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Top 15 Stories of the Year and Lessons Learned: AT&T, CenturyLink, More

Top Stories

It’s your show.

A big thanks to our loyal readers who have ridden the wave of news throughout 2018. We didn’t come up with this list — you did, by making these 15 stories the most-read this year on Channel Partners. All we’ve done is added a takeaway from each.

If you follow our brand, you’ll recognize many of the names that made headlines in the past year. Among them: CenturyLink named a new channel chief to lead it into the future; the biggest names in the business issued hundreds, if not thousands, of pink slips; and we recognized our Channel Influencer of the Year.

Familiar names you’ll see here include AT&T, Verizon and Microsoft. The biggest technologies you’ll find in these pages are UCaaS and SD-WAN.

Throughout the fourth quarter of 2018, as part of our “In Focus” series, we are featuring a series of galleries designed to help partners grow their businesses in 2019 and beyond.

When the year ends in a little more than a week, we will have published nearly 1,800 pieces of content. Without further ado, we give you the top 15 of those as determined by you, the reader.

What was No. 1? Click through the gallery below to find out! Want to take a stroll down memory lane? Here was our recap of top stories from 2017, just in case you pulled a Rip Van Winkle.

TBI's Bryan Reynolds CP Evolution 2018
#15 — New CenturyLink Channel Chief

CenturyLink didn't look far to name a new channel chief when John DeLozier departed for a similar role with 8x8.

The company promoted Garrett Gee, previously vice president of indirect sales, to the position in July. He had been sharing some duties with DeLozier at the top of the CenturyLink channel food chain; his role expands to take on additional responsibilities, including watching over the telco titan's largest partnerships, which DeLozier previously was responsible for maintaining.

Gee was the channel chief at Level 3 before CenturyLink acquired it in 2017.

"The new combined company is a much larger scale and it brings the ability for us to do some things that I wasn’t able to do previously," Gee told Channel Partners in an exclusive interview. "One of the examples would be really our strategy around having tactical teams and strategic teams so we can have the strategy teams really lay down the groundwork for our tactical teams to focus on. And that’s just one example of some of the things that we’ll be focusing on for the remainder of the year."

Lesson learned: Sometimes what you're looking for is right in front of you.
Datapipe's Robb Allen
#14 — Sprint Unifies Partner Program, Tackles Channel Conflict

It was a big 2018 for Sprint, which is determined not to play third fiddle to AT&T and Verizon in the channel. The carrier realigned its three indirect channels – mobility and IoT; wireline and cloud; and wholesale – under the Sprint Business Partner Program.

“It’s a good thing from Sprint’s perspective because we can approach the channel in a unified way, even though our support structure is spread across all three,” Scott Valentine, Sprint sales director, told Channel Partners.at the Intelisys Channel Connect event in Monterey, California, in October.

The company also created a new "sell with" program designed to prevent conflict between direct and indirect wireline and cloud efforts.

Lesson learned: It takes bold moves to keep pace with your rivals.
Wireless Analytics
#13 — Channel Influencer of the Year

We named Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's channel chief, our Channel Influencer of the Year. (Look for our list of 2019 Influencers in early 2019.)

A Q&A with Schuster that we published way back on Jan. 2 cracked our top 15. In it, she shares thoughts on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the status of the One Commercial Partner Group, challenges for Microsoft partners and more.

"I think that the biggest opportunity for partners is to rethink the way they sell technology and [whom] they’re selling to," Schuster told us. The buyers of technology have shifted — primarily away from it being an IT sale to a business decision-maker on the front end running a business [that] is looking to technology to support and enhance their business."

Lesson learned: Schuster is a brilliant woman who brings confidence to the Microsoft partner community. We were proud to recognize her as our Channel Influencer of the Year.
Employee Productivity
#12 — AT&T's Data Center Sale

Call us Nostradamus. A prediction in a story we published in February came true in June.

We told you about a Wall Street Journal report claiming that AT&T would follow the lead of many other traditional telecom powers and sell its lot of data centers in a deal that would potentially draw $1 billion. The carrier was reportedly discussing the possibility with Bank of America.

