TOP 100: CenturyLink's Level 3 deal bears fruit

CenturyLink acquired Level 3 in late 2017 and the integration of that business is starting to pay off in the federal market as task orders flow under the massive Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

A common storyline stretches across the three major telecom companies on the 2020 Top 100: How the COVID-19 pandemic has driven unprecedented numbers of workers to work from home.

I spoke with leading public sector market executives at AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon to learn more about how those business units have contributed to the larger work of the corporations in running the networks and keeping people connected.

To hone in on CenturyLink also consider that they have been focused in the past two years on putting to work the added capacity and resources gained through the acquisition of Level 3 Communications at the end of 2017.

How has that gone so far? Several large wins under the General Services Administration’s massive Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle for next-generation telco solutions and services across government, including a $1.6 billion ceiling win at the Interior Department secured late last year, bear witness to their strategy.

CenturyLink held steady at No. 29 on the 2020 Washington Technology Top 100 rankings with $1.1 billion in prime contracts. Its share of prime contracts climbed roughly 15 percent year-over-year.

“I really think that’s the outcome of  CenturyLink acquiring the Level 3 assets and organization,” said CenturyLink’s Dave Young, senior vice president for public sector and now also global hyperscale cloud. “The marketplace has rewarded us for what that asset looks like now.”

Both the public sector shop’s access to the resources of and contribution to a global company is not lost on Young. Neither is the reverse angle in how the larger corporation sees what goes on in the nearly 1,000-employee public sector shop.

“We’re part of a Fortune 500 company that is critical to the economy. Whether it’s commercial or public sector, we’re one of the few companies are really enabling commerce to take place across these fiber networks,” Young told me.

Within CenturyLink itself, the public sector team’s approach is watched by the rest of the company that operates in the consumer and commercial enterprise sectors.

Two examples Young pointed out were that the public sector group’s model for taking products to market is being applied across CenturyLink, plus that the company’s board of directors also has a subcommittee devoted to public sector.

“Our company also has an extreme acumen on the reality that we have a different mission to serve,” Young said.

With those previously-mentioned EIS wins in tow, more task orders are the subject of pursuit and capture with team members working remotely and slightly differently to support that push.

As with all organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the rhythm of how CenturyLink’s teams operate even if the jobs themselves remain the same.

“Our corporation has set us up with today’s technology and we’re using it, whether that’s sharing documents, video calls, virtual capture rooms, we’ve figured out how to run our business using these tools in order to respond,” Young said.

But figuring out how to run the business with those tools and keep the work going meant there was some trial-and-error at first.

“You’ve got to learn different skills when you use some of the tools, because in a conference room there can be multiple conversations going on. That doesn’t really work on a video conference, and so we’ve had to learn how to take turns, say ‘I have a comment I’d like to make,’” Young said.

“We’ve been through that learning curve and we’re pretty happy with our ability to respond to the volume of requirements that are out there now with this new methodology.”

That is the internal part of the story regarding CenturyLink keeping people connected. But what of the part of the story regarding CenturyLink keeping agencies connected?

EIS certainly points to the future and Young said the flow of opportunities from there is in a “wave crest.” But the immediate needs brought by the pandemic created a different demand.

“Here’s the reality: a majority of us are still under contract on Networx,” Young said in reference to EIS’ predecessor government-wide telco vehicle.

“That’s what the services are supplied under, and so that’s how we were working with customers. GSA was very much in tune with what was happening, they understood, they worked with the agency and us to make sure we could fulfill mission.”

In essence, agencies looked to the contracts they already had access to as the mechanism for making their various work-from-home environments happen in lieu of starting a new procurement.

Agencies and their telco industry partners moved fast to make it happen, including what Young said were a “rather hectic” first two weeks.

“We were compressing work streams that the corporation would normally take 45 days to perform… into 48 hours,” Young said. “It was really amazing to see how our organizations were working from home in support of the government working from home.”

How does Young see the current environment from where he stands today, including the CenturyLink public sector team itself and the push for more growth via EIS in particular?

“Everybody’s figured it out in some regard,” Young said. “In the past, we would have all been in capture room working face-to-face for big hours and big portions of the day. We’ve all figured out how to do that remotely now and we like how that’s working for us.”

What could that portend for the future of work? Young said there is still a learning curve companies have to do on that front given many are not letting groups of employees back into the office.

That said: some trends are becoming apparent in what he says will likely be a “mixed environment.”

“I don’t think that the future environment has a requirement or a need to go in an office to sit in a cube and work,” Young said. “I think we will have communal spaces that we come to, to collaborate, where we ideate, where we think.

“When we work on tasks, we create content ourselves, I think we’ll end up in a virtual environment for that.”