I spent some time last week with Ron Spears, president and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions (ABS), and his team in Bedminster, NJ, and I am happy to have seen real evidence that AT&T Labs is indeed alive and well. There were signs of innovation across the board as representatives of AT&T presented their plans and initiatives based on a recovering economic environment built on a foundation of interest in mobility, virtualization, and global growth. We at Forrester see these as growth drivers, along with other “Smart Computing” technologies (Andy Bartels has written on the topic in “Smart Computing Drives The New Era Of IT Growth”) built on process- and industry-focused software innovations. I was most impressed with the market focus of the innovations — things like virtualization and cloud services specifically designed to enable developers (both internal and external) to turn up new services faster. Service examples ranged from unified communications (UC) and collaboration (including UC-as-a-service, fixed-mobile convergence, and telepresence exchanges) to speech recognition (for personal agents, customer care, and consumer media). During my visit, I heard about innovations from the labs (of course), from ABS executives and product managers, and most importantly from customers. What did the customers have to say? • Mike Lane, senior director of technology for the New York Yankees, talked about the innovations that technology allowed at Yankee Stadium and across the Yankees organization. He talked about the ways he could leverage technology to help the Yankees — like improved scouting effectiveness, increased merchandise sales, and a better fan experience first and foremost. Using technology to expand and protect the Yankees brand and grow the franchise was his No. 1 priority — and he was leveraging all types of technology to make it happen. Lou Ficarra, a director in AT&T Wireless looking after major venues, told me that he is anxious to work with the Yankees to define safe, fun ways to serve those joint AT&T/Yankees customers with Wi-Fi and cellualr services to improve the expeience of a day at the ballpark. • Esat Sezer, SVP and CIO of Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), talked about using technology (particularly wireless technology) to profitably drive long-term sustainable growth. He focused on consolidating and standardizing his networks to optimize his spending and operational efforts so that he could use technology to improve merchandiser effectiveness and enable better executive communications and collaboration. Leveraging mobility, hyperconnectivity, and real-time analytics, Esat described optimizing CCE logistics and merchandising at retailers and from vending machines. He was also very happy with AT&T’s telepresence offer — seeing increasing utilization quarter over quarter that drove better, more frequent executive communications. • John Ruocco, CEO of Interceptor Ignition Interlocks, could not say enough kind words about AT&T and the support the company provided him from the day he started his company — highlighting AT&T’s willingness to support new applications from any and all sources. Interceptor makes an ignition interlock to prevent the operation of motor vehicles by drivers who are intoxicated beyond the legal limit. John worked with AT&T to define what devices and services would best provide real-time feedback to law enforcement about drunk drivers by utilizing a unique combination of a breathalyzer, a digital camera, and a real-time wireless data connection. While AT&T still has some work to do – like refining sales processes and making consultative sales with the right buyers at their customers – all three of these customers demonstrated that AT&T does understand two things well: We are living in a hyperconnected world and technology must deliver measurable business results. AT&T went the extra mile last week to demonstrate its commitment to bringing useful innovations rapidly out of Bell Labs (and the product development organizations of its partners) into its network. AT&T’s focus on critical success factors that will drive its customers to the top of their industries will build customer loyalty. At Forester, we see more and more technology vendors and service providers who want to be a trusted advisor to their customers and customers wanting to have a single go-to vendor that can help them with a broader cross section of technology and business issues. Commitment, like AT&T’s, to rapidly drive open innovation into profitable use is the path forward to greater trust and reliance between the buyers and sellers of technology.