Then, come July, AT&T sold 31 data centers to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners in a deal worth $1.1 billion. Brookfield would use the facilities to launch its own new colocation business.

Lesson learned: Verizon and CenturyLink made similar moves a year earlier, with the former selling to Equinix and the latter to what would become Cyxtera. Traditional telcos obviously realized they are better off leaving data-center management to the specialists.
Employee Productivity
#11 — CenturyLink Quashes Rumors

We attended the Bridgepointe Technologies rebranding event in San Francisco, where then-CenturyLink channel chief John DeLozier (now with 8x8) addressed the partner audience about some unsavory rumors concerning the telco giant's purchase of Level 3 Communications and the ongoing integration of services and systems.

The concern, apparently, was that CenturyLink partners would have new rules of engagement and could potentially lose accounts to direct sales teams.

"None of that is true," DeLozier said. "We’ve actually, in some places, tripled, quadrupled pre-sales resources, post-sales resources, project management, the things that make a huge difference for you in the weeds. If those things don’t go well, everything can go bad, so we’ve made a huge investment there to stand on your own,” DeLozier said.

Lesson learned: Ask questions, but be careful about making assumptions that could negatively impact your business.
Payroll
#10 — MSP Trends

Here's one that actually posted the last week of 2017, but got you pondering about the year ahead as you enjoyed time with family and friends.

As our Edward Gately noted, managed service providers have many issues to navigate while seeking to expand their capabilities and grow their customer bases. So he polled the experts at SolarWinds MSP, CloudJumper and Kaseya to offer up 10 trends expected to impact MSPs in 2018. Check 'em out: No doubt some will carry over into 2019.

Lesson learned: Perhaps the most interesting of the 10 trends was what SolarWinds MSP calls "cyber hygiene" — making sure that customers' systems and applications have been patched, and the number of people with access is limited so as to limit the "attack aperture."
Verizon Sugarbroad CP Evolution
#9 — Industry Disruption

The Channel Partners team made an appearance at IBM Think 2018 in Las Vegas last March, and we're glad we did; otherwise, we wouldn't have had our No. 9 story in this countdown.

The big bosses at two of the biggest names in the business – IBM's Ginni Rometty and Verizon's Lowell McAdam – joined forces on the keynote stage to discuss the future of disrupting technologies such as 5G and IoT.

“We’re going to be very focused on solutions for our customers, working with our partners, and providing that high-speed linkage in a very responsive network as we move forward,” McAdam told the crowd.

Lesson learned: Much like cloud a number of years ago, new technologies such as 5G and IoT are there for the taking if partners get out of their comfort zones for a piece of the pie.
Ichelson, Chris_HTG 360
#8 — Hosted Exchange vs. Office 365

Let the debate begin! OK, well, it already did, in this guest column from Irina Shamkova, senior vice president of product management, Intermedia.

Shamkova claims that Hosted Exchange is the winner of this epic battle over Office 365, citing high levels of reliability and healthier margins. Read her other reasons for touting Hosted Exchange's superiority.

Lesson learned: The biggest name in business software will always be the center of attention.
Riverbed Bisnette CP Evolution 2018
#7 — Legacy Services Discontinued

Always popular reads, 2018 saw the big telco providers continue to phase out legacy services in favor of those that are internet-based.

Case in point: AT&T's announcement that it would discontinue copper landline service in Illinois, the last of many states where it said it would eliminate this service. A bill got the backing of the Illinois General Assembly to disconnect AT&T's remaining 1.2 million landline customers in that state.

The FCC has proposed a plan to ease the transition to IP networks, streamline network notification rules and eliminate rules that require service providers to dedicate capital to maintain TDM equipment.

Lesson learned: Despite concerns from a few supporters of legacy services – take the comments from "Mary" and Nita Whalen in our comment section of the story – technology isn't slowing down for anyone.
Riverbed Bisnette CP Evolution 2018
#6 — SolarWinds Releases New, Updated Features

This one was a bit of a surprise entry in our top-stories list, as product and service upgrades, while newsworthy items, don't usually skyrocket in popularity like this one did.

