Although surprising to many, the monumental growth and seismic shift in appetite for SD-WAN in small and medium-sized business applications is something I’ve been predicting for some time. Back in November, when I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Light Reading podcast, I talked about the subject at length.
One of the biggest eye-openers about this shift to software-defined technology is that small to mid-sized businesses are leading the charge to adoption, unlike previous innovations which were traditionally driven by large enterprises. We’re seeing this technology transformation being driven by the needs of those smaller businesses and being picked up by larger enterprises as news of its success spreads.
Increased adoption leads to record earnings
On an earnings call just last week, our CEO Tony Thomas reported that Windstream Enterprise is now the top SD-WAN service provider in the U.S., with 3,200 SD-WAN customers representing over 27,000 endpoint locations, and cited a 38% annual growth in enterprise strategic revenues. Strategic products and services which include SD-WAN, UCaaS and OfficeSuite UC ® now bring in about $300 million in revenue annually. Three-and-a-half years ago, less than 1% of our revenue was from our strategic products. That’s a shift to get excited about!
D-WAN transformations take networks “from fragile to agile”
As the provider that helps enterprises make the transition to today’s cloud-based services, Windstream Enterprise is proud to offer a solution that can drive our customers’ network evolution sensibly and cost-effectively. Far from a costly “rip-out and replace,” SD-WAN from WE operates over legacy systems. Combined with WE Connect, our customizable “single pane of glass” portal, our customers get real-time visibility and centralized control over their entire networks. And when paired with a diverse connection, SD-WAN requires zero downtime—prompting those in the industry to call it a “bulletproof” technology that takes networks from fragile to agile.
The proof is in the numbers… and the case studies
In a previous post, I heralded the success of family-owned Arc3 Gases as an example of what SD-WAN can do for mid-sized businesses. During my chat on the Light Reading podcast, I also referenced the Liberty Steel case study. A century-old Midwest-based steel manufacturer with 1500 employees and eight locations, they were struggling with network circuit failures that stopped production (and abruptly halted sales deals) several times a year. With the adoption of our SD-WAN Concierge™, Broadband Access and UCaaS Voice, they reduced their network outages to zero, increased their bandwidth and improved app performance. Hearing about those wins—almost more than hearing about the encouraging earnings numbers—is what keeps us focused on being evangelists for SD-WAN solutions across industries.
Welcome to 2020! Not too long ago, that year seemed far in the future, conjuring up visions of jet cars, teleportation and instant everything. Now that we’ve arrived, the power of next-generation networking and communications makes physical teleportation a little less appealing. Why travel (at least for business) when we can virtually be anywhere instantly already? Though our cars may still be earthbound, they may not require human drivers for much longer.
Human experience is changing, and enterprises recognize the imperative to evolve their business models, their customer service strategies and the value they deliver in order to stay competitive. At Windstream Enterprise, our purpose is to support the growth of ambitious enterprises in their move to transformative, cloud-based communications solutions from the legacy networks that hold them back.
We provide managed software-based services combined with network services, but our business is not simply about technology. Our motivation comes from the people who count on us—our customers.
Throughout 2020 and into the future, we will continue to build our customers’ business success, and their confidence in Windstream Enterprise, via the 4 key advantages we deliver:
As you embark on this new year, we look forward to helping you realize your business ambitions as you leave legacy network constrictions behind.
Arc3® Gases has
500 employees and 52 retail locations in the Southeastern United States where it
sells a range of welding supplies and industrial gases to restaurant chains,
medical facilities and entertainment venues. By all measures, family-owned Arc3 Gases is thriving due in large part to
experienced leadership and a laser focus on customer service.
There are scores
of mid-sized entrepreneurial businesses like Arc3 that succeed due to the hard work
of their owners and employees. What often gets overlooked in these success
stories, however, is the technology that helped get them there. Conventional
wisdom says that small and mid-market companies are slow to adopt new
technologies due to lack of experienced personnel, limited capital, and resistance
to innovation. The perception is that smaller businesses tend to be years
behind large enterprises in adopting new technologies such as SD-WAN.
However, as Arc3 and others like them are
doesn’t always match reality. In many cases, we are finding that these small
and mid-sized companies, not massive enterprises, are the ones at the bleeding edge
of today’s telecom revolution.
Leading the telecom revolution
market adoption of major telecom shifts—say from Frame Relay to MPLS—was driven by enterprise-level companies that needed to create global, reliable connectivity, managed centrally at vast NOC-like hubs. As network-driven business processes like online commerce, ubiquitous e-mail, 24×7 customer communications and global supply chains became mission critical to enterprise functionality, connecting thousands of people was a convoluted task. Not to mention, one that drained resources through rising costs, increased complexity and skyrocketing customer expectations. Enterprises were demanding cheaper, simpler and more reliable network services just to ensure their massive businesses could function. Innovation ruled the day, and the faster an enterprise could adapt to the newer technology, the more agile and competitive
it become in the rapidly globalizing marketplace.
Navigating an app-driven world
technology was becoming tightly integrated into enterprise business functions,
a new generation of technology was coming online—mainly “app-driven”
technology. Spurred by their smartphones, consumers started using apps for
everything from managing a soccer team to tracking packages. Consumers became
accustomed and demanded the simplicity of an app to interact, manage and
conduct their “business.”
consumerization of technology easily translated into small and mid-sized
businesses, where smaller staffs quickly adopted intuitive, consumer‑like applications. For instance, it doesn’t take an experienced network manager to provision an email account and a phone extension for a new employee. Instead, any office manager can easily set one up through web-enabled interfaces. Likewise, it doesn’t take a full e‑commerce network to accept credit cards. Instead small business snap-up Square devices and, presto, they can expand their markets exponentially. Small businesses have been quick to adopt simple, manageable technology that improves business functions because of its ease-of-use and consumer-like interfaces.
Innovating with the times
Enterprises are now
wrestling with a telecom transition again. Rather than making the pivot to
innovative technologies like SD-WAN and unified communications, many are standing pat with their
technology investments from 15 years ago.
As I discuss in a
recent podcast with Light Reading, the value proposition for SD-WAN is
unquestionable, but it’s been slow to make inroads with enterprises and some
network service providers because they are concerned about abandoning legacy technology:
its certainty, its functionality, and its cost. This is understandable; enterprises
are usually risk-averse, and complex global network operations cannot be managed
by a simple smartphone app.
However, much like in the days when traditional landline phone providers resisted wireless phones as competition, we need to recognize the future when it’s staring us in the face. Just as mobile phones were driven by consumers, we can clearly see software-based telecommunications will eventually replace today’s legacy systems, and that’s one of the reasons Windstream Enterprise is not just committed to innovative technologies like SD-WAN but is leading the industry in their deployment. For all the benefits it brings in terms of simplicity, cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency, the consumerization of technology is a trend that businesses of all sizes should embrace.
The arrival of summer brings road trips—past or potential—to mind. If you’re planning to haul the entire family to the beach, you’re likely testing the limits of a minivan or SUV on expressways. If you’re planning a relaxing getaway to the same destination, you may be meandering on scenic byways with the top down in a classic roadster. Either way, choice means everything when it comes to the experience you seek for yourself and others. The same is true in the technology world—you always want choices to optimize your experience.
Road-tested and ready
SD-WAN is a proven winner when it comes to customer choice, and we’re excited to announce that Windstream Enterprise now offers more options in our award-winning portfolio of SD-WAN solutions. With a focus on design and function, we’ve just added the Fortinet platform to our expanding SD-WAN portfolio, adding a new layer of security from one of the industry leaders in threat management. In an ever more cloud‑connected world, the reliability, performance and flexibility of your network needs to be matched by exceptional security. Without security, you’re like a reckless driver who is so bent on “making great time” that you increase the risk of your journey becoming an accident waiting to happen.
Not all roads are the same
Like our nation’s network of roadways, the true value of our nation-wide high-speed, fiber optic network lies not in and of itself but, rather, in all that it can enable. Our introduction of Fortinet enables us to be more “agnostic” about vendors and platforms that support our offers—further ensuring we collaborate with you to determine what options best meet your needs, now and well into the future. To complement the inherent security of our WAN solutions, we’ve also recently introduced managed security solutions for the LAN environment. With intelligent software tied to wireless access points and cameras, supported by secure switches, you can gain the knowledge necessary to both protect your environment and improve experiences for users of all types. In this hyper-competitive world, ultimately customer experience (CX) that defines differentiation across industries of all types. Whether you’re in retail, banking, healthcare, or any other market, imagine leveraging technology to instantly recognize and engage your customers (and employees) in a highly-personalized CX—before they even walk into the physical or online ‘door.’
Count on a trusted advisor
Just as there are many choices for solutions, there are many choices when it comes to selecting which provider to work with. At the end of 2018, Windstream Enterprise was named to the top-half of the Vertical Systems Group Leaderboard for all U.S. Carriers who provide Managed SD-WAN Services. It was an honor for us be recognized for having so many satisfied SD-WAN customers across diverse vertical markets. That recognition came before we announced the launch of WE Connect—a “mobile first” portal that provides customers with a level of visibility and manageability via a “single pane of glass” that is simply unmatched. Other recent SD-WAN awards include:
While these external points of validation are appreciated, more important is that they inspire confidence when it comes time to consider a new provider for your SD-WAN and complementary solutions. Based on a successful history of collaboration with our existing customers, I am confident that once given the chance, Windstream Enterprise will continuously re-earn your trust throughout the lifetime of our relationship.
Embarking on a digital transformation journey is no small feat. It requires IT leaders to completely rethink their approach to business processes and the use of technology. Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter solution. Each organization has unique requirements and circumstances to consider, which is why digital transformation can be an expensive undertaking—and an impactful one, provided the IT investments are well placed.
Here are 3 areas to focus those investments for maximum positive impact.
I go into even more detail on this topic in my article with Information Age, click here to read the full article.
While digital transformation may increase efficiency and save money, it’s really about investing in the most critical area of your business—customer experience (CX). CX is much more than a buzz word—it has become a key point of differentiation among businesses across industries—and rightfully so.
Having the privilege of working closely with brands in a variety of industries—Windstream Enterprise has become intimately familiar with their specific challenges. We recently had the opportunity to attend two of the largest events in the retail and healthcare industries:
Prioritizing the customer journey
What’s most fascinating is how digital technology is transforming each industry’s approach to the customer journey. The retail industry is something most of us have seen and experienced first-hand with the domination of e-commerce giants like Amazon and the rise of mobile retail trends.
The healthcare industry is taking a page from retail, making a concerted effort to prioritize the needs and preferences of consumers. In healthcare, the consumer is the patient and the competition is getting fierce in this market. The patient experience (PX) is now a primary focus for healthcare providers of all sizes.
We’re seeing parallels between these two key markets, with the common denominator being an intense focus on what the CX in the digital age should look like. Below are three CX areas we can expect to see amplified in 2019.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in—improving CX is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction and revenue growth in the digital age. To that end, maintaining security, resiliency and connectivity are also musts. The future of digital transformation looks bright but will require investments in the right digital systems and initiatives to continuously enhance the full lifecycle of the customer journey.
When I joined Windstream Enterprise, the company was on a transformative journey, in every respect of the word—encompassing investments in our systems, products/solutions, processes, people and our brand—with the central objective of embodying a culture focused on our customers.
This commitment to radically change how we approach the customer experience came with the mandate to be a true partner for our customers—open and collaborative, agile and qualified to help them solve their most complex business challenges.
As a B2B technology services provider, our offers are designed to improve the way businesses serve their customers, which provides us with a unique perspective. The attributes we value so highly and strive to embody: responsiveness, agility and innovation, are the very traits we embed into our solutions to help our customers deliver the best experience possible to their own users and customers.
Windstream Enterprise is committed to helping our customers execute their digital transformation roadmaps as they adapt their business to perform, compete and succeed in a rapidly evolving market. To do this, we’re investing in the best digital experiences for our customers.
Empowering our customers
We live in a digital world. How customers engage with our company and solutions online is critical to their overall experience. Windstream Enterprise offers a variety of connectivity, communications and security services. Our goal was to unify all our best‑in‑class services into one integrated digital experience for our customers—the proverbial ‘single pane of glass’ customer experience. I am proud to say we’ve achieved just that with our revolutionary customer portal, WE Connect.
WE Connect delivers personalized experiences that align to how our customers think and operate, offering immediate access to relevant and targeted information about all their services where they want it, how they want it, and when they want it. We placed great emphasis on including self-care, visibility, reporting and control functions to empower our customers with the freedom to manage and customize their business‑critical services to their unique needs and preferences.
This empowerment transcends to other ways in which we are committed to supporting our customers in a digital world. We continue to be focused on enhancing and expanding our digital support channels like our online community, online chat capabilities and recently launched storm center program, to ensure our customers have instant and convenient access to the information and support they need to operate their businesses.
Commitment to improvement
Another “secret” feature of our WE Connect portal are advanced user analytics that continuously improve our customers’ experience by giving our DevOps team insights as to how customers engage and where the experience is lacking, Of course, the best insights come directly from our customers themselves. Customer feedback is the foundation of everything we do. We survey our customers regularly seeking feedback on installation, repair and support, to further optimize our processes. We have instituted a Customer Experience Action Board comprised of VP-level executives that meets monthly to review our survey data. Our customers can be assured—we read every comment and take the feedback received very seriously— setting key initiatives based on how we can best address customer concerns.
While we remain committed to enhancing our customer experience at Windstream Enterprise, we have the pleasure of helping our customers do the same through their investments in next-gen technologies. We wholeheartedly view each customer as a partner and pledge to continue to invest in new ways that will make it even easier to do with business with us. Stay tuned for more exciting enhancements to come.
When we introduced Windstream Enterprise (WE) at the start of 2018, I talked about digital transformation creating a huge opportunity for providers to help customers that other service providers were largely ignoring. I promised that WE would serve as the network partner businesses expect but rarely find—a “customer-focused, agile, responsive and trusted advisor committed to helping them connect, transform and elevate their business.”
I’m happy to say we made great strides in fulfilling that promise by hitting a number of aggressive milestones in 2018.
Last July, Windstream Enterprise announced that within its first year, our SD-WAN solution had already been purchased by more than 1,000 customers—making us the lead player in the highly promising SD-WAN market. That momentum has since accelerated, reaching over 1,600 signed customers before the end of 2018.
Those sales reinforced that the SD-WAN core competency we developed is truly resonating with customers as they pursue digital transformation. The media noticed, too: In September, TMC named our SD-WAN Concierge™ solution a “2018 Internet Telephony SD-WAN Product of the Year” award winner.
Further on the 2018 SD-WAN front, our solution met the standards for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Version 3.2 Compliance, which helps customers who process credit cards achieve and maintain their own PCI compliance. We also introduced SD-WAN Cloud Connect, to deliver highly secure, private, dedicated access to leading third-party cloud ecosystems.
Just last month, WE surpassed 500,000 seats for our cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS) solutions. As more and more businesses made the move to the cloud, our solution provided the exceptional visibility, control, and speed of delivery they required.
On the way to that milestone, TMC named WE’s XCaaS Powered-by-Avaya a 2018 “Unified Communications Product of the Year” award winner. We also enhanced our contact center as a service (CCaaS) solution to deliver full omni-channel capabilities including the ability to seamlessly link customer contacts across voice, digital, and open-media channels.
In September, WE announced that our hybrid fiber-wireless capabilities are now available in more than 50 major metropolitan markets coast-to-coast, with a footprint covering over 350,000 pre-qualified enterprise businesses.
This is an especially big deal for enterprises needing secure connectivity with the absolute minimal downtime achievable. Our fixed wireless solution complements and operates in parallel to WE’s 150,000-mile core fiber footprint, delivering faster connection speeds than copper—from 1.5 Mbps to 5 Gbps—with service-delivery lead times of under 45 days.
In 2019, Windstream Enterprise will continue its aggressive drive to assist businesses of all sizes with their digital transitions and initiatives. I don’t want to pre-announce solutions, but you’ll see new offerings and enhancements which keep our customers at the core of everything we do, through greater network visibility, greater ease in controlling network infrastructure, and a marriage of technical excellence with operational streamlining. It’s going to be a very exciting year for WE and our customers—stay tuned for new milestones to come.
The telecom industry has gotten riled up recently. If you have been paying attention to the news, you know that the biggest telcos are asking the FCC to make a policy change that would have huge impacts on both residential and business customers. At the end of the day, Windstream Enterprise stands for our current customers and those of you who will become our customers in the future. Our loyalties lie with you, not the big telcos.
Given current government leadership’s fervor for rolling back regulations, it’s important to remember that marketplace oversight often elevates public interests above the profit motives of monopolies and near-monopolies.
That’s certainly true of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which sparked a wave of competition that brought more choices and in many cases lower prices to businesses and consumers. Big Telco is working hard to reverse that dynamic, pushing the FCC to repeal a key element of the Act. If they succeed, it will hit corporate America’s pocket book. And it will hit hard.
The element under attack: Among its many provisions, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers) to offer UNEs (unbundled network elements) to competitive providers, at prices that include a reasonable profit. This has enabled a new class of providers (like ourselves) to deliver innovative services without having to duplicate ILEC infrastructure – which, after all, was paid for in full by ILEC customers. In addition to greatly increasing service options, UNEs helped to keep costs under control by fostering competition among a larger number of service providers. In other words, we help you manage your costs while enabling you to run your business your way and better serve your customers.
