Driving Better Business Outcomes with Lumen’s Umesh Lakshman

Author: Scott Kinka

The Bridge Podcast - Umesh Lakshman Lumen_Technologies_LogoOn this episode of The Bridge, I’m joined by Umesh Lakshman, Vice President of Solutions Architecture, National Mid-Markets and Channels at Lumen.  We’re talking about how we’re moving head-first into a future that is decidedly up the stack and how that drives the expectation of better business outcomes.

Lumen connects the world. They digitally connect people, data, and applications – quickly, securely, and effortlessly. Everything they do at Lumen takes advantage of their network strength. From metro connectivity to long-haul data transport to their edge cloud, security, and managed service capabilities, they meet their customers’ needs today and as they build for tomorrow. 

During our conversation, we discussed Umesh’s background and career trajectory,  his role in leading a cultural reboot at Lumen to foster a culture of innovation and an opportunity-focused mindset, the evolution of managed services providers in showcasing value during the pandemic, and so much more.

Topics covered in this episode:

  • An overview of Umesh’s podcast, “Breaking Boundaries,” which focuses on diversity, inclusion, and equity, particularly from the perspective of male allies.
  • Lumen’s evolving identity and purpose and transitioning from traditional telecom-focused assets to higher-order application-centric solutions.
  • The challenges and opportunities faced by mid-market and larger companies in terms of technology adoption, integration with security, consumption mechanics, and achieving faster ROI.
  • The impact of the pandemic on IT leadership and the need for rapid change
  • Lumen’s vision for network transformation and simplifying service consumption through a digital front-end
  • The integration of network and security services and organizational challenges in adopting this approach.
  • The evolving role of IT leaders in response to the pandemic.
  • How proof of value, demonstrated through demos and proof of concepts (POCs), has become crucial in moving opportunities from discovery to closure.
  • The organizational challenge of bridging the gap between network and security teams.
  • Predictions about AI advancements in the next 12 to 18 months.


Links for this episode:

Breaking Boundaries Podcast

The Bridge Podcast with Scott Kinka – Terry Barbounis of Lumen

The Bridge Podcast - Umesh Lakshman Lumen_HEADSHOTABOUT UMESH LAKSHMAN

Umesh Lakshman, as the National Vice President of Solutions Architecture for Mid-Markets and Channels, shapes technical strategy and business outcomes through innovative technology and talented teams. He transitioned to this role after leading sales engineering for Lumen Technologies’ West Area and media / entertainment verticals.

Previously at Cisco, he spent over two decades in a plethora of roles bookending his time there in senior sales engineering, supporting the world’s leading cloud providers. Umesh couples his professional acumen with a commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion, inspired by his upbringing and the lack of diversity he observed in the tech world.

With a Master’s degree in hand, his personal goal is to harmonize the tech industry’s diversity with societal representation.

At Cisco, he was integral to ‘Men for Inclusion’, striving for a future where such initiatives are obsolete. A prolific voice on diversity, Umesh also created “Breaking Boundaries”, a platform celebrating DEI champions. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube, spotlighting those who challenge norms and forge an inclusive future.

Umesh loves the arts, namely being on stage in some format, be it dancing salsa ( retired ) , be in a band, or talking shop about technology and diversity, inclusion and belonging.

CONTACT UMESH

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LinkedIn (Lumen)

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Insta (Lumen)

Twitter (Personal)

Twitter (Lumen)

 

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Full Transcript

Scott Kinka:

Hi, and welcome to another episode of the Bridge. We’re thrilled to have you. My guest on this episode is Umesh Lakshman. He’s the Vice President of Solutions Architecture for National and mid-markets and channels actually for Lumen, which is a name I’m sure that many of our listeners know very well. But we will obviously give Umesh the opportunity to give us a little bit of that elevator pitch as we go. Let’s start with welcoming. Thank you for joining us here on the show.

Umesh Lakshman:

And thank you for having me over, Scott. Appreciate the opportunity.

Scott Kinka:

Yeah, certainly. When we get into these episodes, we always like to start with some personality and I think people can figure out some of the personality from the wall behind you. We might spend a little bit of time there, but let’s just start with you personally. Obviously you’re at Lumen, the career trajectory is one, but we’d love to know a little bit about you personally first.

