It can be hard to fight for what you think makes sense to help your business move with the times, but the results can be astonishing.

By Marian Croak (Senior Vice President, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Advanced Services Development, AT&T)

Innovation as a concept is easy to support, but innovation in practice can be a tough sell, especially when you’re trying to convince your company to make a huge investment in a new technology.

Moving With the Times

But that’s exactly the situation I found myself in early in my career, when the telecom industry was at an inflection point. Roughly 20 years ago, AT&T realized that its legacy wireline phone network, which used a technology called circuit switching, was nearing the end of its life. The company was leaning towards adopting a new standard called ATM.

But a small group of my fellow engineers and I thought that packet switching technology, built around a then-obscure thing called internet protocol, was a more powerful and flexible platform.

Today, of course, AT&T is migrating wireline customers to an all IP network, and the benefits are seen all around you, enabling us to send video, data and voice communications across the same network.

Why I Knew IP Made Sense

IP networks are an upgrade over the old circuit switch networks in many ways, including greater reliability and redundancy. Your data is not sent over a single, dedicated circuit, but rather is broken up into packets and sent over multiple paths. So if one route fails and a packet is lost, the receiving machine will be able to tell what’s missing based on the packets that did make it through and request a replacement. This all happens in milliseconds.

IP networks also enable new services we couldn’t even previously imagine, such as recording multiple TV channels at one time or seeing caller ID flash up on your TV screen when someone rings your home phone. Cool stuff.

But at the time when I and my colleagues were making our case for IP, the future was far from certain.

Having the Conviction to Speak Up

I’m normally a pretty quiet, reserved person, but this was a moment where I felt I had to make my voice heard if AT&T was going to maintain its leadership role in the communications industry.

I therefore discovered that I had to become something of a troublemaker within my company, and I let people know that I thought we were making a strategic mistake by not investing in the internet as the future of our business.

For me, the key was finding a few coworkers who shared my belief. While we were still outnumbered, we weren’t alone and isolated. We could brainstorm together, give each other support, and gradually build a base of other employees and managers who shared our vision.

It was a tough battle. But from that core group, we were able to build support for our argument and ultimately convince the company that we were right… so now it’s on to the next challenge!

Do you have any tips on how to make your views heard in the workplace?

m_croakAbout the guest blogger: Marian is responsible for overseeing the design and implementation of AT&T’s next-generation network architecture (Domain 2.0). Marian attended Princeton University and the University of Southern California and has a PhD in Social Psychology and Quantitative Analysis.