Business Transformation

New CenturyLink CTO in Major Overhaul

Four months into his new job as CenturyLink's CTO, Aamir Hussain is making a bold move with a sweeping reorganization designed to transform the legacy telco into an "agile" IT organization offering cloud-based IP services and able to innovate much more quickly.

"We need to transform from a telephone company to IT-based services company," Hussain tells Light Reading in an interview. "When I looked at my organization, I saw us doing great work in cloud area, I saw us doing some great work on the network side -- I didn't see a way for us to take what we built on the network and put it on the cloud. I've departed completely from a silo development-type model to a horizontal functional structure."

As part of the reorganization, long-time CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) tech executive Andrew Higginbotham, most recently SVP-cloud and technology, is leaving the company, while other current executives -- including Jared Wray, James Feger, David Mahon, Jonathan King and Steve Sklar -- all assume new leadership roles. CenturyLink is still to name at least four new executives, some of whom are being recruited from the outside, says Hussain, who is also EVP. (See CenturyLink: Building the Case for NFV.)

The new company will be built around a cloud platform, with company-wide software development in one organization headed by Wray, he says. Support for networks and products company-wide will be in an infrastructure support organization headed by Feger, and security will be handled company-wide by Mahon. King and Sklar will take on roles leading cloud/managed services strategy and video/OTT strategy, respectively.

CenturyLink's Aamir Hussain: A new broom, making sweeping changes.
CenturyLink's Aamir Hussain: A new broom, making sweeping changes.

CenturyLink has built itself into a cloud player largely through acquisition, much of it done under the watch of Higginbotham and Hussain's predecessor, Matt Beal. Their purchase list included Savvis, Tier 3, AppFog and, more recently, Cognilytics and DataGardens. (See Cognilytics Deal Speeds CenturyLink's Big Data Play.)

Still to be named in this new organization are the leaders of a test and integration unit, a new product development and strategy unit, an enterprise architecture unit and a unit specifically devoted to business transformation, the new CTO says.

"We need to focus on that, which is why I created the business transformation group, which is really responsible for not only technology and platform but people and strategy as well as we transition from a legacy telco to a next-gen IT service provider," Hussain says. "There are people elements and platform elements."

Part of that transformation process will be the migration of TDM services to IP and the rationalization of the existing product portfolio to better match future customer needs, he notes. It will be the role of the business transformation unit to look for opportunities to change and streamline and then bring those to leaders of other organizations within CenturyLink for implementation, Hussain says.

"Our goal is to make sure we enable the teams to understand all the platforms we have and build towards a single standard using IP in the cloud," he says. "Before, it was happening, but not at the velocity we would like to see. This will enhance velocity."

See the latest happenings as telecom business services migrate to the cloud in our cloud services channel here on Light Reading.

As part of the reorganization, CenturyLink is implementing agile IT processes and practices across the company -- "going 'full agile'," as Hussain calls it -- and changing its work processes to meet agile IT principles in planning, development and implementation. He admits that this kind of sweeping change is a challenge for an existing company culture and employees already used to doing their jobs in a different fashion.

"I think it is going to be a journey we have to walk through," Hussain says. "The management team is committed to going agile, they are committed to providing velocity in terms of time-to-market in getting products out there to our customers."

Some legacy products will continue to be supported in the more traditional manner, through different APIs that connect legacy platforms to the new cloud platform. But the longer term goal is a full set of IP services delivered via the CenturyLink Cloud.

"Once the development is done, once all the services are available on the platform, the hope is that we will start to see the benefit and people will change," Hussain says. "It's all about communications and making sure folks understand how their role changes over time, when we go from waterfall to agile, it's interrelated. The important thing is to make sure first you understand the process." [Editor's note: "Waterfall" refers to the traditional sequential way of developing new products and services, where separate departments each do their bit in sequence. Agile was developed as a way of doing work in a more incremental way, with constant testing to eliminate bugs and implement improvements. For a more in-depth comparison, go here.]