SolarWinds, the IT management software provider, released a pair of updates that the company says arm IT pros with system-management capabilities they need to optimize performance in hybrid environments. They are new versions of the company's Storage Resource Monitor and its Server & Application Monitor.

Lesson learned: You (partners) look for big sales opportunities where you can find them, and they're not always in the most obvious places.
CoreDial Alan Rihm CP Evolution 2018
#5 — Hot Certifications

In some respects, we had to turn back the clock for this one. It's a story that we published on Christmas Day 2017.

We outlined 29 of the hottest certifications you could pursue in 2018, offered by some of the biggest names in the business that include Microsoft, Citrix, VMware, Cisco and AWS. It might be a year later, but no doubt these certs or updated versions of them could help you get the skills you need and add to your resume.

Lesson learned: There are beneficial certifications from sources you might not have considered. Those are listed here too.
Hello I am a new hire
#4 — 20 Top UCaaS Providers You Should Know

This was the first of a series of "CP 20" lists that we published in 2018, and it proved to be one of the most popular.

We polled analysts and members of our editorial advisory board, combined those results with recent news reports and stats from Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Worldwide UCaaS to come up with "20 Top UCaaS Providers You Should Know." You were plenty eager to see which companies doing business in the channel made our list.

Lesson learned: With UCaaS uptake still relatively low, the technology continues to offer an incredible channel opportunity. Businesses of any size can take advantage of some or all of the technology and business outcomes that UCaaS can deliver.
Sungard AS Cartoon December 2018
#3 — Ron Huddleston Dies

The channel lost an innovator when Ron Huddleston died in late September.

Most recently, Huddleston was the chief partners officer at Twilio, but he made his name in the channel with executive positions at Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle. One of the 45-year-old's best-known roles was as corporate VP of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner organization. He took indefinite family leave just one year into the job, later taking the Twilio position. As senior VP or global ISV and channels at Salesforce, he was credited with developing the company's enterprise application marketplace, AppExchange.

Lesson learned: Huddleston was a pioneer at some of the biggest names in the business. He will be missed.
CoreDial Alan Rihm CP Evolution 2018
#2 — Layoffs

This one always rears its ugly head in our year-end list; in fact, there were four layoff stories that were among the top 15 — but it's the holiday season, so we've combined them here instead of exposing you to four times the gloom.

Verizon said it would make retirement offers to thousands of workers around the country as part of a cost-cutting effort. CenturyLink said it would cut more jobs as a result of its Level 3 acquisition and continuing upgrades in automation. And CA Technologies gave pink slips to hundreds just two days after it took ownership of Broadcom, which it acquired in November.

But the one that got the most attention from our readers was a story we posted way back on Jan. 2. The Communications Workers of America claimed thousands of AT&T employees would lose their jobs; the news came just a couple of weeks after the carrier gave an extra $1,000 in bonuses to some 200,000 employees, citing the Trump Administration's tax cuts. The actual number of layoffs would be unclear as the weeks progressed; some claimed it was in the hundreds, not thousands.

Lesson learned: We often associate layoffs with companies that are in trouble. But it's not as if these industry titans are struggling. Job cuts more often than not stem from "synergies" that result from acquisitions, more "consolidated business plans" and so on.
AT&T's Robert Boyanovsky CP Evolution 2018
#1 — 20 SD-WAN Providers You Should Know

We thought this idea would be popular, but wow, were we taken aback by how you flocked to our "20 top" lists.

The biggest of all – and our most popular story of the year – was our review of 20 top SD-WAN providers. We told you how being a successful SD-WAN provider takes continuous innovation, offering a wide range of options, and effective support and simplicity — all in a highly competitive field.

If you missed it when we published it in March, be sure to check out who made the list.

Lesson learned: SD-WAN was the channel's hottest technology in 2018; we expect the momentum to continue in 2019.

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