Sunday, December 04, 2011

AT&T and the Medical Business (yet another AT&T war story):



The old AT&T, the original “Ma Bell” telephone monopoly, got deeply into the medical business in the early 1990’s. I know about this because I worked as a consultant – for about five months – for a unit that AT&T funded for the purpose of taking control of, and coordinating, all of AT&T’s medical businesses.

You’re probably wondering what I mean by “Medical business,” telephonically speaking. I mean that AT&T was selling computer systems that enabled doctors to transmit and analyze the results of MRI’s and other high tech test results. AT&T went so far as to create compatibilities between some of the top medical products, so that various hospitals and medical suites could share and compare their work.

You’re probably wondering why a telephone company was selling medical products. Well: read on.

In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, AT&T was a problem solver for a great variety of businesses. Networks were quite complex in those days, and AT&T’s feeling was: whatever products you have, we’ll tell you how to connect them. In some fields, the incompatibility of popular products was a bane, but since AT&T was often in charge of connecting things, they got into the compatibility business as well. They recommended products that they knew could work together, and they made deals with the manufacturers to configure them and sell them.

Several branches of AT&T fell into the medical business. Any part of AT&T that suffered through the agony of building connectivity for a medical customer immediately advertized their ability to do so, and tried to expand into as many networked medical products as they could.

The group I was in failed, immediately and spectacularly, to control and coordinate these medically-aware compartments of AT&T. AT&T was a feudal company, so there was no pressure from the top for anyone to cooperate with us. Every other AT&T group that was into medicine looked at us and said, “Who are you? Leave us alone, we’re making money.”

Our group was disbanded, and our funding was taken away, after our own group of marketing experts were asked the key question: Why should AT&T be in the medical business, anyway?

Our experts gave a presentation to answer this question. I believe that what they proposed was correct for AT&T, but it was so lame that we were dismatled at once. I hope that our proposal was bad enough to persuade AT&T to get out of medicine altogether, but I have no idea whether there were repercussions. Here was our marketing proposal, in essence:
When customers see how well AT&T can network medical systems, they will realize that they should go to AT&T to network and configure every kind of business system.

Please allow me to point out how lame this was:

1: AT&T at that time believed that they were better than anyone else at networking business systems. They already had a gigantic budget to press this general case; they did not need the medical projects to augment this kind of marketing.

2: What’s the point of being in the medical business, if your reason for being there has nothing to do with medicine? How is that going to keep you cutting edge or even relevant?


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