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Supplier Diversity


Communications: it’s a wide-open field for high-end M/W/VBE suppliers

The telecom industry is an advocate for supplier diversity, and diversity is an important factor in many supplier contracts with industry players

More than ninety telecom companies continue to increase their spending with diverse technology suppliers

Deborah Lansdowne’s eKohs provides high-level IT to telecom and other industries.The past few years have brought major changes in the way the telecom industry does business. The call volume of voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has grown significantly, broadband penetration has expanded through the country and other parts of the world, and demand for fixed-line bandwidth is still growing. Cable companies have blurred the line between themselves and traditional communications providers.

As large firms increasingly call on offshore workers for low-level IT work, they’re also bringing in savvy suppliers to augment their own high-level technical staff on IT-based projects. In addition to excellent IT skills the suppliers are selected for flexibility, willingness to travel and a sense of where the technology is going next. Very often, diversity is another important factor.

TIG’s supplier diversity challenge

In 1999 the Telecommunications Industry Group (TIG), a group of telecom industry professionals committed to supplier diversity, launched a supplier diversity challenge. The idea was originally proposed by AT&T, which challenged other companies in the industry to establish supplier diversity programs aiming at 10 percent procurement with diverse suppliers. The goal was to work up to eventually increasing the industry’s diverse supplier spend by $5 billion.

By the next year thirty more companies had been added to the group’s original fourteen. In the first year of the challenge these companies’ supplier diversity spend increased by $1 billion.

Now it’s nine years later, and more than ninety telecom companies are continuing to increase their spending with diverse suppliers. Although they’re energetic competitors in most areas, companies in the telecom industry do work collaboratively to increase opportunities for diverse suppliers, and M/W/VBEs have benefited.

High-level IT from M/WBE eKohs

Deborah Lansdowne. One of those M/WBEs is eKohs (Herndon, VA). Established by CEO and president Deborah Lansdowne in 2001, eKohs provides high-level IT to telecom and other industries. That includes CIO advisory services like continuity of operations planning strategies and disaster recovery.

eKohs also builds client data centers from the ground up, helps make existing data centers energy-efficient and “green,” and provides consulting for telecom companies wishing to do the work themselves. In 2003 eKohs contracted with Verizon to help build a wireless infrastructure for cellular services in Iraq, and build and operate a wire-line international telephone company there. Several eKohs IT specialists are still overseas with the project.

“Telecom is a large part of our business,” Lansdowne says. She built up twenty years of experience in the industry before starting her own company.

She agrees that certification as an M/WBE by NMSDC, WBENC and others is an advantage for
a company, but it’s only the beginning. “Certification can be a differentiator,” she says, “but if you don’t meet the standards of your clients you won’t be doing business with them for long.”

At eKohs, she adds, “We really work to understand our clients’ needs and solve their business problems. You have to learn their internal processes, sometimes even better than they know them themselves.”

Networking is also essential. “Unless they know you, they won’t be working with you,” she says. “But when you really listen to what they say and follow up on it they’ll stick with you.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is to hone our message and our business proposition. Clients are always going to ask, ‘What will you bring us?’”

MBE Pyramid boosts its business

Namita Tirath. Pyramid Consulting Inc (Alpharetta, GA) has seen a big boost in business since it gained its MBE certification seven years ago. Before that it had mainly served small customers in communications and other markets.

“Having the certification changed everything, says Namita Tirath, VP of sales and marketing at Pyramid. “I can’t begin to tell you how important this has been for us.” The company currently has offices in North Carolina, New Jersey and New Delhi, India, as well as its main Alpharetta office. Last year the company made about $58 million.

Pyramid provides IT staffing for telecom companies including AT&T, Cox Communications and Verizon, and works with system integration companies like Accenture.

“They are asking for higher skill sets in the U.S. as the lower-skill-set jobs move offshore,” Tirath explains.

The communications giants are moving toward hiring vendor management services companies that work onsite. The management providers bring in other vendors for staffing and technical services. “We align ourselves to work with the vendor management companies,” Tirath says.

Verizon: commitment from the top

Monya Emery. Verizon Communications (New York, NY) is one of the communications giants working to increase its diverse supplier spend. “Our commitment comes from the top down; our chair works closely with us on supplier diversity,” says Monya Emery, a supplier diversity operations manager.

Verizon looks for staff augmentation in admin and IT as well as software engineering and financial services. Likely new suppliers are usually offered one specific project, and if they do well they’re brought in again for more.

“We look for a proven track record with electronic data interchange capabilities, and a company that is financially stable,” Emery says. “Most important is that their core competency matches our business needs. They need to have an understanding of Verizon, so instead of asking what we need, they can state, ‘Here’s what we can do for you.’

