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Imagine you need to contact a colleague in a different organization at a moment’s notice. You can’t IM them, because they use a different system, and you don’t know if they’re at their desk and available. It can be impossible to connect in real-time over disparate unified communication systems.

But not anymore. Today, AT&T announced the availability of UC Federation. Business teams can now collaborate more easily by instant messaging and checking the online presence of colleagues across multiple networks.

Employees at companies that deploy AT&T UC Federation can connect instantly, even though they may use different communication systems. Plus, businesses that are teaming together on a proposal, part of different divisions, merging, or creating joint ventures can now use UC Federation to help employees of both companies communicate and collaborate without changing their current systems.

Behind-the-scenes at AT&T Labs

More than two years ago, my team in AT&T Labs Advanced Technologies had the idea to help business teams collaborate in real time across networks.

At the time, a number of different communication platforms were being developed by a variety of vendors. Our team predicted there would be a need for companies to connect with each other regardless of their chosen system.

This idea led to the development of AT&T UC Federation. My team wanted to create a service that would allow suppliers, partners and customers to communicate more freely, regardless of device, location, or platform.

So how did this idea become a reality?

We decided to dig deeper. We talked with dozens of companies in a number of different verticals – IT, transportation, pharmaceuticals, finance, energy – and they all had a similar problem. Business teams needed an effective way to collaborate with each other across different UC systems.   

A prime example was the group of contractors working at AT&T. They literally needed two computers at their desks – one to connect to their company’s system and another to connect to the AT&T network. They had to send messages to different screens in order to have everything they needed on one computer. There had to be a better way to stay connected.

Hearing about this situation, we decided to ‘eat our own dog food,’ and began testing the technology internally. From there the process developed organically. By the end of 2013, nearly 10,000 beta users were trialing UC Federation, and today our small beta system handles nearly two million messages a day via UC Federation.

With the support of our Labs Leadership team, we decided to submit the idea through The Innovation Pipeline (TIP), AT&T’s innovation crowdsourcing engine for employees. From there, we received funding to start a small skunkworks project to access the scaling aspects of the potential cloud-based, software service that would deliver Federation.

We worked with internal and external folks to put the system into our data center, making the technology cloud-based and scalable. We also made sure the service could provide the policy and security controls that businesses customers expect. AT&T’s Business Solutions department saw the value, and UC Federation was on its way to becoming an official AT&T communications service.

Today, the behind-the-scenes work isn’t over. We are trialing more features of AT&T UC Federation internally. In the near future, the service will extend beyond IM and presence to include calendar integration and video and voice capabilities.

Chris Rice
Chris Rice Senior Vice President – AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design