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Inside IT With CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley

By Jack Rosenberger
CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley

Inside IT With CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley

By Jack Rosenberger

The challenges of near-constant mergers and acquisitions, the adoption of virtualization and cloud computing, and the importance of creating synergies is nothing new to Bill Bradley. A nearly 30-year veteran of CenturyLink, Bradley joined the Louisiana-based company in 1985 when it was known as Century Telephone. Since then, it has grown from a national phone company to a global telecommunications giant, with annual revenue increasing from under $20 million in 1985 to more than $18 billion in 2012. Today, CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications company in the U.S., after AT&T and Verizon, and has expanded its offerings to include cloud computing and hosted IT services for the enterprise. Along the way, Bradley has steadily risen in the organization, starting as a software developer, then becoming a security manager of security and database administration, before being promoted to a vice president and CTO in 1999. Ten years later, Bradley was promoted to senior vice president and CIO.

In order to share the knowledge and experiences of active CIOs, CIO Insight recently interviewed Bradley about the present-day his role at CenturyLink and, finally, his career advice for IT professionals.

What have been the challenges for you as the CIO of CenturyLink?

Bill Bradley: The challenges are often cultural, not technological, and they frequently involve getting people to adopt a new mindset.

As a company, we have grown organically and through acquisitions, and lately we've acquired a lot of cloud companies. As we have become a cloud provider for businesses, it has become increasingly important for us to aggressively embrace the cloud model from an Internal IT perspective as well. At one point, with all of our acquisitions, we were using more than 10 data centers for our internal IT. We use four now and will soon move down to three. Our efforts to adopt cloud technology internally stem from our earlier successful efforts with implementing virtualization inside the company, more than five years ago. In each case, acquisitions drove the use of the technology first inside our company, then with our customers.  

The real issues generally stem from cultural challenges. For instance, some IT people are used to managing data centers and they've built a great skill set, but for them to adapt to a public cloud, well, that's a big change for some people. They may no longer physically touch assets; they're doing the same job, but it's just in a different environment. All roles in IT will face changes by working in a cloud environment. Everyone needs to make adjustments.

Tell us about going from 10 data centers to four.

Naturally, there was resistance to change. However, synergy drives consolidation, and when you acquire a company, you conduct a cost efficiency exercise, and make the needed changes based on those and other factors.

Acquisitions are an opportunity to rethink the whole IT environment. For example, an acquisition gives you the opportunity to rethink your approach to disaster recovery, which is something that too many people pay lip service to.

Mergers and acquisitions also enable you to discover new efficiencies and opportunities. But the important thing is what you do with them when you find them.

How do you manage the merging of the IT departments of the companies CenturyLink acquires?

I've been with CenturyLink for almost 30 years, during which time we've done 15 or more acquisitions. We have a standard methodology that we follow, which helps ensure we are successful. Mergers and acquisitions are done because there are business drivers, and we are constantly looking for ways to create synergies.

The effort to attain those synergies involves bringing people from different companies together, to blend and merge. For the synergy to happen, they need to get involved and have a shared vision. It's like realizing any other great achievement, people need to come together and share a common vision of the future and make it happen. Sometimes an acquisition takes longer—it can depend on the company—but it is critical that the companies come together around a shared vision.

CenturyLink's internal IT department has embraced on-demand resources. How has this changed the IT department?

What has changed for us—what's true for us and our customers—is the speed to market. Think about capacity needs, for example. If you approached a hardware vendor, you'd have to negotiate a price, the terms of delivery, an installation schedule and then, finally, you'd be able to use the asset. With a public cloud provider, you can get on the asset and use it almost immediately. Speed to market is an advantage of the cloud—it helps you quickly solve a problem for a business partner.

Inside IT With CenturyLink CIO Bill Bradley

Tell us about how your ability to rapidly scale operations has changed the way your IT department operates.

Our internal development organizations, including India, work around the clock, creating new solutions. They are able to leverage our high-speed network and cloud platform, which enables them to procure assets and deliver them many times faster than a normal procurement channel. Even internally, you win customers with fast service.

What are some of the key lessons you've learned in your IT career?

I talk a lot to people in our own organization and outside it about how to adapt to change. I like to remind people to react to change and act positively.

IT has consistently changed for decades, but people still seem to fall in the trap of being reactionary to it. At one time people were unsure of the value of a personal computer. Others couldn't understand why they would need a distributed computing platform when they had a mainframe. The core reason people go into IT is because they understand technology and they want to provide a solution. Somewhere along the way we can get buried in our job, and we must remind ourselves that we need to provide that solution every single day.

There are three things every IT person needs to understand about their career.

1. Follow your passion. Ask yourself, "Why am I in IT?"

2. Work hard. If IT is your passion, you should want to work hard. If you don't want to provide solutions every day, maybe you're not following your passion or maybe you're not challenging yourself enough.

3. Give back. You should want to give back—and not just monetarily. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, 3,000 people from New Orleans ended up in a vacant building near our company headquarters in Monroe, La. Our IT group wanted to help, so we went to the shelter and found a lack of organization. People were separated from their families, and the Red Cross, which was overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of so many people at once, was using handwritten forms to track people, but it was difficult to locate people. People were separated from their families or from each other. Our IT people looked at the situation and said, "I think we can help with that." Before the beginning of a weekend, we brought in some spare servers, setup a database, captured the name and location of each individual, and before the weekend was over, it was possible to find everyone in the facility quickly and accurately.

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Enterprises Double Down With Cloud Investments," click here.

This article was originally published on 07-11-2014