A series on CenturyLink’s Information Technology team’s move into the cloud

By Bill Bradley, Chief Information Officer, CenturyLink

CenturyLink IT is on a journey to the cloud. This move reflects the transition that CenturyLink itself is making from being a telecommunications provider to a cloud and network provider. As an IT department, that means we have to evolve and become more agile and service-oriented and our strategy has to include cloud. It’s been far from simple, but in some important ways, it’s a new journey that we’ve actually taken many times before.

Since I joined CenturyLink in 1985, the company has grown by orders of magnitude through acquisitions. Each acquisition has brought new systems, assets, people, and processes. We’ve had to integrate thousands of unrelated IT resources into our own over the years. For this reason, moving to a new technological foundation for IT is not a wholly new process.

We actually started this journey about six years ago by rationalizing the number of IT data centers we had absorbed through our many acquisitions. Consolidating applications required us to focus on virtualization. We created a virtual private cloud in the remaining datacenters. Our current work involves taking this process even further using recently acquired cloud platform technologies. We’re moving identified applications in our portfolio directly into the cloud using our own CenturyLink Cloud platform as if it was a third party vendor.

Our move to the cloud is driven by a desire to control costs and increase speed to market. The cloud helps with both goals. Our IT organization is getting out of the business of being the infrastructure part of the solution so we can focus on being the application and business provider of the solution. It also shifts the conversation around costs moving investment from your capital budget to your expense budget for infrastructure and applications. Development teams creating a new solution aren’t waiting weeks for hardware and infrastructure. Solutions begin to be built in a matter of days.

There have been a few hard decisions to make along the way. For one thing, there is no such thing as “moving to the cloud” when you’re a large enterprise. For years to come there will be many extant systems that we need to keep running as part of our core business. Our approach to bi-modal IT and the move to the cloud is to put what we call a “Cap and Grow” process into effect. We “cap” our investment in legacy applications, deriving value by keeping them in production while we innovate around them. We “grow” applications that are strategic to our business, investing in new applications and systems that we can move from on-premises data centers into the cloud.

We’ve taken a portfolio approach to applications, consolidating software assets by 23% since 2010. To make this work, we’ve added service layers and leveraged our own cloud platform to move applications from an on-premises model to either public or private cloud hosting. Products and services are built on a foundation that requires rapid evolution in today’s world. So, we’ve had to adopt different methodologies that allow us to change at the same speed that business changes. When we turn application functionality into an on-demand “micro service,” we use a newly adopted agile approach, fast-tracking the process.

Most IT organizations don’t like change, but I’ve encouraged my team to foster a culture of change. Changing what we do is a path we’ve been down numerous times before, but it’s new every time. The cloud can be daunting, but it needn’t be. My advice to CIOs that are considering moving to the cloud is to stay close to your mission.

In our case, our mission is to provide solutions to our business partners on time and on budget. As a result, we’ve approached the cloud with the same basic principles we’ve always applied: What will it take to provide solutions that are customer-focused, growth-oriented, and cost-effective? That’s our baseline. The cloud is no exception. Everything we’ve done to plan for the cloud and start our journey there is based on these fundamental principles that we’ve exercised so many times before.

Over the next eight weeks CenturyLink IT will be sharing insights and best practices from our journey to the cloud. Please check back soon for more!


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