CenturyLink's Andrews: Don't give COVID-19 too much credit for businesses' digital transformations

CenturyLink CMO Shaun Andrews says the telecom industry needs to take a more human-centric approach to providing services and applications, which leads to more customization. (CenturyLink)

One of the most cited trends from the coronavirus pandemic was that it pushed businesses and organizations of all stripes to dive into digital transformations in order to provision work-from-home policies, among other reasons for going digital.

CenturyLink's Shaun Andrews has a contrarian view in regards to how much the pandemic fueled digital transformations.

"A lot of what we think is new is really just stuff that was already in place before the crisis hit," said Andrews, CenturyLink’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in a Thursday blog. "Truth be told, we’re probably giving the corporate response to COVID-19 too much credit for driving digital transformation."

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Shaun Andrews, CenturyLink

Andrews cited Starbucks as a company that was savvy enough to embrace digital technologies to provide a "luxury" customer experience for buying a cup of coffee. Prior to the pandemic, many industry verticals were already in the process of embracing their digital transformations.

"Digital transformation allows them to bring the idea of customer experience to a brand-new level by reinventing a network of coffee shops into a shared digital community for coffee enthusiasts," he said. "It’s easy to assume that our most digital savvy customers are start-ups, but many of them are leaders in traditional industries, such as finance, logistics, and manufacturing."

The coronavirus pandemic has led to service providers such as Centurylink, AT&T, Cox Communications and Comcast to now offer more dedicated work-from-home connectivity solutions while Colt Technology Services and Comcast Business are kicking the tires on home-based SD-WAN services.

"Those are great examples of technology service providers becoming more agile and delivering digital products and solutions faster to market," Andrews said in an email to FierceTelecom. "However, the broader point is that companies that were resisting the move to digitization, or perhaps weren’t taking it as urgently because they were in a protected industry, were suddenly forced into a world where digital maturity was directly tied to your chances of survival. It’s often been said that digital transformation is not an 'if but a when'—this just accelerated that timeline."

Andrews said CenturyLink already knew companies were going all-in on digital. COVID-19 did create a need for more remote connectivity, but service providers such as CenturyLink were able to meet that demand because the technological and network investments were already in place.

"The pandemic expanded a global awareness of a new digital reality and the possibilities that it represents," he said. "Networks have become smarter and faster, can handle more data, and can leverage new solutions to ensure smooth, latency-free connections. Customers already saw the advantages of migrating to the cloud.

"COVID-19 helped make them less hesitant to do so. In response, we are rapidly expanding our edge computing capability by putting space, power, and 'bare metal' in the right spots to make sure enterprises can stay close to their centralized data and applications."

RELATED: CenturyLink dishes up new managed work-from-home solution that uses Cisco Meraki devices

In regards to finding the right spots for more edge compute and bare metal, Andrews said that was in reference to the metro areas and highly populated centers of business where applications could be hosted with a balance of low latency, lower cost—when compared to on premise data centers— and high performance.

Because the digital transformation pieces were already in place, the debate about WFH versus working from office spaces is moot, according to Andrews, "because physical locations have become less important than the actual process that leads to the completion of work."

"We were starting to identify the types of work that require physical environments and the types of work that don’t," he said. "Business managers have seen the wide range of productive activities that do not require direct human interaction or a centralized physical presence. In many cases, people will return to their offices, because they miss being around their colleagues, not because they need to be there to get their work done.

"A human-centric approach to technology will also lead to more customization. People don’t care about what’s in the toolbox or how it works. They just want their own solutions, not something 'off the shelf.' They will look to telecoms to be their partners, to understand the technology, to anticipate marketplace opportunities, and to provide specific solutions in real time. Frankly, for those of us who live in marketing and solution development, none of this is new.  It’s just more critical than ever before."

Andrews said the telecom industry has been moving towards customized services for some time.

"It starts with composable infrastructure at the hardware level, and in our network space, with virtualized services that can abstract the underlying network physical layer and instead offer services based on SLAs," he said. "So, for instance, if you want WAN connectivity, your WAN should be customizable for private vs. public connectivity, dedicated or shared connections, etc.

"Eventually, that’s what the market will demand and we have to be ready to help abstract more capabilities to provide platforms to our customers."

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