The cloud operation, some of the network operations and the current deployment of virtualization are all agile today, he notes. For example, CenturyLink is already using network functions virtualization to deliver virtual firewalls and virtual content delivery networks and continuing to deploy NFV and software-defined networking will enable this transition further, Hussain believes. (See Inside CenturyLink's NFV/SDN Strategy.)

The new CTO says he's been down this road before in previous jobs, which include being managing director and CTO-Europe for Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) as well as senior VP and CTO at Covad Communications, a national CLEC acquired by MegaPath Inc. . Hussain is confident of his abilities to manage this major transformation on a larger scale at CenturyLink, the third-largest telecom operator in the US with local exchange facilities.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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brooks7 3/5/2015 | 12:10:49 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Mitch,

I think your words are only partially true.  There are all kinds of cloud services that are relatively static and require excellent uptime.  Like E-mail.

There are others that are somewhat more adaptive but still require lots of uptime.  Like Salesforce.

Then there are the willy nilly short term things that advance and change rapidly.  Like Content and Apps.  

I think that Operators are wholly unsuited to content creation.  Quite well suited for Email delivery.


Mitch Wagner 3/5/2015 | 10:14:25 AM
Re: Ambitious and bold Jason - Cloud requires companies be willing to move fast, and change their networks on the fly. That requires agile programming techniques -- as described in this story -- and rapid management decision-making. 

Telcos are not known for those things. And for good reason. They operate in constrained regulatory enviornments, and their networks require five nines of uptime. 

Networking requires specialized skills and enormous capital outlays. The skills can be hired, and cloud providers are swimming in money. 
jasonmeyers 3/4/2015 | 4:32:57 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold That's an interesting view. I'm not sure I really see it, though. I agree that using cloud services requires a change of corporate culture -- why do you think it requires a change of corporate culture to provide them? And how iis it easier to build a network? 
Mitch Wagner 3/4/2015 | 4:18:03 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Why would Amazon, Google, and Microsoft find it easier to get into the network provider business than the network providers will find it getting into the cloud business?

Because the cloud business requires a change of corporate culture, which is much harder than investing in new technology. Carriers move slowly and deliberately -- it's in their DNA. CenturyLink is trying to change that, as are others, but how many will succeed?
jasonmeyers 3/4/2015 | 2:21:04 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Why?
Mitch Wagner 3/4/2015 | 2:16:28 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold

CenturyLink is making a smart move. Enterprises demand service providers become more responsive and move faster, and agile development and cloud services are the way to do it. These changes require a burn-the-boats reorganization, which is what seems to be happening here.  

Mitch Wagner 3/4/2015 | 2:15:45 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Jason - While I agree with you that Google isn't a network operator at scale, I wonder whether Google (and Amazon and Microsoft) might find it easier to get into the service provider business than it is for the operators to get into the cloud business. 
jasonmeyers 3/4/2015 | 1:53:56 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Definitely makes sense with regard to those large competitors -- and I agree about Google; I don't event think of them as a network operator, but really as more of a partner of municipalities. I was thinking more of the smaller, targeted "cloud" and "IT" service providers that are focused on specific vertical sectors, but in most cases don't have cloud or network assets and have to get them from carriers. There's an opportunity there for carriers like CenturyLink, I think, to differentiate (and probably be more price-competitive) because they own networks, own cloud assets, own services, etc. 
cnwedit 3/4/2015 | 1:33:29 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold Jason, as I understand it, the intent here is to make the network as flexible as the cloud so that it has more value. 

I agree with you that the network assets are important, but their biggest competitors - the Internet giants - are doing a lot without owning the physical networks, unless leasing dark fiber counts as owning. 

And I realize Google is taking it one step further but on a limited basis. 
jasonmeyers 3/4/2015 | 1:21:49 PM
Re: Ambitious and bold It's definitely bold and in line with the needs of their customers. I just think it will be important for these carriers to not go so far in positioning themselves as IT and cloud service providers that they ignore the important differentiator of owning and operating the network. Yes it's becoming more of a commodity, and yes the focus should be on services and cloud delivery, but carriers have an asset that every other cloud service provider and IT shop doesn't. I believe there is a balance they must strike. 
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