As telecommunications giant AT&T seeks to optimize business processes, strengthen network security and increase operational efficiency, Israeli innovators are playing a vital role in the American conglomerate’s future.
“[For] almost every area that AT&T is participating in, leading and having business in, there’s a good depth of technologies and variety of companies here in Israel,” said Igal Elbaz, vice president for ecosystem and innovation at AT&T Services, Inc. “That is what is so unique here.”
The Jerusalem Post visited the AT&T Foundry in Ra’anana on Monday, as senior executives from the company’s US-based innovation division stopped by the site as part of their weeklong trips to Israel. The Foundry, one of six such facilities worldwide and the only one outside the United States, harnesses the Israeli start-up ecosystem “to drive innovation into AT&T,” according to Gadi Porat, the Ra’anana hub’s director.
“The primary mission of the Foundry is to go and find outside capability that could make a difference in the way AT&T operates, and facilitate bringing that into AT&T,” added Chris Rice, senior vice president for AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design.
Neither start-up incubator nor typical Israeli R&D center – as AT&T already has such labs in Airport City – the Foundry recruits top developers from Israel’s hi-tech scene and works with existing companies to tackle challenges identified by the larger corporation. Housed at Amdocs, one of AT&T’s biggest Israeli partners, the Foundry’s unique program aims “to leverage technology to bring innovation into AT&T,” Porat said.
To do so, the program works with both external start-ups and hires innovators to work internally at the Foundry, calling upon them to pitch their ideas, provide a proof of concept and potentially commercialize their projects with the support of AT&T, he explained.
Describing the Foundry itself as a “bridge from the ecosystem to the mother-ship,” Porat said he typically screens about 200 start-ups each year and then whittles that list down to about 40 active projects – ultimately landing eight commercializations last year. Already this year, seven projects are being commercialized, he added.
With a constantly growing team, Elbaz described the Ra’anana facility as “a successful Foundry.”
“It grew up from a couple of people to be a couple of dozens of people,” Elbaz said. “It allows us to be able to see more companies, to kick off more projects and create more successful projects that have an impact on AT&T. The Israeli Foundry is vital and significant to our overall program.”
The telecommunications conglomerate opened up the Israeli Foundry in June 2011, second only to the launch of a center in Plano, Texas in February of that year. Upon opening the site in Israel, in collaboration with Amdocs, AT&T aimed to create an innovation platform for mobile health, HTML5, location-based applications and application programing interfaces that make network services easily available to developers.
While the Israeli Foundry innovators are exploring a variety of areas within the hi-tech space today, some specific domains of interest to AT&T include cybersecurity, automation, operational efficiency, back-office systems and network transformation from hardware to software, Elbaz explained. Also of interest in Israel in particular, according to both Elbaz and Rice, is the technology surrounding the advertising industry.
“AT&T is becoming more and more of a software company, rather than rack-and-stack, rather than equipment,” Rice said. “There’s a whole new ecosystem that has to be created to do that – that’s part of the reach out here.”
Emphasizing that innovation happens across a wide range of disciplines, Rice stressed that AT&T’s Foundries have “soft borders” with regards to their individual focuses and are not necessarily developing geographically specific technologies.
Among the successful projects that have originated at the Foundry in Ra’anana is Flow.att.
com, a web-based development environment for the design and deployment of data-driven applications. As far as the external partnerships created through the Foundry are concerned, one example cited by Porat is the company’s collaboration with Tel Aviv-based Skycure, for end-user mobile phone security.
In order to innovate such solutions and form such strategic partnerships, Elbaz, Rice and Porat all emphasized the importance of AT&T’s physical presence at the Foundry in Israel.
Located in the Start-Up Nation, in close proximity to hundreds of companies and their technologies, the Ra’anana-based Foundry has the potential to make a significant impact within the larger company, Elbaz added.
“The hi-tech Israeli industry is mapped very well in general to what AT&T is doing, from mobility to software defined networking, Internet of things, advertising data and analytics, infrastructure – everything that we’re doing as a company,” he said. “And we innovate in so many areas [that] there’s always enough depth.”