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October - 2012 - issue > CIO Insights
Equipping-the-Arsenal-for-Next--Generation-Network-and-Cloud-services-
Girish Varma
Executive Vice President- IT Services-CenturyLink
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Girish Varma is the Executive Vice President – IT Services at CenturyLink (NSYE: CTL), the third largest telecommunications company in the U.S. The company provides broadband, voice, wireless and managed services to consumers and businesses across the country. In his role, Girish is responsible for all IT services and support, including strategy, architecture, and software development (including overseas operations), and for development and sales support of enterprise IT services.

The company also provides data, voice and managed services to enterprise, government and wholesale customers in local, national and select international markets through its high-quality advanced fiber optic network and multiple data centers. Widening its growth with the acquisition of two other companies, Qwest and Savvis has helped CenturyLink strengthen their market place. In conversation with Girish Varma, he shares his views about cloud reducing the operating cost and how telecom industry is aligning to changing trends.


Emerging Trends

The world is witnessing a shift in terms of mobility from PCs to various smart devices including tablets. Also, Cloud, Bigdata and Analytics are exploding new areas. These trends have not just changed our products but also the way we operate IT internally. In terms of telecom, we are in a unique situation where our big and small customers provide us with opportunities to build new products.

The emergence of social networks and real time analytics allows us to gain insights into how customers are measuring us. Cloud technology is at a stage where it allows the next level of efficiency and cost optimization. We also focus on virtualization and private cloud, areas where we are among the top in the industry. We are also looking at expanding in a big way with public cloud.

Another big trend is globalization, both from a market and IT services perspective. We are a cloud company and are trying to expand our reach, but at the same time our challenge is to have an effective IT from both performance and cost perspective. We are now expanding our global delivery processes not just for internal needs but also for external needs.

Apart from the usual telecom processes, we also work on the next generation networks and operational systems. With the convergence of network and IT, we are able to help our marketing and product team in developing products such as cloud services and SaaS.

The Criticality

The first challenge we face is the integration of the three companies; CenturyLink, Qwest and Savvis. They need to come together for the success of the combined entity.

The second important thing is to grow revenue in the current telecom market. We are transitioning to a larger fraction of business market and some of the major business challenges are to identify the new products that we can enter the market with. It is also important for us to find ways to leverage the new IT trends and integrate them with our telecom offerings.

Innovation within the team

To enable radical cost reduction and increased revenues we have devoted a lot of energy to innovation in the last 3-4 years. We were already at the bleeding edge of using virtualization and private cloud for our internal IT needs when the industry had just started the push toward virtualization. We perform technology evaluations and proofs of concept before we take things to the market.

The company is planning to set up an innovation and technology center in the U.S. which will act as a catalyst for new concepts and innovations. We also focus on finding ways to improve productivity within the organization.

Initiatives from India Centre

1. For us, India is a key part of all our developments. More than one-third of our systems development happens from the India centre. The enterprise market in the U.S. requires innovative solutions. Apart from legacy work we also develop complex systems/products in India. A lot of work in terms of telecom which is fairly complex, whether it involves automation of complex order to cash processes or building customer/consumer facing portals, is delivered from our center in India.

2.The work in India for proof of concepts has been essential for us to mitigate risks involved in delivering cutting edge solutions and has helped us reduce costs e are also planning to do the same with the products before taking them to the market.

Work is also in progress to improve productivity and cycle time of the organization. Given the amount of work in terms of percentage in India, we probably have the lowest cost structure in the industry in IT for application development.

CIO’s goal in today’s market

The role of CIOs has increased tremendously. Along with the usual day-to-day work that every CIO has to perform, the additional responsibility is to align with the vision of the company in terms of products that are increasingly IT based. Unlike a decade ago, we are now at a point, in telecom, where expertise in terms of products that are heavily IT based are required.

Now the CIOs need to play significant role in collaborating with the business stakeholders instead of just aligning with them. Several technology trends are evolving, and ability to make the right judgment calls is critical, and that is how you distinguish a great CIO from a good one.

Diverse Roles

When I came to Qwest in 2006, the company was going through a rocky patch and losing money. The major challenge was to turn the business around. IT played a critical role in not just reducing the cost but also enabling the business transformation that was needed. We went from negative to $2 billion of cash flow before the acquisition with CenturyLink. CenturyLink was itself $7 billion dollar business before it acquired Qwest, which was a $13 billion company. There were extremely complex and different infrastructures and processes in the two companies, so the challenge for me was to bring them together.

Road map ahead

The company has a high performing team from delivery capability and cost structure perspective. We have plans to integrate the processes of the three companies and start functioning as one IT organization. We have several plans on that front and India plays a key role in that space. In terms of supporting businesses; we are working in IT by doing proof of concepts which in turn is taken to the markets by our people. This is where telecom and IT come together. CenturyLink is proud to have an international network and global cloud infrastructure, and is working on the next generation of products.

(As told to Vishwas Nair)
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