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AT&T, American Airlines, HPE Reveal Strategies for Corporate Innovation

CNN’s Anderson Cooper discussed tomorrow’s technologies, skill sets, and challenges with CEOs from the three companies.
By Danielle Abril |
CNN's Anderson Cooper, from left, interviewed CEOS Doug Parker, Meg Whitman, and Thaddeus Arroyo. Danielle Abril

The companies that will thrive in the future are the ones that can move the fastest, and rising technologies will play key roles in increasing the pace of innovation. CEOs from three of the nation’s largest companies, which have major hubs in Dallas-Fort Worth, stressed that message at a panel discussion during the inaugural AT&T Business Summit.

“They’re going to measure our businesses by comparing them to the best-in-class,” Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Business, said about consumers. “You’ve got to raise [the bar] to a new level because it’s being raised by the best innovators in the world.”

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper led Wednesday’s session, titled “Perspectives on Innovation and Disruption,” featuring American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, and Arroyo. The two-day summit, hosted at The Gaylord Texan Resort, serves as a showcase for AT&T solutions that aid with digital transformation.

Parker, Whitman, and Arroyo were clear about their message: Companies need to stay ahead of the latest trends and technologies to defend themselves from outside disruption. But how they’ve each approached innovation has been unique to their respective businesses.

For Whitman of HPE, it meant breaking apart a large company into four smaller, nimble businesses. Whitman was brought into Hewlett-Packard Co. to aid the then-struggling Hewlett Packard Co. She set up a five-year turnaround plan and said the key to the company’s success has been transparency. But even though she was dealt a tough hand, she couldn’t solely focus on recovery and leave innovation on the backburner. So while she executed the turnaround strategy, she also was leading an entire redo of HP’s IT operations, speeding up innovation and commercialization cycles from once or twice a year to regular occurrences that can happen in weeks and sometimes even days, she said.

Innovation also doesn’t have to start with major tasks. It can start internally, with simple digital enhancements—like cloud implementation for a mobile workforce—that can improve the employee experience, Whitman believes. “The words ‘digital transformation’ for every company seem awfully broad,” Whitman told Cooper. “You’ve got to create a vision of what the future looks like, and break it down into bite-sized pieces.”

Arroyo, meanwhile, says AT&T’s strategy has a lot to do with the growing skills gap between today’s professionals and tomorrow’s jobs. “We no longer live in era where you walk out of college and have skills that are going to be relevant for any amount of time,” Arroyo said. “So this commitment to always developing is critical, but as companies, we have an obligation to create pathways.” For AT&T, this means exploring the interests of its 27,000 employees and matching those with skill sets and jobs that are in demand. AT&T even has a platform that allows employees to view which skill sets and jobs within the company are on the rise and which are decreasing in demand.

Arroyo urged other companies to refrain from thinking in linear improvements—as that is not where innovation lives, he says. “Start with one simple question: How do you want it to work?” he said, adding that companies would be wise to not constrain themselves with how they plan to execute. “What you may realize is the solution to the problem may exist.”

At American Airlines, Doug Parker has had his hands full. The company is still working on finishing the complicated task that comes with merging two airlines and all of its systems. American merged with US Airways in 2013. Meanwhile, it’s fending off aggressive competitors that are constantly improving their products and services, replacing aging planes, and rolling out digital products and services that enhance the in-flight, pre-flight, and post-flight experiences.

While Parker touted new developments like bag alerts, which tell travelers when their luggage may not have made the trip and allows them to schedule a delivery, he also is aware that much improvement is needed. “We need to move faster,” Parker said, adding that the bag alerts took two years to go from idea to implementation. The alerts went live in summer. So when software armed with AI and machine learning can write new software, the game will change for companies like American, Parker believes. “It has a profound impact on business,” Parker said. “Anything that can make us go faster we’re a huge fan of.”

But that’s not the only thing AI and machine learning will impact. The technologies will aid in mass cybersecurity attacks, automatically searching for, finding, and fixing any type of cyber attack, which arrive in droves, said Whitman. “We have hundreds of thousands of intrusions a second coming across our company because a lot of it is roboticized,” she said. And combining AI and machine learning with the upcoming 5G network, will create an entire new set of capabilities that will make autonomous vehicles and medical innovations in virtual and augmented reality prevalent, Arroyo said.

“There’s some exciting things happening,” Arroyo added. “The software-ification of everything … that’s going to continue.”

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