Getting the Future Right for Qwest

Charlene OHanlon

 In his four-plus years as CTO of Qwest Communications International, Pieter Poll has transformed the communications carrier from a legacy local exchange carrier to a leading telecommunications services company. In our Three Questions interview segment, Poll discusses the role of the carriers in technology delivery and integration.

CTOEdge: What is your role at Qwest.
Poll: That's an interesting question, because the role of a CTO varies a lot even in the food chain-the standard for a CTO at a carrier is different than at a supplier. I call my position "chief futurist"-I am ensuring Qwest invests in the right technology at the right time. If I pick too quickly, we churn too late. If I pick them too late then we're going to be disrupted by others in the industry.
I like to think Qwest is more nimble than its competitors. We have had extremely rapid growth in data on the network, with both our business and our residential customers. That growth is happening so fast that almost yearly we have to look at new technologies to manage that growth. That's a case where if you don't move, you don't survive.

'This is definitely a time of expansion. If you don't innovate now, you are going to be disrupted.'

Pieter Poll
CTO, Qwest

CTOEdge: Where do you see the business environment these days in terms of technology? In your opinion, is it a time of innovation or a time of reassessment?
Poll: This is definitely a time of expansion. If you don't innovate now, you are going to be disrupted. Now is exactly the time to change your future-it's like in the consumer space, if you're in the market for a house or a car, this is time to move. Enjoy the opportunity. For Qwest, our rapid growth - whether we're talking a residential customer or an enterprise customer - means there is 50 [percent] to 60 percent more data traffic pushed through our network annually. And in this model, there is typically no additional revenue. So we must innovate around costs to make sure the Internet stays the type of environment [our customers] want. It's my job to deliver on that.

Another area of note is cloud computing. The term "cloud" is probably one of the most overhyped out there. When I talk to enterprise customers about the cloud, I tell them to look at the value for their business. Enterprise customers vary too much in terms of mission and their own desires, and too many cloud solutions are one-size-fits-all. That may not offer any value or savings for some customers. Qwest, however, is innovating around building an experience that is not a headache. We want to take the pieces off their hands. Anyone in the cloud space must offer a custom solution. Right now enterprise has to fit to the model; it should be the other way around.

CTOEdge: How do you see the role of telcos in expanding the delivery of technology?
Poll: As it relates to cloud functions, if a company like Qwest is going to add a value, it must combine the network with the cloud asset and operate as one seamless entity.

More broadly, the other unique role we have is integrating technology. It's doubly true for the enterprise-as technology pieces are brought into the enterprise, there must be someone who is going to make sure that stuff all works together. We are very busy providing those solutions. The carrier community in general is well-positioned to do at large scale and with trust, while also addressing the issues of security, reliability and scalability.

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