Mergers & acquisitions

Level 3 Focuses First on Streamlined Sales

With the tw telecom acquisition now closed, Level 3 Communications is deep into the hard work of integrating two large companies -- something at which it is very experienced. And based on that experience, the company is working hard immediately to integrate where it counts most: Its sales force. (See Level 3 Completes tw telecom Purchase.)

But Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) may also be able to use newer technologies, such as NFV and SDN, to help streamline its internal operations as part of the integration process.

Level 3 CTO Jack Waters says in an interview this week that integrating and training the sales teams that are on the front lines with business customers is job two in the merger process, following only the internal management team restructuring, some of which happened well in advance of the deal's closing. (See Level 3 CTO Jack Waters: Network Integration Guru.)

"The biggest thing you can do is focus on the sales force -- who is calling who -- so there is no lapse in who is facing the customer," he comments. "We did that pretty well last time around [with the Global Crossing deal], and we will do it even better this time around."

Only with last week's closing, however, does Level 3 get a full look at tw telecom's service and pricing strategies and its customer detail. With that in hand, Level 3 is able to bring the sales team up to speed, making sure everyone is aware of their assignments and fully trained on what they can now sell.

For former tw telecom sales teams, the merger provides immediate access to two significant assets: Level 3's content delivery network and its global footprint, something tw telecom lacked. For legacy Level 3 sales, there are instant connections into thousands more buildings based on tw telecom's more extensive metro fiber buildout.

In addition, some products and services that are unique to the two companies will now be available across the integrated Level 3, Waters adds. "Each company's legacy product portfolios had unique things, and they get offered to the sales force nearly immediately."

What will follow is the harder work of the actual integration of service ecosystems, including back-office systems, and the rationalization of product lines and network resources where there is overlap. Inevitably there is also the rationalization of staff -- jobs will be eliminated for efficiency's sake, although Level 3 is not disclosing numbers.

One of the challenges for a CTO managing this kind of integration process is keeping the entire organization moving forward, in terms of new technology adoption, even as the integration process takes top priority.

"Part of the guts of the integration planning process is deciding which ecosystem goes forward, how we are going to execute and how we continue to improve the customer experience," he comments. "A simpler operation inside the company will improve the customer experience," and in some cases, newer technology such as virtualization can aid in that process.

Catch up with the latest news about developments in data center strategies in the data center section here on Light Reading.

So while managing the integration is the top priority for Level 3's management -- "one of a small handful of priorities," Waters says -- and will be absorbing "a lot of our brainpower," attention will be paid to where new technologies -- including 100G optical networking, SDN and NFV -- can be leveraged to make things easier and better.

"Certainly, in our backbone upgrades, we will be looking to 100-gig, that is obvious; and I think we will also be looking at NFV to see how we can enable a new set of service offerings," Waters says. "Certainly as we merge the two networks, the network control, discovery and configuration management aspects of SDN are things we would like to leverage."

Waters fully expects to be inundated by vendor interest, both from legacy vendors of Level 3 and tw telecom, and from companies looking to capitalize on the change process to get a new foothold at the company. For now, he is more concerned with keeping his competitors from trying to leverage changes within Level 3 and tw telecom to create customer churn in their direction.

And that brings the conversation back to the sales force -- the folks charged with presenting a stable experience to the customer base, while capitalizing on new capabilities, even as major change is going on behind the curtain.

"I know it sounds like a cliché, but I think I'm more excited now than I was pre-close," Waters says. "We have had a great week of in-depth planning. The quality of the people we are getting is spectacular, and I am really excited about the opportunity we have."

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

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