Earlier this month, AT&T decided to shake up its partner ecosystem. Longtime channel chief Brooks McCorcle is stepping down, and her successor, Zee Hussain, will oversee AT&T’s merger of its three separate indirect channels under one umbrella.

AT&T Partner Exchange, AT&T Alliance solutions, and ACC Business will now all reside as part of AT&T Partner Solutions, the new channel organization led by Hussain. McCorcle, who oversaw the creation and execution of Partner Exchange four years ago and has presided over it since, made her victory lap at this year’s Partner Exchange Summit in Dallas, Texas, this week.

The VAR Guy sat down with McCorcle and Hussain to talk about what Partner Exchange got right, and where it’s headed next.

What’s going on at Partner Exchange Summit this year that has you excited?

Brooks: The breadth of partners that we’re seeing, the sophistication of the conversation is just growing. When I stand up on stage and look back and look at everything we’ve accomplished over four years or even just over the last year, the growth we’re seeing from partners putting wireline and wireless together, the growth we’re seeing from partners who are putting wireless WAN into their solutions, the growth in partners who are having conversations about IoT and getting certifications—to me, that breadth of discussion has really risen.

Zee: I’m coming from a totally different perspective. It’s my first time attending the Summit. You don’t really grasp it until you’re here and you talk to the folks and you see the employees at Partner Exchange, there’s just a sense of partnership and ownership I haven’t seen.

What was going on in the channel that made you think it was the right time for a program like Partner Exchange?

Zee: Going to your point of just the timing of this thing and how partners are evolving to solving business problems, I think it plays into some of the things we’re enabling for them. We believe IoT is certainly in that space. The partners have maybe their software, maybe a piece of equipment they manage, and they need to bundle it with bandwidth, and now you have an end-to-end solution that you can go and offer.

Brooks: And then there’s that whole switch from hardware to software, from give me a commission up front to creating a revenue stream that’s recurring. Once you’ve made that leap, it creates a sustainable business that’s growing, and we’re just here to feed it with new products, new capabilities, trying to show the path to mobility and IoT. A lot of our audience started as a wireline only practice, and maybe is still a wireline only practice. We’re trying to show them a path and educate them and help them design a conversation they need to be having with customers if they want to maximize the value of their relationship.

How does the Partner Exchange program approach partners’ pain points differently?

Brooks: We literally started with a blank sheet. We invited several solution providers in, the team sat around them and said, “We’re building this around you, what do you want it to look like?” It started the conversation of: “You’re hard to work with. You’re not as responsive as we need. We’re out there in front of the customer and we need to be able to quote it and put it together quickly.”

All that we put into Support Center came from conversations with solution providers. I need to be able to see where an order is in the system. If something breaks, I need to be able to put in a trouble ticket. If there’s some configuration issue I’m having with my solution, who do I engage to do that? All of that’s in Support Center. It’s all in one place. That’s what they say that they want.

There’s been a lot of talk about IoT at this year’s Summit. Have we reached a point where solution providers are finding practical ways to monetize IoT?

Brooks: Look, nobody reaches the mid markets as well as some of our solution providers, particularly when they’ve got a trusted relationship. Now they have to start having IoT conversations about where their customers’ business is going to grow and how we’re going to support them. The conversation has to get a lot more sophisticated now.

Zee: It goes back to what you were talking about: solving business problems. These customers are turning to their partners, their software partners and others that they’ve worked with, looking for answers. That’s been a great opportunity for AT&T because the missing piece is really the connectivity. So we can work closely with them to make sure the connectivity is bundled with their software and the end-to-end solution solves the client’s business problem. We’re starting to see a tremendous amount of momentum in the IoT space.

Brooks: We’re not in the business of just bringing in IoT solution providers. This is about how do we augment the solution for the customer ultimately with IoT as a part of that solution. You’re talking about how do I monetize it…to me, I don’t see this channel being a place where we bring in an IoT expert that’s somehow going to make a lot of money here. This is about how do we take our existing, established partners and help them fold in IoT to enrich the value of what they offer those customers.

What’s the next big thing on your radar? What will we be talking about at next year’s Summit?

Brooks: 5G. The march to 5G networking is going to be very different than what it meant to go from 2G to 3G to 4G to LTE. This latency is going to be as fast as the flutter of the fastest hummingbird wing that’s ever been documented. Use your imagination to think of what all the possibilities are that come with that networking. What all the opportunities are that will be out there to take advantage of, who’s to guess? It clearly has to do with connecting everything to everything, and yeah, that’s IoT-oriented, but it’s also building the networks that can maximize that, improve coverage, lower costs and provide more room for margin—that’s where we’re going.

Zee: 5G is a game changer in a lot of ways. You’ve probably heard us talk a lot about our migration to a software-defined network with NFV functions. Essentially, we’re moving at our core away from proprietary hardware to commodity hardware with software functions controlling everything. Really, the goal is that ultimately, if you have fiber facilities in a building, you’re on a software-defined network, we should be able to turn up services within seconds and minutes, not weeks and months.