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Michael O’Brien of iconectiv: “Having a recognized centralized resource for providing this trust is essential”

We want to re-establish a connection that people can truly believe in again by shutting down the inadvertent technical loopholes that were created in the advent of progress or innovation. There is a way to do that by going back to the basics. Whether it is an illegal robocall or a spoofed text, everyone is […]

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We want to re-establish a connection that people can truly believe in again by shutting down the inadvertent technical loopholes that were created in the advent of progress or innovation. There is a way to do that by going back to the basics. Whether it is an illegal robocall or a spoofed text, everyone is impacted when trust is undermined. iconectiv’s deep-rooted intelligence in enabling trust and verifying communications — and as an authority in fraud mitigation and prevention — enables businesses to protect consumers and their communications. We want people to feel informed when answering the phone; because, unequivocally, if consumers begin answering the phone again it can only benefit businesses and the economy.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael O’Brien, Chief Product Officer at iconectiv. He is responsible for executing on the company’s strategy and driving new pathways of sustainable growth for the company.

An experienced industry veteran, O’Brien has more than 30 years of experience in the mobile communications industry. He most recently served as Group Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at Syniverse, where he focused on product and geographic expansion to support the company’s strategic priorities.

O’Brien was recently named one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Roaming and Interconnect Industry by Rocco Research. He holds a Bachelor of Computer Science Degree from the University of Virginia, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I graduated from the University of Virginia, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with a degree in computer science. Back then, lots of companies had management training programs, and I was fortunate to be offered one with a large company. It was incredibly valuable because the program gave me exposure to a wide range of functions and divisions within the business. Over the years, I did very well there likely because I never said no to an opportunity. Even if it was a lateral move. I had friends who passed on opportunities if they weren’t promotions. But I took jobs if I found them interesting and was willing to try new things outside of my comfort zone. As a result, I was better positioned when a promotion was on the horizon because I had more experiences and had learned skills that I would have otherwise not acquired if I had stayed in the same position.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once accepted a job at a startup within a huge conglomerate not known for doing startups. I was brought on board specifically to develop an operations team for its launch, which was expected in 60 days. Within a year, however, the business still hadn’t launched, and I was tasked with building a shutdown plan. I never thought in the span of a year, I would be part of both the start and end of a company. It was an experience that really taught me a lot both professionally and personally. Thinking back, I distinctly remember more the human impact then the operational impact of the shutdown. After all, we were all going through what was a fairly traumatic and tumultuous experience. Approaching this from a team perspective, rather than an individual one certainly helped all of us. I do believe that we came out of it stronger, more resilient and a bit more savvy about the ebb and flow of business and the elements that are in our control and those that are not. It also was a significant bonding experience. In fact, many of us continued to stay in touch as we moved on to bigger and better things.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wrote: “Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.” I think too often we argue in a way that limits our potential. “I can’t do this, I can’t do that because…” A person can fill in the blank all day long. At the end of the day, however, each of us must decide whether or not we are ready, willing and able to take on a new opportunity, tackle a challenge or a make a change.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Not surprising, there are so many people who have contributed to my career success. My parents always set high expectations for what my four siblings and I could achieve in life, which helped give me the self-confidence needed to pursue success. My husband has supported me through multiple moves and has always been both my cheerleader and reality check. I also worked with a particular mentor multiple times early in my career who was always willing to give me opportunities and chances to grow professionally. She did that even when I didn’t think it aligned with what I thought I was capable of (there’s the quote about arguing for limitations coming back). Hopefully I’ve paid all of this kindness forward.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The explosive growth and ubiquitous reach of mobile technology has been responsible for many examples of commercial success. I’ve been lucky to be involved in leveraging these same attributes for philanthropic purposes and social entrepreneurism. I served on the Board of Directors for the Mobile Giving Foundation (https://mobilegiving.org/), which is an organization designed to help charities use mobile technology to assist in fundraising through donations via text messaging that get billed back through a subscriber’s mobile phone bill. I’m currently on the board of the CTIA Wireless Foundation (https://www.wirelessfoundation.org/,) which has a long record of supporting programs that promote the societal benefits of mobile technology. The Foundation previously launched programs like Wireless AMBER Alert, Text4Baby, which provides healthcare information to mothers, and PulsePoint, which connects CPR-trained individuals to nearby healthcare emergencies. This year, the Foundation is focused on the Catalyst (https://www.wirelessfoundation.org/catalyst) program to provide grants to social entrepreneurs who are focused on using wireless technology to improve the health and well-being of citizens.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

