Like any digital transformation initiative, unity is a process; at least, that seems to be the way that Chris McReynolds, vice president of cloud and data project management at CenturyLink, describes it.
Standardization is helping digital transformation customers -- but not all of them, and not in all cases, suggests McReynolds. Moreover, for those customers that have their favorite vendors, standardization has not matured enough to matter.
On a brighter note, McReynolds describes CenturyLink's merger with Level 3 Communications as a deal that can help both companies' enterprise customers with their digital transformation.
In part one of this Q&A (lightly edited for length and clarity), McReynolds identified different archetypes of enterprise customers for digital transformation -- and described CenturyLink's approach to helping each type digitally transform through getting their internal groups to "get in the same room, and get on the same page." (See CL's McReynolds: Enterprises Need to First Define Digital Transformation Goals.)
Now, in part two, McReynolds continues this theme of unity in digital transformation strategy by discussing both the role of standards in enterprise customers' digital transformation and the effect that the unity between CenturyLink and recently acquired Level 3 Communications is having on these customers. (See CenturyLink's Hussain on Cultural Challenges of Merger With Level 3, and CenturyLink's CTO Discusses Integration With Level 3.)
Telco Transformation: As a telco, how do you see the landscape for standardization right now in helping to enable your customers' digital transformations?
Chris McReynolds: Yeah, I think there's some standardization on Ethernet network services. Telecom has done decently well on standardization. I would say Internet and Ethernet services with the Metro Ethernet Forum [are good examples.] They've [MEF] done a pretty good job of keeping things standard and interoperable. Where things start to fall down: SD-WAN is a good example. There are a handful of vendors in the market, and they all do things differently currently.
Another difficult place is the cloud side of things. There are some wrappers that people put around their application, things called containers, that allow you to partially migrate things between an Amazon, a Microsoft and a Google, but that's nowhere near as advanced as it needs to be to really give enterprise customers complete flexibility of moving their applications between clouds.
There's some standardization when you hear NFV. There's some standardization of the actual servers and equipment that the NFV applications are placed onto. But those NFV applications, if you think of security: Palo Alto Networks does it differently from Fortinet. And if you think of firewall, Cisco does it differently than Juniper does it. So there's still a lot of disparity.
I'm not sure that there will be standardization across how different vendors implement their technologies. Where there will be some interoperability? Yes. But someone like a CenturyLink is probably going to have to be the glue or the wrapper that puts those various pieces together if the enterprise customer doesn't want to do it themselves.
For really basic networking services, things like Internet and Ethernet, the industry's doing really well. Once you get into more advanced features, things are diverse between vendors and driving that to a common answer I think makes things less feature-rich and those companies won't do it entirely because they start to lose their differentiation in the market versus each other. So it's going to be really hard to drive those to a complete common framework or set of capabilities and interactions.
TT: What has Level 3 brought to CenturyLink, and what has CenturyLink brought to the new Level 3, so that they can both better enable their customers' digital transformations?
CM: I'll start with the easy path of the historical Level 3 world. So Level 3 is global networking services, global security and global real-time communications. We served large enterprises very well. Where Level 3 could have done better historically was we didn't serve small and medium businesses as effectively as we could have, and we didn't have the depth of network reach -- in all honesty -- to serve a lot of those customers effectively.
Where CenturyLink [stands], and what CenturyLink brings going forward as a combined company: They have a very strong small- and medium-sized business customer base, and they have very effective ways of managing those customers … The combined company has over 100,000 buildings. That additional depth and reach and being able to control the service end-to-end lets us reach a lot of different customers that we couldn't have reached and served effectively before.
The other interesting aspect that CenturyLink is bringing to what Level 3 historically did is that, from their historic status acquisition, they have more experience and expertise in managing computing environments -- so things like private cloud -- and they have partnerships and agreements with Amazon and Azure. They have more expertise in helping customers to application migration from their legacy environments into the cloud. So that, coupled with what Level 3 historically did, has really met a lot of the enterprise needs. A lot of the digital transformation really starts with:
- What applications are they running?
- Where are the users and their end customers? And
- How are they consuming those applications?
That's where everything starts. And then from there:
- Where do you want to host those applications?
- How do you interconnect those applications to the network?
- How do you secure it?
It adds inputs earlier into the digital transformation conversation about having those capabilities.
TT: I know this is a trick question when I ask it: In any digital transformation initiative, how do you and the customer know when you're done?
CM: There is no end in sight because things keep changing so quickly. It can't be when there's a strategy on the front end. It can't be a static strategy either. It has to be one that's re-evaluated as the business needs change over time. Customers consume and buy things in a different way year after year, so the digital transformation needs to be able to accommodate those changes. It's a living creature.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation