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CenturyLink Partner Expo 2016: What Channel Alliance Partners Can Expect

In advance of the CenturyLink Partner Expo this week, channel executives share how the provider plans to reach a broader range of partners and how its plans will translate into more revenue for partners.

The channel is only growing in importance to telecommunications giant CenturyLink as partners become an even greater source of revenue and an important relationship for the provider's customers. At CenturyLink's annual Partner Expo this week in Denver, the provider's executive team will be filling partners in on its channel enablement and product development plans for 2016.

In past years, Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink highlighted new aspects of its Channel Alliance program for partners at the Expo. But this year, it's all about firming up plans and making good on partnerships and technology integration that will help partners make money on CenturyLink solutions. James Parker, senior vice president of CenturyLink's partner, financial and international businesses, and Bob Laskey, vice president of CenturyLink's ISV channel, gave CRN a sneak peak into what the provider has planned for partners at the show.

Here's what Parker and Laskey said about CenturyLink's Channel Alliance plans heading into 2016, and the hot topics partners will be buzzing about at the Expo.

[Related: As Carriers Move Out Of Data Center Business, MSPs Move In]

CRN: Can partners expect Channel Alliance program updates to be announced at this year's Expo?

Parker: Last year, we talked about the structure of the partner program. This year, it's more about the hardening of the program and continuing down the street. There will be technology and [partner] portal infrastructure investments that we will be making this year so partners can better on-board. There will also be an investment around new marketing materials. I would say that we are modernizing the assets that enable partner execution and really ramping those up. We will also phase in other enhancements to the program this year as we go forward.

Basically, we are staying true to the core strategy we set out about 18 months ago, and we are looking to accelerate that [strategy]. The first step to doing that is around that modernization and advancement of our infrastructure around supporting the channel and helping them get up to speed faster. For us to continue to increase our relevance, we have to continue to foster the partner ecosystem. That’s a top priority for the company.

CRN: A more recent piece of CenturyLink's channel program is the ISV channel. Can you share how these strategic partnerships will help the channel this year?

Parker: It's a new area of our channel strategy and a new kind of partner for us. We view these as very strategic relationships that have the potential for significant joint growth. We have these relationships with companies like IBM, HP and, most recently, SAP. We are thinking about ways that we go to market with these providers and how to become more integrated on a product level. This can have a halo effect for the broader channel environment. Partnering with [these companies] pulls in their channel, too, and we see a tremendous opportunity for cross-pollination.

Laskey: We are looking for those partners making the transition from their legacy businesses and trying to go to an as-a-service model. It's strategic for us to help them with that transition because it brings tremendous value to our ecosystem and can certainly bring value to their customers, too.


CRN: How are you helping ISVs get involved in CenturyLink's cloud marketplace, and how will partners benefit?

Laskey: Getting ISVs on our cloud shelf is important. The vehicle to do that is for an ISV to essentially build a CenturyLink cloud 'blueprint.' An end customer of the ISV or our mutual end customers can go into our blueprint library and find, for example, a security and encryption vendor or partner that solves a need they have. This drives consumption of our cloud platform by the ISV, and we provide a very error-free way for the ISV to get their solution configured to their end customer. We can provide the ISV with distribution once they are in our cloud. It’s a win with the partner, CenturyLink, and the end customer. CenturyLink has been in this space for about 18 to 24 months, and we have about 250 ISV integrations of this sort on our cloud.

This is also the first year we are formally inviting ISVs into this event. We have just under a dozen ISVs who have blueprinted their solution on our cloud who will be at the Expo to demonstrate what they built. And, they'll be able to connect with our other partner types. As the agent partners are out selling our other network capabilities, they can now take these ISV assets and sell those as well. We added another win to the column because the ISVs will have access to the other distribution model we cultivated and introduced them to -- the agent channel.

CRN: CenturyLink has mentioned the possibility of a sale of its data centers. What do you want partners to know about your cloud strategy?

Parker: The very clear point is that we are not divesting any aspect of our cloud focus -- we will be moving forward and advancing and investing in that platform. We are going to certainly look at different forms of partnerships this year that will amplify that value proposition at the infrastructure level, connectivity level, and application level as we go forward. We will continue our investments within our managed hosting platform, and the very clear point is more about not owning the data center, but not getting out of cloud or co-location business. It's really a combination of those elements tied to the network. The network is going to be more and more a differentiator, and a great platform for partners to build business on.

Lasky: An important aspect of our strategy towards cloud is to take cloud attributes -- like programmability, automation, self-service and elasticity -- that customers have grown accustomed to from public cloud and bring them to our portfolio. Network assets are becoming increasingly more important. That's one of the ways we think about recruiting and partnering with ISVs in the marketplace -- how do we find those that can help accelerate the development and delivery of those attributes to our end customers?

CRN: What's the biggest challenge that partners are coming to CenturyLink with?

Parker: The place where I see the challenge is in getting to the right ramp for productivity. There is complexity across the product platform. It’s a focus for us to make sure we really improve that ramp-up time so we can understand network capabilities, the data center, hosting and the cloud -- and how it all comes together in an effective way. For new partners, it's about incrementally improving and building up competency within [partner] organizations over a reasonable amount of time in order to take advantage of the full set of capabilities. There are some very sophisticated partners out there, and it's also about learning new platforms and building out a completely new set of skills, maybe around something like cloud hosting capabilities if they come from a networking background. The industry and technology is constantly changing.


CRN: What is your message to partners?

Parker: We have [a number of] core priorities within the sales organization. Winning the platform, winning new market share and accelerating the channel. The channel focus for us is a core priority for growth. What we expect in 2016 is an acceleration within the channel across new partner types that historically we haven't managed, but we are really looking to build up distribution and have greater market penetration across a broader group of partners. That’s a core part of our growth strategy and value proposition to our customers.

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