We know that the robocall epidemic has resulted in 76 percent of consumers no longer answering calls from unfamiliar and unidentified numbers, which means that they are also ignoring calls from unexpected authentic sources like emergency responders or COVID-19 testing centers. Needless to say, legitimate businesses and government agencies are significantly impacted by their inability to reach consumers. This creates a multitude of issues for consumers and drives costs for legitimate businesses and government agencies. Restoring consumer confidence in the information that is presented on their caller ID is critical to get those calls answered again. It is a complicated problem to solve and one that we have actively been addressing. We have technological solutions available today that help mitigate illegal robocalls and illegal robotexts, which will ultimately restore trust in this critical B2C communication channel to consumers

It’s beneficial for brands to communicate effectively with their consumers as it provides a level of legitimacy and prevents fraud. It can also help regain trust in tools we are so dependent on, like phone calls and text messaging.

How do you think this might change the world?

We want to re-establish a connection that people can truly believe in again by shutting down the inadvertent technical loopholes that were created in the advent of progress or innovation. There is a way to do that by going back to the basics. Whether it is an illegal robocall or a spoofed text, everyone is impacted when trust is undermined. iconectiv’s deep-rooted intelligence in enabling trust and verifying communications — and as an authority in fraud mitigation and prevention — enables businesses to protect consumers and their communications. We want people to feel informed when answering the phone; because, unequivocally, if consumers begin answering the phone again it can only benefit businesses and the economy.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I think it’s a slippery slope like Big Brother, which is a theme in a Black Mirror episode. People may expect that if they do an online search they will likely see advertisements related to that search. It is completely a different experience to be online, on a social media platform or browsing the internet and see advertisements that are related to the contents of private conversations or texts or, even worse, getting the sense that an automated home assistant is listening in and feeding information into those online channels. Sometimes over-personalization can be a little disconcerting, especially when it seems as if a person’s private conversations or even thoughts, in the case of Black Mirror, can somehow become known, monetized or publicized.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

When it comes to voice communication, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plays a major part. In the mid-1990s, a new technology was developed to change the way phone calls were sent and received. While, on the surface, it seemed like a great idea it unintentionally allowed the trusted connection between sender and receiver to be compromised. That is because the information that was presented on a Caller ID could be changed and suddenly, there was a way for imposters to connect directly with people on a device that had been trusted for more than a century. To complicate matters even further, there were few ways for consumers to discern what was legitimate and what was not. It proved a profitable path for fraudsters and that created more attempts, more people being defrauded, more skepticism, more public outcry and, ultimately, less people answered their phones. That adversely affects businesses and economies. This culminated in the FCC launching a Robocall Strike Force in August 2016 to bring together participants across the industry to address and solve this problem. Much progress has been made and we are already seeing the fruits of those efforts through increased call blocking, better analytics, new apps and implementation of new standards that re-establish the tamper-proof call treatment and caller id information that we had enjoyed previously.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Having a recognized centralized resource for providing this trust is essential. Working with the government and the industry as a whole is critical to re-establishing a trusted connection that people can truly believe in again. By shutting down the inadvertent technical loopholes that were created as a byproduct of progress, we have an opportunity to bring back trust. That’s what iconectiv is focused on now.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way that we behave. One of them is the way we work and communicate, how do you think your innovation might be able to address the needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

