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Hitting Reset on the Telco Mindset

Light Reading's Big Telecom Event provided reminders of the cultural challenges for telcos as they move into cloud and data center networking.

Dan O'Shea

June 16, 2015

3 Min Read
Hitting Reset on the Telco Mindset

Many people probably walked away from Light Reading's Big Telecom Event last week feeling that the industry is evolving rapidly in its embrace of cloud concepts for both networks and services. But, if you listened closely, there were also reminders of the challenges that remain -- especially the cultural ones -- for telcos in particular as they move into the cloud and data center networking realm.

Jared Wray, senior vice president of platforms at CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), helped kick off BTE's second day with a keynote speech that painted a picture of CenturyLink as perhaps the rare telecom moving fearlessly into the cloud era by charging Wray himself to lead a dynamic shift in CenturyLink's network and services support architectures. (See Wray Reshaping CenturyLink Cloud Operation and Adventures in 'Platforming' at BTE.)

However, while it's clear that CenturyLink is moving aggressively, Wray later that same day commented on the greatest challenge most telcos will face in pursuing this transformation: "The biggest thing we've learned from our experience is that there is more of a cultural gap to cross than an architectural one," he said during a panel at the Data Interconnect Summit, a three-session afternoon breakout event during BTE.

"It's a different way of thinking," he added. "Instead of planning 10 to 15 years into the future, you're planning six months at a time. Our CEO wants a three-year plan from my group, and we still haven't delivered it." (Note to Wray's CenturyLink bosses: He sounded more sheepish than boastful.)

Michael Kozlowski, vice president of product and offer management at Integra Telecom Inc. , said during another DCI Summit panel that his company, though smaller and more regional in nature than CenturyLink, is trying to pursue a similar path.

"As the industry learns to separate applications and networks, our business is going to become less about the optics [in terms of bandwidth] we deploy, and more about the control we offer the customer and how we use it in our own network," he said. "The app essentially will drive the network."

Though Integra is intent to understand the evolution and change with it, Kozlowski admitted that the Western US carrier will not necessarily lead the industry-wide charge. "We're a fast follower, making organizational and network changes because we believe the way networks and services will be built has to change. Ultimately, I think we'll have an enterprise that looks more like a DevOps culture. We are probably five years away from completing that transformation."

Check out all the news and views from the 2015 Big Telecom Event at Light Reading's
dedicated BTE show news channel.

Finding people ready to work in that kind of environment can be challenging. From Silicon Valley up to Seattle, the Western and Northwest US is of course rich in talent used to working under web-style or DevOps organizational rules -- CenturyLink in fact found its change agent in Seattle when it acquired Wray's company, Tier 3. (See CenturyLink Buys Cloud Leader Tier 3.)

A lot of these people, however, might not necessarily want to work in what they perceive to be bland telco corporate cultures that are afraid of change. Even Wray admitted that before CenturyLink convinced him of its commitment to cloud, he was ready to tell the big telco exactly how badly it would screw up the Tier 3 acquisition. Integra understands this is a big hurdle to overcome, but Kozlowski said the company can sell new recruits on the nobility of the cause.

"The opportunity here is that service providers like Integra still have a responsibility to the public welfare in the services we provide, and you can still innovate on that to provide more enriching services," he told Light Reading in a one-on-one chat after his panel. "There is a ton of opportunity here to transform the communications industry."

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Dan O'Shea

Analyst, Heavyreading.com

You want Dans? We got 'em! This one, "Fancy" Dan O'Shea, has been covering the telecom industry for 20 years, writing about virtually every technology segment and winning several ASBPE awards in the process. He previously served as editor-in-chief of Telephony magazine, and was the founding editor of FierceTelecom. Grrrr! Most recently, this sleep-deprived father of two young children has been a Chicago-based freelance writer, and continues to pontificate on non-telecom topics such as fantasy sports, craft beer, baseball and other subjects that pay very little but go down well at parties. In his spare time he claims to be reading Ulysses (yeah, right), owns fantasy sports teams that almost never win, and indulges in some fieldwork with those craft beers. So basically, it's time to boost those bar budgets, folks!

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