Colt provides high-bandwidth network and communications services to information–intensive global businesses across Europe, Asia and North America. A period of multi-million Euro network investment and a complete focus on network services has seen Colt build significant scale and capacity across its Colt IQ Network. It provides connectivity to 700 data centres globally, with more than 24,500 on-net buildings.
Marking Colt’s 25th anniversary since its formation in 1992, we spoke to CEO Carl Grivner about his thoughts on the challenges facing enterprise connectivity in 2017.
How has the classification of enterprise connectivity shifted in recent years?
The enterprise connectivity market has undergone a huge shift, which is reflected in the way customers are now defined. We no longer define businesses as ‘SMEs’ or ‘large enterprises’ based on the number of employees they have, or their revenue. Instead we have begun to redefine customers based on how demanding they are in their bandwidth consumption and data appetite.
In today’s information intensive economy, bandwidth is a critical requirement - an essential commodity, in the same category as power and water. It must be delivered where it’s needed and when it’s needed on a high quality, constant and reliable infrastructure.
Bandwidth-hungry enterprises are at the forefront of digital transformation. They are enabled by the cloud and are often disruptors in their sector, but interestingly their size or geography often has very little to do with it. International giants like AirBnB and Uber are completely dependent on the cloud, but then so are small firms at the leading edge of the technology sector. Take for example an augmented reality developer that is less than 20 employees strong, but needs to move large amounts of video data to a render farm in another country several times a month.
How have you seen the market develop in the last 25 years?
The enterprise connectivity market is now at an inflection point - as the wholesale market was 25 years ago. Enterprises of all shapes and sizes are increasingly looking for services that enable them to provision flexible, scalable, easy-to-access super-high bandwidth and global connectivity, yet the current market seems unable to deliver it.
IDC predicts that by 2020, 30 per cent of the top 2000 Global enterprises will cease to exist as they’re known today. One-time leaders will have been replaced by new contenders, forced to merge, and consolidate, to survive, or will simply have fallen by the wayside. The shifting market demand for products and services have not gone unnoticed, and, as a result, digital transformation is at the core of any intelligent enterprise’s business strategy.
The network is the critical link to achieving a business’s key objectives, but international expansion, mergers, acquisitions, cloud adoption and wide-ranging integration all require network capacity that scales with the business.
Many other industries (retail, consumer tech) have begun to embrace the on-demand mentality. And now even the telco world is moving towards that model. It has become imperative to have an intelligent network that is ready to meet the challenges of the intelligent business and its digital transformation.
Do you forecast disruption to the enterprise connectivity status quo in 2017?
Technology, software and applications are merely tools. If they are used intelligently however, to enact and deliver on fresh thinking, they can have a real impact. Employees within an enterprise for example, are also consumers, and are used to fast moving processes and constant availability from consumer-facing businesses (such as retailers). These expectations are very much present within the B2B domain and must be met if businesses are to remain relevant.
Global enterprises need the reach of a responsive, high-performance backbone network to carry the traffic to its onward destination, but one that also comes with a deep local presence, with specialist knowledge of local rules and regulations. Rather than building or buying this network themselves, they should rent. The solution is to ‘consume’ ready-made carrier grade services that can be customised, tailored and configured rapidly.
To enable the digital transformation of today’s demanding businesses, the dynamic real-time ordering, provisioning and flexing of high bandwidth connectivity between locations is paramount. In order to be a disruptor in any sector today, you have to be able to focus on adding value, and you can’t do that if you’re focusing on your network infrastructure.
There has been much talk about digital transformation. How has cloud connectivity enabled this?
The cloud gained traction as an attractive, cost effective and flexible deployment model among the growing bandwidth demands of global organisations - particularly in digital, data-intensive industries. It enables an agile business – one that can deploy new collaborative applications very quickly and in any direction as the business needs are identified and evolve.
If cloud is the enabler for this shift in mind-set towards digital transformation, the network is the enabler for the cloud. The cloud phenomenon came about as a result of enterprises moving away from infrastructure purchases to a rental and pay-as-you-go model. Now the same is becoming true of the network.
On-demand flexibility gives customers full control and the ability to flex bandwidth requirements up and down instantaneously. This intelligent network flexibility also extends to pricing, giving customers the option to choose per-hour pricing plans, as well as more traditional fixed term contracts.
What type of impact will technologies such as SDN and NFV have on enterprises in the year to come?
Businesses need a liquid infrastructure to be able to flex their bandwidth accordingly between sites. From a technology side, Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV), combined with a professional services provider can deliver this flexible consumption model.
NFV decreases the amount of proprietary hardware that's needed to launch and operate network services and therefore further reduces the costs. Meanwhile flexibility, policy management and programmability are the hallmarks of SDN solutions.
Combining SDN and NFV technologies, and driven by self-service portals, allow the instant provisioning of network connections between locations, and the scaling of bandwidth in real time. This allows an organisation to dynamically self-provision Wide Area Networking according to real time business requirements, which themselves are increasingly driven by user expectations and demands.
How will the consumerisation of business disrupt the market further?
Just as migration into the cloud by businesses of all types and sizes will accelerate exponentially, so too will the consumerisation of business. Society is getting used to wanting what it wants, when it wants and is often willing to pay a premium for convenience.
The higher costs associated with the noticeable shift from conspicuous consumption to experience consumption can be mitigated by sharing or renting. Take for example BMW’s DriveNow, a take on the Zipcar rental model, but marketed as a premium experience. The biggest change here is that people are choosing to buy a mobility solution, and one at different tiers, rather than invest in a car.
What will the resulting level of control and the focus on self-service mean for enterprises?
In the telco world, the On Demand model allows enterprises to connect to networks in real time via an intelligent online customer portal, avoiding legacy service delivery processes which could take several weeks.
Businesses will be able to intelligently meet short term additional demands for high-bandwidth applications, such as disaster recovery or data backup. Enterprises will be released from the burden of maintaining software updates themselves, reducing the level of expertise required to configure the connectivity.
Enterprises with increasingly demanding network requirements can benefit from near real-time service provisioning and dynamic bandwidth flexing to cope with their immediate business needs. Significant investment in on demand connectivity infrastructure will leave organisations free to concentrate on their core business whilst gaining visibility, agility and flexibility.
How has the concept of customer experience changed?
It’s no secret that network operators have long struggled with customer care, both in the consumer and business sectors. Over the years, myriad, siloed, back-end systems have been stitched together creating an experience with lots of seams, resulting in too many customer touch points, or (equally bad) too few. Today the customer must come first, with a focus on delivering true local presence and agility for enterprises that are global yet need local attention.
But digital transformation is not an aim in itself. It is about delivering agility and flexibility, embracing innovation, reacting to changing market dynamics, and connecting more openly with customers and suppliers. All of this means a fundamental shift in the way the whole organisation does business – not just a new website. The process should ultimately be centred upon providing a better service to the end customer and improving the customer experience.
As the bandwidth demands of global organisations continue to grow, access to secure, stable, intelligent network connectivity is becoming a prerequisite for any enterprise wanting to take advantage of the benefits cloud, mobile, big data, and IoT (Internet of Things) solutions offer.
Companies have to measure themselves against the best businesses across any industry, not just direct competition. At Colt we stopped measuring ourselves against our peers because the bar they set was too low. We achieved a NPS (Net Promoter Score) of 35 in 2016 , which is unheard of in our industry and we now look to other, more ‘customer friendly’ industries to measure ourselves against. Quality, and willingness to be open with customers will prove to be a differentiator.
Carl Grivner, CEO, Colt
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