On the Hot Seat with Tamara Casey

On the Hot Seat with Tamara Casey

Tamara Casey, the former vice president of technology strategy, research and architecture at Nextel Communications, left the company when it merged with Sprint and founded 4DK Technologies, a technology solutions firm that connects networks, applications and devices. Casey recently talked to FierceDeveloper editor in chief Sue Marek about her company's mission to tackle the "gaps" that exist between technology and strategy.

FierceDeveloper: Tamara, you left Nextel in 2005. Why did you decide to start 4DK?

Casey: The main reason was because I really loved what I was doing at Nextel. In my last position before I left Nextel, I was responsible for all the technology strategy and long-term network architecture and technology research for the company. It was an amazing job that allowed me to look at all emerging technologies and really focus on the future and finding a way to differentiate Nextel in the marketplace. I truly loved that work. The challenge was that it wasn't clear that what the business and product strategy was. It is hard to separate a technology strategy from a business strategy. There was this little bit of the dog chasing the tail. The business people would ask the technologies what we should do and the technologies would ask the business people what problem they are trying to solve. This went on for some time.

When the merger occurred [with Sprint], I had an opportunity to leave the company and think about what I wanted to do next. I really decided that a lot of the problems we were trying to tackle within my existing team at Nextel were valid as industry problems, not just as problems as Nextel or problems as Sprint. We were dealing what I refer to as "white spaces," or gaps in technology and strategy. We had to fill those gaps to deliver meaningful services to customers.

Fundamentally I decided that I needed to do the same kind of work but I wanted to be able to do it independent of any type of carrier business dynamic or political or business constraints. I wanted to look at technology from a purist point of view.

FierceDeveloper: Tell me about 4DK and the business proposition.

Casey: The business is focused around two core products. Our Scout platform is an interoperability switch at the application layer. It's an application switch. We view it as a complementary platform to IMS or service delivery platforms, which are common deployments in the carrier today. Those deployments are focused on specific protocols and implementations. For example, IMS was designed to deal with SIP-based services. Service delivery platforms are designed to take carrier legacy data environment and open it up and expose it to web services protocol. The view at 4DK is, What about the rest of the protocols, and why don't those two platforms interoperate with each other? That is that white space or gap that I've been talking about. It's effectively broadening the thinking. At the end of the day, services should be able to interoperate in a way that is meaningful for the end user and not based on the constraints of the protocols or specific application that the service is written in.

For example, people think about instant messaging as a popular service on the Internet today and on cell phones. But instant messaging is not an interoperable service. AOL doesn't talk to MSN, etc. Each company has their own service offering. At 4DK we think those problems should be hidden from the end user. That is an example of application interoperability between a common service type. We also believe if one person has push to talk and another has instant messaging, they are still messaging services and there is no reason the PTT person can't send a message to someone without PTT and have it be an instant message. Those are the problems we are solving at 4DK.

FierceDeveloper: Who is your customer?

Casey: We cater to both developers and operators. Our customers today are some of each. We also have our Scamp platform, which is essentially a smaller version of the same thing that lives in the handset. It takes apps that are native on your device and allows them to interoperate in a way they never have before. Also it solves the problem of when you download new apps or widgets to your device--they don't always recognize what is already there in the native set. We are trying to solve that problem as well.

We have one customer today on the application development side who is working on a diabetes management solution delivered by cell phone. We are helping them with our network platform by enabling for them a food journaling service. You can basically talk into your phone and say "Pizza" and with our platform and their development engine we can covert from speech to text and do a database inquiry and reformat the database inquiry and send information back to the end user and populate the end user's patient portal with their food information. Instead of them having to write everything down, they log in at night and validate what they entered was correct. They have their food journal they can keep for their physicians. This is one of the most commonly requested items by physicians and least followed by patients.

We also have our first trial with a carrier. It's a lab trial where we will be using their lab environment and our network platform to demonstrate many different combinations of PTX [push-to-x] services.


FierceDeveloper: It seems like you are advocating the eliminating of silos and an open network atmosphere. But at the same time you used to work for an operator. Do you really think that type of openness will happen?


Casey: I absolutely do. I'm happy to say that I was not too popular in 2005 when I was espousing that I thought we should open up our network and let the customers tell us what services they wanted to use. That was a very unpopular opinion back then. I'm happy to see that it's gaining traction now.

I do think it's the way of the future. In our conversations with the large operators we have seen them come to terms with this concept that no one knows what the killer app is and people have spent a lot of time and money integrating these incredibly complex services in their network and a little bit on the Field of Dreams "If we built it they will come" theme. And no one came. People are getting frustrated with that model.

This is in the nascent stage. As an industry we haven't figured out what this means and it's gaining momentum. People are looking to offer these unlimited rate plans and the name of the game is giving people what they want for the lowest cost possible. If you are dealing with that cost dilemma and the flexibility and freedom of choice, the only way to do that is through more openness.

FierceDeveloper: What does this mean for developers? Is openness a good thing or does it create more confusion?

Casey: I think that's a good point. It does present some challenges for developers. One of the things that is different about 4DK is that we think it's critical that we allow the technology to adapt to what the developer is doing and not the other way around. Developers, at the end of the day, want to do things their own way. They have a good reason to do it that way. The problem with many silo service development platforms in the past, like IMS, is they are putting a standard out there and telling the developer that if they write to this standard, their application will be compliant. We know that the average developer won't go seeking out the IMS stack. The only time development has worked in wireless is the typical developer program the carriers launch. The challenge there was back in the walled garden phase, you had to fight to get attention.

We believe a critical solution in this is providing a technology interface that adapts to the developer and doesn't cause the developer to adapt to it. That is what our Scout platform is doing.

FierceDeveloper: You have always been in this technology-centric field but I hear you have a background in dance. Tell me about that.

Casey: I grew up doing competitive figure skating and Spanish folk dancing. I've always had that bug since childhood. When I moved to the East Coast in 1993 I started doing competitive ballroom dancing. Like everything else in my life, I'm obsessive about it. I became competitive in it and it was my primary hobby for 15 years. I've always enjoyed the dance business. It provided me with a mind/body connection that you can't get at work. Your mind is going at work but your rear-end is spreading while we are typing away. It was a great exercise and very therapeutic activity. When it was time to leave Nextel, I decided to get a dance business going and maybe it will support me in my retirement.

FierceDeveloper: So you own a dance studio also?

Casey: Yes, you can go to supershagvegas.com and that's my dance studio. We are probably the No. 1 competitive dance studio in the Vegas area.