Q&A: CenturyLink and the Modern Telco


If it seems like there’s big news coming from CenturyLink every month lately, that’s because there is. It appears to have started with the news of the telecom’s intended $34 billion acquisition of Level 3, announced last October, and confirmation, weeks later, of the sale of its data centers and colocation business to BC Partners for $2.25 billion in cash.

Gahn--Lane-CenturyLinkCenturyLink executives have been vocal about the 80-year-old company’s strategic and aggressive transformation. Today, CenturyLink’s message is that the company will continue to be the one-stop solution for the hybrid IT needs for its customers and remains committed to a wide range of IT services, including managed hosting, cloud and network, as well as colocation, through a strategic relationship with BC Partners. {ad}

This year, the acquisition of Seal Consulting, a SAP solutions provider for enterprise-wide business and technology needs, will add about 4,000 SAP consultants to CenturyLink’s roster. This acquisition, CenturyLink stated, illustrates its commitment to expanding its IT and managed services business; further enhancing its application transformation capabilities and expanding its commitment to the SAP ecosystem and to providing integrated application/infrastructure solutions.

And with that, the company revamped its Alliance program, in February. Expansion of its Alliance program was designed to better serve enterprise customers with advanced communications and IT solutions. It also offers channel partners four routes to partnership: the Channel Alliance; Software Alliance; Systems Integrator Alliance; and Strategic Partner Alliance.

We caught up with Gahn Lane, vice president, software industry at CenturyLink at Dell EMC World 2017, and talked about CenturyLink’s makeover, the channel and where they’re going from here.

Channel Partners: Let’s talk about changes at CenturyLink.

Gahn Lane:  Like many of the leaders at CenturyLink, I’ve been here less than a year. Most of us are fairly new because the company is reinventing itself. They recruited a lot of folks with a background in channel, telecom, software, distribution, etc. We’re a great company but a sleepy southern telco and we don’t want to be that anymore.

We have a tremendous amount of intellectual capital that we brought into the company, and it’s not to replace people, it’s to invest and inject enthusiasm – particularly for the channel.

When the deals with Seal and Level 3 close, we’re going to be the biggest B2B player in North America and one of the biggest in the world. So when you think about that – and look at our competitors – they’re focused on subsidizing the iPhone or content or buying Yahoo or trying to get bought by Sony, we’re not.

We divested that and are strictly focused on cloud, managed services, B2B and software. It’s a big change [for us] and big differentiator.

CP: Tell us more about your responsibilities.

GL: The business I run is software, so I own all the software clients and partners in CenturyLink. We have about 4,000 software company clients (ISVs) and, today, we have 1,000 actively selling solutions that are dependent on our network, our managed services, our cloud, etc.

My team’s job is to do two things – and I inherited a substantial direct sales business, and that’s great, we’re not getting out of the direct sales business – but, we need to have a channel business and CenturyLink doesn’t have a history of partnering.

We built a partner program and launched it in February, and one thing about it that’s different and important to the channel world – traditional channel partner programs are built on volume, Gold, Platinum, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, software partners don’t click like that, number one. Number two, if you’re new, the barrier to entry is pretty high. So we built it on go-to-market needs and demands.

There are four paths you can take: traditional channel, where you have software and if you need our network and resell our network … nothing wrong with that, it’s a transactional relationship and we’ll treat you well; the next is MSP – you want to deliver the whole thing to the client, white label. Those two, you’re selling it.

The third and fourth path, we’re selling it: we have an online marketplace, called Gateway – and your software can sit in our marketplace and my guys can sell it. We’ve had the cloud marketplace for less than a year. The fourth path, is invitation only, and we call that Accelerator. That’s where we would ask you to join and we’d totally integrate your software into an offer and we’d sell it on your behalf, just like we’d sell a Cisco router, etc., but the point is none of those are a disadvantage for a software company; it’s a matter of what they need and where the fit.

CP: What’s CenturyLink’s relationship with Dell EMC?

GL: What Dell EMC brings to the table is parts and pieces that allow us to deliver a software solution for the client. We don’t want to say to the client, pick what you want, we want to say, here are two flavors you can buy and these are who we’re going to focus on and have a relationship with – these are tested and guaranteed

[Channel Partners spoke with Jay Snyder, senior vice president, global alliances, service providers and industries, who told us that his organization looks at telcos through two different lenses: traditional carrier who has its own networking business; a dedicated business that’s six months old and their job is to build features, functions and solution engineer capability specifically for the carrier domain. So, network function virtualization, real-time intelligence, all the things that carriers are trying to do today.

The second lens for telcos is their hosting business, their cloud service provider business, how they want to go to market, and they’re all trying to launch those or take those to the next level, he said. “We focus on these telcos as Alliance Partners. We work with them to build solutions whether they’re industry specific or geographical in nature or technical in nature, and we go to market through them. They host our technology and solutions just like a Rackspace would, and they sell those out to the marketplace,” Snyder explained.

AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Rogers, are examples of North American Dell EMC cloud service provider partners. This second lens for telcos is a channel play, or how are we going to sell our solutions with them in the market to their existing customer base or new customers, he said.]

GL: We also developed Cloud Application Manager (CAM). So if you have cloud with us or with Amazon or Microsoft, for example, we have deep relationships with them, we can manage all that for you with one pane of glass. It also allows us to easily shift your workloads … we want to be able to support you no matter what basket you put your eggs in.

That’s not the way telcos operated. It was always our way or the highway. And, we’re taking a totally different approach.

We’re not exiting our core businesses that we have in place, we’re not laying off our employees, this is layering on and building for the future.

CP: So what would you like readers to take away?

GL: CenturyLink is moving aggressively into the channel space and is very committed to this strategy.

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