Level 3 is a company on a mission: to transform the customer experience and support the digital revolution sweeping the globe. Director of global product marketing Claudio Scola tells Phil Muncaster how the software-defined network (SDN) and network as a service (NaaS) are helping the company achieve its goals.
Level 3 is using digital tech to radically improve the customer experience:
Companies worldwide are digitising from end-to-end, removing the analogue ‘swivel chairs’ that have hitherto slowed down business. It can be a radical departure in the way firms are run and deliver services. They may be moving at different speeds along this path, but it’s a journey that all are taking in one form or another. For some, this is a digital strategy that addresses the pace of change, but for others this is a real business transformation.
A key objective to using this digital tech is to radically improve the customer experience. So how are they doing this? By allowing the customer to control how they consume the service, according to Scola.
"Your service might be good but you've got the threat that someone could come along and improve it. If you give everyone the same baseline, it's going to be ok for some but also poor for some other people."
"The old style of making a million widgets that all look the same because you've got economies of scale created an outdated user experience, and it isn't working anymore," he says.
Scola has been at Level 3 during a pivotal time in the firm's nearly 20-year history. The company is delivering digital change and real-time visibility and control over its service. At the same time, Level 3 is turning itself into a more digital end-to-end business with a focus on improving the customer experience. And it's doing this by building a programmable network matched with big data analytics that harnesses the power of SDN orchestration.
The value of SDN orchestration for automation is that it "takes the hands out of the network," Scola says. This helps to eliminate human error and ensures services are provisioned with greater efficiency.
"The old way of doing telecoms is the 8-bit computer experience: a black and white screen which you manually type text on to configure network elements. That's the type of technology people have been using for decades," he adds.
"Even if you cut and paste, it's labour intensive and subject to human error. With orchestration, you eliminate all of that."
Another benefit of SDN is that it provides the agility to extend the cloud-like 'as a service' (aaS) experience right down to the end user, allowing them to have dynamic visibility and control of their network, end-to-end.
Next generation SDN and automation is also a boon for the IT department, which finds it can now get more of its business done in core hours, safe in the knowledge that any network changes will not cause disruption for the rest of the organisation. "IT is no longer limited by the lack of agility of the service provider," argues Scola.
So how has this technology transformed Level 3 as a business?
"We no longer need to differentiate ourselves with the plumbing – with speeds and feeds. Now we can do it at a service layer with software, and the customer experience," says Scola.
For those planning a similar digital transformation journey, however, he cautions that getting "strong champions of change" in the boardroom is vital.
"We're going through our own digital transformation. For other businesses going through theirs, I can recommend you find those leaders who are great champions of change and who can really communicate the vision to the business. With any revolution, you don't want an uprising of the luddites looking to smash up your Jacquard looms," he quips.
The corporate mindset has to be focused on improving the customer experience, and thinking about how to put your limited resources to better work.
The specific technology here is branded by Level 3 as the Adaptive Network Control Solutions (ANCS). Big data analytics power the company's Enhanced Management solution for real-time, granular insight into network performance with threshold triggers that adapt the network according to the customer's business rules.
These capabilities combine with SDN and other elements to provide customers with the network control they crave. Dynamic Capacity allows administrators to adjust bandwidth allocations either automatically, on-demand or in a pre-scheduled manner.
"Changes register in real-time and, because it's fully orchestrated, we allow the customer to make as many changes as they like," notes Scola. Charges for additional capacity are based on hourly rates, which help match that cloud-like aaS experience.
Level 3 has seen strongest take-up for its ANCS portfolio in industries where digital change is taking hold fastest, such as retail, finance and healthcare, Scola explains. Healthcare firms want to use the agility and scale of the cloud, for example, to store huge volumes of digital scans.
Retailers are leveraging cloud for their omnichannel strategy. But compliance requirements, and commercial and resource demands are driving a hybrid multi-cloud environment. This creates a new complex network of data centres and cloud service providers (CSPs) that must be networked with the agility that the cloud demands.
"We see customers are choosing multiple CSPs. Sensitive data may be running within a private cloud, maybe a virtual DC with AWS, analytics with Google and Office 365, Azure and perhaps disaster recovery with Microsoft, and so it evolves," Scola explains.
"So we link it to help them support cloud environments, DR, backups, replications, app migration, and extend that cloud-like experience beyond the data centre to the end user."
Scola is confident the firm has only just started reaping the potential rewards of NaaS. First up there's a new Dynamic Connections product out later in the year, which will allow customers to create an ethernet virtual circuit straight into their domain within a public cloud provider, with the help of Level 3's Cloud Connect service.
There are also APIs and a new mobile app planned for Dynamic Capacity, to enhance the customer experience by allowing IT admins to manage it from their phone or, for the more digitised customer, in-house portal.
The whole process has been five years in the making, but it's still early days for Level 3. SDN and NaaS can be truly transformative technologies for businesses but they take time, careful planning and a properly defined architecture to get right. For those like Level 3 and Scola who get it right: "There's plenty more excitement to come."
Level 3 has shown how service providers can drive digital change and improve the customer experience – both internally and for businesses everywhere. But they need the right building blocks – like Cisco's Network Services Orchestrator (NSO).
Topics: Network as a service (NaaS) | Orchestration | Network automation | SDN