TOP 100: Lumen shapes its public sector outlook through partnerships, innovation lab

Signage at Lumen's corporate headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana.

Signage at Lumen's corporate headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana. Courtesy of Lumen.

Company No. 38 is already starting to think about the next big network modernization vehicle after EIS and some of that positioning effort takes place in an innovation lab for itself and industry partners.

The federal government's go-to contract vehicle for acquiring most things telecommunication network modernization is approaching halfway in its lifecycle, but the agency in charge of it is already thinking ahead.

In February, the General Services Administration started to preview the successor contract to the current Enterprise Solutions Infrastructure vehicle. GSA opened the EIS master contract for business in 2017, at a $50 billion ceiling for up to 15 years, and has largely completed all of the subsequent task order awards.

Jason Schulman, national vice president for federal sales at EIS prime Lumen Technologies, admitted "it's hard to believe" that GSA is moving on the new strategy being called Next Generation Network Infrastructure because the start of EIS feels so recent.

"NGNI aims to ensure that the government not only keeps pace, and this is a big shift with technology advancements, but also sets the pace," Schulman told us. "It'll take years to develop the request for proposal, it'll take years for industry and then it'll take time to award, so all of that pre-work begins now."

Lumen takes the No. 38 position on the 2024 Top 100 rankings with $1.02 billion in unclassified prime tech and professional services obligations.

Much of Lumen's work to position for opportunities in the federal market, and the entire enterprise landscape given it is a global telecom provider, takes place in the company's integration and enablement laboratory.

Schulman characterized that lab as an environment where Lumen can work with its industry partners to test and deploy multipart tech solutions for its clients. Interoperability is also a major focus of how Lumen manages that aspect, Schulman told us.

"We find that many government customers run into challenges, whether it's designing, implementing and managing various capabilities," Schulman added. "That's where we can deliver a managed service and take the burden off the government in those labs."

Take network protection, for instance, particularly amid the government-wide push to the zero trust concept. The idea is that everyone who wants to access their employer's or customer's networks must vouch for who they are.

The core network and security are typically where conversations with agencies about modernization work toward, Schulman said. As time and technology advances, agencies start to think about even more ubiquitous connectivity and resiliency.

Software-defined networking and software-as-a-service tools can act as an overlay for wireless and satellite broadband networks, which Schulman described as one way of expanding the underlying connectivity technologies.

On the security front, agencies are always looking at their postures there with cyber and supply chain risk management being major themes of legislation and policy.

"Zero trust touches everything. We understand the challenges that agencies are facing with an ever-growing attack surface," Schulman said. "There's hybrid cloud environments, legacy systems and an increasing number of applications. There are many challenges, but there's also amazing potential."

Challenge would be the operative word to describe the path agencies have been on with respect to their transitions to EIS from its predecessor contracts, such as Networx. Supply chain disruptions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have not helped the cause of transition and modernization either.

But here in 2024, Schulman said that many agencies have either completed their transitions or are close to doing so.

"Seven years is a long period of time and a lot's happened in those times," Schulman said. "GSA is looking at how they can add new technologies to the EIS contract to help agencies recognize the benefits."

Regarding the road ahead for network modernization, Schulman said much of that activity will tie to the world's now-substantially digital economy. Practically everything in the economy runs on applications, which in turn run on data that continues to proliferate.

That ties into how Lumen started up a digital team in 2023 that brings together a group of innovators responsible for developing visions around the company's physical network. Cloud services are also a key focus area for the team, Schulman said.

One of the team's creations that Schulman highlighted is ExaSwitch, which Lumen created in collaboration with its hyperscale cloud partners. He described it as a "toll road" for agencies to have an ultra low-latency connection with cloud environments.

"That's where I think I see the future with Lumen, how we're going to be working with our partners and really disrupting the telco industry," Schulman said.

(A future episode of WT 360 will present the full conversation with Schulman)

NEXT STORY: Trends driving today's Top 100