CenturyLink Channel Alliance Cheat Sheet: 5 Things The Provider Wants Partners To Know

From Telco To IT Service Provider

CenturyLink wants to be thought of as a full IT service provider, not just a telco. While the provider worked toward this transition over the past two to three years, CenturyLink also knew it had to refresh its channel structure to match.

James Parker, senior vice president of CenturyLink's partner, financial and international businesses, and Bob Laskey, vice president of CenturyLink's independent software vendor (ISV) channel sat down with CRN and shared what the provider wants its partners to know about Channel Alliance, and how the channel can stay successful selling CenturyLink's broad portfolio of services.

Here's what Parker and Laskey had to say about CenturyLink's channel strategy for 2016, and check out what partners can expect from CenturyLink's Partner Expo this week in Denver.

Not Just The Network

There's no doubt that CenturyLink's agent channel has seen continued success selling the provider's network assets to business customers, Parker said. However, the provider has gone through several acquisitions in recent years, included scooping up cloud service providers Savvis and Tier 3. CenturyLink wants its partners to venture outside their comfort zones and take a look at the provider's increased product portfolio.

"As we move into full IT service provider [mode], we've [asked ourselves] how the channel [can] participate in those technologies more effectively and how can we better leverage the great assets we have in the channel today," Parker said.

Scale Out The Channel

To help partners sell new kinds of IT services effectively, CenturyLink revisited the structure of its channel program. Today, Channel Alliance is broken into three major areas:

Technology partners: This group is predominantly made of ISVs. According to Parker, CenturyLink is actively looking to bring in more ISVs and independent hardware vendors that play a bigger role on top of CenturyLink's platform. These vendors might provide infrastructure augmentation, or applications that can sit on top of CenturyLink's cloud or managed hosting platform.

Consulting partners: These partners consist of global and local systems integrators who use CenturyLink's platform to deliver services to their customers.

Agent partners: The largest portion of the company's channel sales today. These partners have traditional telecom agent businesses. CenturyLink wants to encourage these partners to "move up the stack" along with the provider and also see success selling colocation, managed hosting and cloud, in addition to the network, Parker said.

"We are rethinking, through the right bundles and packages, we can put forward to the channel that that will be attractive to their customers," he said.

Welcome, ISVs

2016 marks the first year ISVs are invited to CenturyLink's Partner Expo in Denver. According to Laskey, ISVs will be showcasing their technology solutions that are being integrated with the CenturyLink platform at the event.

Laskey said that CenturyLink has had great success recruiting ISVs to the channel program over the last year and a half -- companies like CA Technologies. Once these partners are onboarded, a goal for 2016 is to make sure the technology is integrated well into the CenturyLink platform so both companies can help each other make money, while partners from both companies benefit from the combined offerings.

"At the end of the day, being integrated and being on our shelf is fantastic, but the true measure of success is how much business we are driving together in the marketplace," Laskey said. "It's a nice way for us to drive technology integration to our platform and add value to [the] partner ecosystem."

Full Steam Ahead Into The Cloud

During its third quarter 2015 earnings call, CenturyLink revealed that it was considering the sale of its data center assets. While the provider may be moving out of the data center operations business, CenturyLink wants partners to know it's still bullish on all things cloud. The provider believes it can continue to sell all of its cloud and colocation services it offers now, without owning the brick-and-mortar locations, according to Parker.

"The anchor point is that we are fully committed to the cloud. Partners are an incredible part of that commitment to continue to help us build out that value proposition. We will also look at building out a set of more advanced and interesting strategic partnerships within the broader cloud ecosystem that will further enhance our value proposition," Parker said.

Helping Partners Move Into The Future

Today, CenturyLink's Channel Alliance program is going strong, and the provider wants to ensure its partners feel enabled to take advantage of the newer offerings -- like cloud and colocation -- effectively.

The latest focus on ISV partnerships, as well as the inclusion of cutting-edge technology, like software-defined networking, will help partners deliver what their customers are asking for, Parker said.

"We have to make it easy for partners to adopt those technologies, and make it profitable for them to do so," Parker said. "We are really gearing our [channel partner] program elements to the partner business model, not necessarily our business model."