Big Telco would like to increase its profits by giving consumers and enterprises fewer options at higher prices. Through the USTelecom lobby group, the ILECs are pushing the FCC to end their obligation to make UNEs available. If they succeed, the largest U.S. telephone companies will hit enterprises with a serious double-whammy:
For these reasons, Windstream Enterprise strongly opposes the USTelecom request. Although we are an ILEC serving communities in 18 states and a USTelecom member ourselves, we’re also a competitive service provider in markets where we’re not the ILEC. We know how much enterprises have benefitted from UNEs. We also know the financial impact of an immediate 15% increase in telecommunications costs for these enterprises. And we are extremely concerned about the business disruption they’ll incur with forced migration to next-generation service within a brief window.
Simply put, this proposal is a roadmap for inflicting pain on enterprise customers for the benefit of Big Telco.
That’s why we have joined forces with other competitive service providers and champions of a competitive telecommunications marketplace to persuade the FCC to reject Big Telco’s proposal. Together, we have persuaded the FCC to extend the comment deadlines, giving all interested parties more time to review and respond to USTelecom’s proposal.
We hope to help shut down that proposal completely. If that can’t be done, we’ll press hard for a more reasonable transition period that eases the disruption ILECs are so eager to force on enterprise customers. You can also read more about our official positioning here.
At the end of the day, our job is to help you transform your business by providing innovative network solutions and elevating your experience with us so you can do the same for your customers. That’s why we don’t have boxed solutions and refuse to get “boxed in’ by competitors” proposals that stand in the way of us putting you first. We’ll continue to advocate for you in these deliberations and will keep you posted on the progress as it unfolds.
Whether you’re a veteran of the networking and communication industry or new to this sector, the tectonic shifts that accompany businesses’ rapid migration to the cloud and adoption of next-gen technologies have been felt by customers and network providers alike. This transformation shock would register 9.0 on the Richter scale, and lest you think the change has run its course, think again. We’re in for a wave of aftershocks as business and IT transformation evolves to keep pace in the digital economy. With it, the role of the network is changing, and an exciting, but ultimately rewarding journey awaits those willing to take it.
The transformation journey begins
The great irony of the current situation is that as businesses migrate core workloads to the cloud, they often run into a challenge they might not have considered; that their current legacy network architecture is not prepared to support transformative change. At the same time, the legacy service providers they depend on have a history of not being easy to work with and less than responsive to their evolving needs. This is especially true for often-ignored mid-market customers. In the wake of all this migration and change, there is a huge opportunity for a provider willing to take on the challenge of helping the customers that other providers have ignored or can’t keep up with.
A transformative new brand for a transformative era
It was with the needs of these customers in mind that a few years ago, we began to transform our own business. To get where we needed to be, we knew we had to make some important changes. We began with the customer, instituting a new company-wide, customer-focused culture to radically change our customer experience for the better. And, to differentiate and distance ourselves from the world of tactical providers we had to become an agile, responsive partner with solutions designed to empower businesses to address their most essential business technology challenges.
We also had to address our technology capabilities, investing heavily in infrastructure upgrades including SDN across our nationwide network. This creates an agile, intent-based programmable network fully optimized to deliver in an always-evolving, cloud-driven environment. Then to put that technology to work, we introduced a broad range of strategic solutions ideally suited to enterprise customers who want greater control and who seek to drive business innovation and deliver a differentiated customer experience through superior connectivity, communications and collaboration.
Together, these changes have been so significant that we are fundamentally a different company today than we were just a few years ago.
I will admit that the process has not been easy. Change never is. At times, it felt like changing the tires on a bus that’s moving at 100 miles per hour. Our conviction about making these needed changes, however, was greater than our fear of losing control while stopping the bus. And when momentum is on your side, you’d better keep going.
Introducing Windstream Enterprise
Looking back, the massive transformation was necessary to become the kind of provider that customers choose to do business with. While our journey is far from over, we’ve come to the point where it was time to take things to the next level with an update to our brand to match.
With these results fueling our progress, I’m proud to introduce Windstream Enterprise (WE), a new brand for our mid-market, enterprise and wholesale business. The WE brand reflects the changes we’ve made and the many to come as we continue to evolve to serve our customers’ needs.
As our journey continues, we will not lose sight of the singular goal behind the Windstream Enterprise brand: to be the network technology partner businesses expect but rarely find—a customer-focused, agile, responsive and expert trusted advisor committed to helping them connect, transform and elevate their business.
A special thank you to all the businesses who have presented us with the challenges and opportunities for you have helped drive the customer-focus and innovation that define the WE brand. We consider you partners and co-sojourners and look forward to sharing your journey with you.
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