Umesh Lakshman:

Sure. So, born and raised in India with two very, very cerebral parents, is maybe how I’d put it. They had eight postgraduate degrees between the two of them. My dad was a triple Ph.D. holder, so it was awesome. Just being around their awesomeness may be the best way to put it. Came here to do my master’s back in 98. Did my master’s in Wichita State, Kansas, and then, as the market was booming right at the beginning of 2000, I got hired into Cisco in 2000 and spent 21 years there, maybe at that point in time. It was the longest time that I had been in a relationship to that date. About three years ago, I moved from Cisco to Lumen because I was looking for a change. I mean a change of scenery, a change of perspective, and a different way to approach the customer segments I was trying to get more exposure with.

Scott Kinka:

Got you. I want to explore that move in a moment, but you told us how you got here. Anything about you personally now you want to share?

Umesh Lakshman:

So, getting here, I mean I’m a self-professed storyteller with a creative mind, so I have my own podcast that I’m trying to revive as season two comes up. I’ve danced semi-professionally, salsa dancing. I’ve gone to the world championships, and I’ve placed in the top three in the world twice. I retired back in 2018. I’ve been a frontman for a band. I love music, which is maybe why you see a hundred headsets here behind me and then maybe boxes and boxes of headsets and EarPods in my garage. Produce music. At one point, I was part of a band we used to produce our music, so I’ve written blogs, so I think creatively. I like to explore a lot, and during that process, I kind of found my own voice and my own identity as I explored different creative avenues, which is maybe what I’d say.

Scott Kinka:

Well, you’re a Renaissance man, look at you. You have a lot going on there. Let’s explore just quickly before we jump back into the work situation a little bit more about your pod. Can you tell me, it’s called Breaking Boundaries? I listened to a little bit of it, but I’m not going to give you what I think the commercial is. I’d love for you to give me the commercial and tell me what your story is there.

Umesh Lakshman:

Sure. So Breaking Boundaries was created literally in the two weeks between my leaving Cisco and my joining Lumen. That’s a two-week height that I had that made me unable to sit quietly, and I’ve always tried to find a way to give back and share stories of everyday people who do some interestingly awesome things in diversity, inclusion, and equity space. And that’s because I’m a leader of color in a domain that’s predominantly not. I’ve had to work hard to get to where I’m at and also try to be a role model for others so that they see that representation matters. So, in the DNI space in general, there are a lot of podcasts out there that are led by women, but there are very few podcasts where we are taking an allyship angle where men are talking about what we should be doing in the diversity and inclusion space. So, that was the lens I was looking at it. I’ve been doing a lot of work at Cisco before. I had moved from Cisco to Lumen in the DDNI space, so as part of an employee resource group called Men for Inclusion, it’s one of their core team members. I had spoken at a few conferences around diversity and inclusion belonging, so it almost became an extension for me to bring other people who I knew and give them a platform to share their story, their unique stories, and have a very different lens into what we do as allies, as leaders, for example. That was the intent of Breaking Matters.

Scott Kinka:

I love it, and I’m not going to attempt to tell your story any more than you just told it, but what I will say is for those of you who are watching this on YouTube, certainly while you’re given the bridge with Scott Kinka, a follow on Apple or Spotify today, let’s make sure you also check out Breaking Boundaries. In my prep this morning, I got halfway through an episode. I wanted to at least get the tone. It’s really, really well done, and congratulations on that. I’m looking forward to season two, and you got to follow me today, so it’ll be in my feed tomorrow. Thank you. Looking forward to that. So I do want to jump back then, and it’s interesting how the stories, the personal stories, and breaking boundaries just sort of have a place in your migrating story from Cisco to Lumen. I mean, you were at Cisco for 20 years. It sounds like you did a good job weaving your technology story into your personal story. That made it part of the job almost right, which is what you were known for there. Give me a little bit of that career trajectory. Which technologies were you in at Cisco? Over what periods of time? We’ve had many people on the pod talk about the various monolithic groups inside of Cisco. So you normally get in one category. Just tell us where you worked in Cisco, and over time, you don’t need to give us a lot of depth. Just trying to get a feel for your background.