There is an interesting parallel here. Currently, there is not a centralized method to monitor and distribute vaccines. Some agencies are focused on distribution to senior citizens. Others are dealing with communities or hospitals. They are all disconnected from one another and so, not surprisingly, their efforts and impact are not as efficient, productive or successful as they could be. For instance, everyone is working on communicating to their constituents and that creates duplication and miscommunication and people who need the vaccine aren’t getting it. Everyone is frustrated. Centralized communication will undoubtedly help solve the problem faster. When executed correctly, it really has everyone’s best interests at heart. As the centralized resource for the telecommunications industry, iconectiv’s model can serve as a great example.

The pandemic has shifted the way we operate through all aspects of life. We are now relying on telecommunications networks more than ever before. Everyday tasks, like shopping, have been forced to operate online due to the mass COVID-19 closures. Now, consumers are receiving notifications about deliveries, being encouraged to participate in online banking, and visit the doctor virtually. All these industries that originally operated in person have pivoted their businesses and forms of communication completely. Now, the question is whether the communication we are receiving is from a legitimate source or not; and so, trusting communication channels becomes that much more important.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Learn a language. The world is global, and all industries are going global. Learning a language shows a sense of respect and interest in other cultures. My career has taken me across Europe, Asia and South America. I’m always impressed when I meet multi-lingual people who eventually find a common language that allows them to communicate. When I was in a small village in France, I went to the local market and nobody spoke English. Even though my skill in French is extremely limited, they were thrilled that I was trying and happy to help me. I even ended up getting invited to a local World Cup watch party later that evening.

Know the difference between a consumer business versus a business that serves other companies. It’s something I had to learn on the job. It will help in deciding what direction to go in and who you want to serve. For large, consumer-focused businesses, you may not ever meet your actual end customers. In a B2B (Business to Business) environment, your success is often dependent on the success of your business customers. If you succeed financially but your customer does not, it will not be a good long-term relationship.

Follow the money. I don’t mean that from the perspective of chasing money but rather understanding where the true value of a business is coming from. If you understand how your customer monetizes their business, you can cater your offerings and business model to align with their success. For instance, while it may be attractive for a vendor to charge a high fee up front, the customer may be more inclined to choose a vendor who is willing to charge a lower up-front fee but share in future revenues. This is how you change the narrative from being viewed as a vendor to being viewed as a business partner. You share in the risk but also share in the success.

Don’t shy away from working for a smaller company where you can be more impactful, and your career can progress. You can broaden your experience rather than specializing in just one thing and you will learn quickly that there are a lot of roles that people can play that will contribute to the success of the company. You’ll also learn to appreciate the diversity in experience. For example, while consulting with a foreign company I helped them open a U.S. office. I had to deal with realtors, purchase furniture, set up a network and negotiate employment agreements. While these tasks weren’t part of my day-to-day responsibilities as a customer deployment and testing manager, I learned a lot from the operational role. I also learned how to prioritize the myriad of decisions that cross my desk on any given day and gained invaluable professional insight into what other organizations tasks involve, which has enabled me to better work with team members across the business.

Don’t limit yourself by your degree. Even though I majored in computer science, I’ve never written a line of code in my career since graduating. So, I would say: don’t judge other people based on their degrees, because you don’t know how their career may unfold.

As a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

There is no doubt that digital communications have brought people closer while making it more convenient than ever to engage with businesses. In the era of COVID-19, where the lines are blurred between work-from-home and personal life and everyone is focused on connectivity through socially distanced interactions, it is even more important to put devices down and live in the moment and not through a screen. There is such an increased emphasis on productivity in the digital age that people are forgetting to disconnect from their devices and be present, give themselves time to think and ponder what is possible. Thomas Edison once said “The best thinking is done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.”

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can keep up to date with iconectiv’s latest news via our website www.iconectiv.com and connect with me via LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelo3/.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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