CenturyLink rolled out two-way 1Gbps fiber in five additional states on May 18. The move enables another 115,000 potential U.S. business locations to trust more of their IT services to the cloud, and their computing environments to off-site data centers. Those are precisely the roles CenturyLink wants to play.
Like many other telcos, the carrier is expanding beyond voice and data services into off-site disaster recovery, backup, hosting, VoIP, storage and Microsoft Office 365. More IT services, including desktop-as-a-service, are on the road map, says Scott Hamilton, manager of product operations for CenturyLink’s SaaS group. The gigabit speed enables CenturyLink to help customers, and SMBs in particular, migrate and host entire IT environments.
CenturyLink first deployed gigabit fiber for business customers in 16 cities in August 2014. It now adds parts of Iowa, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, for a Gbps footprint spanning 17 mostly southern and western states. Hamilton makes the popular point that with Gbps Internet access to the cloud, more of the applications and services once enjoyed only by enterprises come within reach of SMBs. Such businesses need to be located near the company’s fiber network backbone or in fiber-fed, multitenant unit office buildings.
Growing the channel force to sell and support these IT services is a challenge that may compare in time and effort to building its 250,000-route-mile FTTP (fiber to the premises) U.S. network.
Making the Leap up the IT Stack
Blake Wetzel, vice president of CenturyLink’s Channel Alliance, says the carrier has prepared programs and tools to help their traditional telecom partners make the transition into “more of a holistic IT partner. We’re using these types of services to train them to go higher up on the IT stack.” Another carrier division is preparing an application marketplace, to expand their offerings well beyond Office.
First among tasks is coaching partners on how to change from product-focused pitches to solutions-focused conversations. For now, Wetzel is working with a list of 40 to 50 targeted partners, of different regions and customer sizes.
These partners have to have shown some investment in IT expertise. “Some have brought in people from IT VAR communities; they’re positioned at a level high enough to not be responding to RFPs, but talking to C-level people about how their enterprises are evolving,” says Wetzel. Some partners have even hired
the CIOs of former customers to speak to their enterprise prospects in their own language.
Wetzel also stresses that these partners want to use CenturyLink’s own training resources, architects and solutions people, and to make joint sales presentations.
Other Channel Alliance tactics being employed to promote IT partner sales include quoting tools, onboarding and migration support, and access to accurate, current service availability. “A lot of these SMBS have multiple locations,” Wetzel notes. “We work with our engineering teams to address cases in which a customer may have some locations where we don’t yet have assets.”
In a May 13 email to Channel Alliance partners, Wetzel also announced the formation of a new Platform Technology Support team of more than 40 subject matter experts. Half are assigned to the channel to help “with any hosting, cloud or managed services opportunity… in areas such as Cloud, Managed Hosting, Colocation, Disaster Recovery, Big Data, Managed Services and Consulting Services.” The team is specifically assigned to “facilitate strategy sessions and workshop sessions with customers.”