“Being flexible is very important in this fast-paced environment,” Emery adds. “The suppliers we look for are more and more working on a national and global scale, and our projects are increasingly requiring travel.

“The work here is very fast-paced,” she adds with a smile. “Verizon is a very cutting-edge company, so you can expect that things will move at the speed of light!”

AT&T leverages inclusion

Joan Kerr. “We strive to be an innovative company that leverages diversity and inclusion to deliver world-class products and services,” says Joan Kerr, executive director for supplier diversity programs at AT&T (San Antonio, TX).

The diverse businesses it works with give AT&T good product, she says, with the competitive advantage that “More and more of our corporate and public-sector customers want to do business with a company that has a diverse supply chain.”

AT&T’s supplier diversity program began in 1968. That year AT&T reported spending $175,000 with nine minority-owned businesses.

It also launched the first of many minority business trade shows at its Hawthorne Works facility near Chicago, IL. It partnered with a minority business organization that has segued into the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, now part of the NMSDC network.

Expanding the programs

AT&T’s programs continue to grow and expand. “Today we focus our efforts on businesses owned by minorities, women and service-disabled veterans,” Kerr says. Annually, AT&T aims to spend 15 percent of its procurement budget with MBEs, 5 percent with WBEs and 1.5 percent with DVBEs. “We strive to meet these goals by integrating them into our key business plan metrics. We monitor them monthly with leadership oversight, by company, business unit, sourcing team and commodity area.”

Last year AT&T spent $5 billion with diverse suppliers. The company contracted for a wide variety of technical products and services from them: IT consulting, software integration, computer hardware, design and engineering services and call center ops, as well as marketing programs and telemarketing services.

Building for the long term

AT&T is interested in long-term strategic relationships. “We look for companies with the size, scope and robust e-enabled operations to partner with a global company like us,” Kerr explains. When she interviews a new M/W/DVBE she likes to be shown articulated solutions tailored to AT&T’s business objectives.

“We require our suppliers to offer rigorous quality and service metrics to meet customer demand. We recommend that they increase their competitive edge by obtaining quality certifications like ISO or our industry-specific TL9000 registration,” Kerr concludes.

Demographics boost diversity at Cox

Ruby Patton. As the fourth-largest cable provider in the nation, Cox Communications Inc (Atlanta, GA) has more than six million customers and 20,000 employees.
“The overall makeup of our universe of customers and potential customers is shifting dramatically and, in some locations, almost daily,” declares Ruby Patton, senior manager of supplier diversity at Cox Communications.

“We need to understand our marketplace, stay ahead of it and reflect its needs. The more we understand and reflect our marketplace the greater our competitive advantage will be.”

To do this, Patton says, “We put measurements in place to track both our direct and second-tier spending with minority suppliers. Our goal is to increase overall minority spending 5 percent each year, and we’ve been exceeding that each year.”

Cox uses technical consultants and contractors for a wide range of projects and services, including financial systems ops, engineering and design, fiber network ops, IT and more. “Suppliers who are dedicated to educating themselves about the ever-changing environment and technology of cable, Internet and telephony are in a great position to do business with Cox Communications,” says Patton.

Sprint promotes prosperity

Haleemah Hall. At Sprint, the supplier diversity department works closely with supply chain management and internal business units to make sure diverse suppliers are included in the procurement process. “We pride ourselves on promoting the growth and prosperity of diverse suppliers by aligning their value propositions with our corporate strategy and goals,” says Haleemah Hall, manager of supplier diversity at Sprint (Overland Park, KS). Hall works at a Sprint facility in Georgia.

“It’s critical that our workforce and supplier base reflect the society around us,” she adds. “Diversity of thought is crucial for a business to succeed.”

The M/W/DVBEs Sprint favors are agile, with passion and often unique subject matter expertise, Hall comments. They provide services in network design, engineering, logistics, network software and hardware design, cell site engineering and construction, IT professional services and staff augmentation.

Sprint’s registration database for diverse suppliers is part of the tool used to complete the sourcing process at the company. “That means that the inclusion of diverse suppliers is seamless for our sourcing folks,” Hall says.


Check out the active programs at these companies.

Company and location Business area
(San Antonio, TX)
Wireless, high-speed Internet, voice and satellite television
(Philadelphia, PA)
Cable for television and high-speed Internet service
Cox Communications
(Atlanta, GA)
Digital cable TV service
(Plano, TX)
Technology and services for telecom operators
Qwest Communications International
(Denver, CO)
Broadband, video and voice communications
(Dallas, TX)
Mobile phone service
Verizon Communications
(New York, NY)
Broadband, cellular and land lines

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