the presence and awareness of IT executives in Canada that AT&T is here.

I was fairly surprised by the number of cios who i had worked with for many, many years who did not know we had a strong presence. We have a sizable operation across the country and many significant clients.

We need to get the message out.

I also want to leverage the relationships that i’ve had from my positions with ibm, avaya, cisco and microsoft, who are all partners of ours.

One of the benefits of at&t is that it is a global company. It can bring together all the different pieces.

We can bring the solutions together, bundle it with the necessary services and security requirements and make sure the experience the customer is receiving in canada is exactly the same globally.

CNS: Is it safe to say that people are aware of the AT&T brand, but not aware of the networking service that you provide?

Umar: Absolutely. The brand is very well known. We have a sizable team. One of the ways I intend to get the message out is through community involvement.

CNS: How is AT&T Telepresence being received among your Canadian customer base?

Umar: We have had a number of our large customers opt for TelePresence and we now have it in 75 countries. For most major business locations it is available and believe it or not, it has been helped by Mother Nature.

When the ash cloud crisis occurred, i was in calgary and scheduled to meet my counterparts from amsterdam and london. Like many people around the world, we wondered what we could do.

What we are seeing is companies leveraging the technology to get and retain the best staff that they can.

It is a flexible offering that is cost-efficient. Even myself, i am a single mother and i want to have a challenging and exciting role to play, but at the same time i need to balance that with minimizing the travel so that i can be there when my daughter yasmine needs me.

A lot of executives today are saying that they need the ability to make their career work and personal life work. They want balance.

Telepresence is so intuitive. For me personally, i will be able to hold meetings, but physically be here to tuck my daughter in at night or help her do her homework.

CNS: What would you describe as the two biggest communication challenges facing mid-sized and large enterprises today?

Umar: We are working in companies that are more matrix than ever. I might report to someone, but then I have a dotted line to someone else. A matrix world means you really need unified communications.

You cannot burden the employee with things like multiple phone numbers and multiple voice mails. They need to be able to get everything, anytime, anywhere on any device and you have to keep it as simple as possible.

The style of leadership today is much more collaborative. It is not top-down, it’s very much about huddling as a team and then decide where we are going. In other words, reach a consensus.

That is a management shift from the past and it requires more communication and more collaboration.

Both are big drivers in terms of what is happening in business today. That’s why unified communications has gone from a nice-to-have to being a critical tool for organizations of all sizes.

CNS: AT&T is a major sponsor of the F1 Williams team. What benefits does the relationship bring to both sides?

Umar: It allows us to really use leading-edge technology. It is cutting edge, it is technology that we are testing. Based on the results, we are able to have it available for our other customers.

Williams is just like any other business really in there are similar challenges such as reducing cost and increasing productivity and efficiencies and revenue stream.

Using technology to do that, whether it’s helping them with their hosting requirements or helping them with their vpn and making sure it is secure or putting telemetry in action, all revolves around the speed of the network.

Everything changes so quickly in f1. As an example, the car they have in september will not be the car they have in january. As a result, we have to be adept and agile in coming up with the next solution.

It is also a great way to promote our brand. We have a lot of similarities with williams in that we both concentrate and focus on our core competencies.

CNS:

The cloud is everywhere. How do you see this unfolding as a business tool?

Umar: When Cloud Computing began a few years ago, everyone thought it would be a great tool for the mid-size market. However, I am seeing a lot of up take from the Fortune 500 enterprises.

What that tells me is that everyone is looking to minimize their cost and increase their revenue system.

That said, executives are also saying they want to stick to their core competencies and whether it’s turning to the cloud for hosting or allowing an organization to reduce the size of their it team in house, they are using it.

Definitely it is going to be big and according to a recent report from gartner, as big as e-business was.

It is very exciting. It allows for the connecting to anyone, anywhere with any device. That is the critical part of the equation.

There has to be that interoperability, which is what cloud computing provides.

CNS: Finally, you are a Technology Advisor to the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. What does that role entail?

Umar: Over my entire career, education has been a huge area of interest for me. Technology is the great equalizer. It can allow every child to be competitive.

I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that every child has that access. The technology will allow it.

Soon after david onley, who was a former technology reporter for cp24 in toronto, became lieutenant-governor, he asked me help him get technology into the fly-in aboriginal camps.

It is all about increasing literacy by getting technology into the hands of aboriginal children in remote regions of ontario, as well as disadvantaged children throughout the province.

I had a chance to go up to one such camp, which was a two hour flight north from thunder bay and it was really a life-changing experience. We know what our children are used to and what they have access to.

You go up there and there are 10 children of varying ages in a trailer with a teacher who is trying to do all things for all people.

That said, i have never come across such children who have such a desire to learn. The problem is that when they get to high school age they are forced to be uprooted and sent to a larger centre — thunder bay, for example, away from their family and their friends. In this day and age, i found that very disturbing.

Education is not a privilege, it is a right in my books.

I think people and technology companies need to step up and say, this is our responsibility.

We had to go there and receive permission from the chief of the camp. We went through the proper protocol.

I am delighted that at&t is playing a leadership role in bring a number of companies together for what i consider an extremely worthwhile exercise.