Umesh Lakshman:

So I’m almost fully sales engineering, right? When you talk about sales engineering, historical sales engineering is when the SES would be paired with frontline sales professionals who would call on customers. That has been my trajectory through and through, irrespective of the title and the domain of influence that has been my trajectory. There may be some deviations from that normal, but even those deviations are more like sales engineering support. So you’re doing proof of concepts or big proof of concepts or alpha-beta kind of baking in with big sps. Those were maybe the deviations to that whole trajectory, but when I started, I was what they call an associate is fresh off the boat coming in, and then literally just very green came in, everything was peachy, and then the bubble burst in 2000. Everybody knows what happened, and my customer base went from about 300 or something to three in the space, and it was a very, I mean, as a newbie coming into corporate America very early in life, I was like, wow, okay. My whole life changed. I then pivoted to more of a solution engineering support role, running proof of concepts for SPS. So I ran an SP field lab in Denver for about three years, moved to Dallas, and did that for about a year and a half as a tech lead there. Along that pathway, I was thinking of getting searched, and I got a bunch of certs, and I was like, well, I want to leave a bigger, let’s say, legacy. So I wrote a book instead. So I wrote my first Cisco press book on NPLS in the good old days when NPLS was the coolest thing ever, right back in 2005, 2006, and then.

Scott Kinka:

You keep burying stuff that should have been in the lead. By the way, you wrote the book. You were literally working at Cisco, and you wrote the book on MPLS. Let’s just be honest here. What was the name of the book?

Umesh Lakshman:

MPLS config on Cisco iOS. So it’s a thousand pages

Scott Kinka:

I probably know about 40 people who read that book. Having worked by the way, Gene, who worked at Verizon for a long period of time on big enterprise accounts, Gene just raised his hand. He’s like, yeah, I’m guilty.

Umesh Lakshman:

It’s a 1200-page, 1100-page head turners, which may be what I’d say. But again, at that point in time, when we were writing that book, it was the operations guide to MPLS. Sure, sure. There were a lot of books out there on MPLS on the theory, and this was a way for us to get into the nitty gritty hands-on skills, real stuff. How would an operator really go configure all these a hundred different features that you had out there? So we wrote that book, and I think to this date, I’m the youngest Cisco press author. I wrote that when I was 26, I basically moved to San Jose, got married, and was one of the tech leads in the proof of concept team here for Cisco. I got front-row seats to Fortune 500 and Fortune 50-type customers, walking them through their different technology migrations and building POCs at scale for four to five years. And then I was like, okay, great. I’ve gotten a lot of hands-on skills. I know the bits and bites of how everything works. I want to sit in front of customers, and I want to have that interaction again. So, in 2011, I became an SE in the public sector space locally here, supporting the university, the UC system here in the Bay Area, and Stanford and Scenic, which is a K through 20 backbone for the state of California. Had an amazing time working with them for five years. Did a lot of redesigns and huge architectural changes. So I think I’ve put my stamp somewhere in a lot of those designs. And then, in 2016, I did a hard right pivot just before I was thinking of going down the path of, okay, I have my SE now, and in the Cisco pathway, there’s a se, then a consulting se, and then you can become a distinguished se and the distinguished are the few, they’re the Avengers, they’re like the 15, the group of 5,000, and you have a very arduous two-year process to file your papers and then selected for it. So, it’s just about to go in and start the process of becoming A DSE. And I got a call saying, Hey, we’re looking for an SE leader to lead some of the teams in the hyperscaler space. So we were looking for a mix of very technical and hardcore people. Leadership is required here. So I took that opportunity, did that, and for the last five years, I ran different teams in the hyperscaler space at Cisco. So I got front-row seats to the tip of the spears.

Scott Kinka:

A lot of that history was probably getting through your early stages as a se, and then through the POC stuff and then the GOED stuff and all that was probably, and having started in 2000, a lot of switching and routing, as you said, wrote the book on MPLS, but then sort of made this conversion over to the hyper-scale. So you’ve seen it all on the Cisco side it seems like. But before I jump to the move lumen, I have a question to ask you: which Avenger?

Umesh Lakshman:

I’ve always been told, Ironman.

Scott Kinka:

I believe it actually. I was just kind of thinking about that. I was waiting for the suit to start constructing itself around.

Umesh Lakshman:

I wish there was no nano button home.

 

Lumen’s Renaissance: Unleashing the World’s Digital Potential

Scott Kinka:

I love it. Okay, we’ll get that one out of the way. Tell me about what you do at Lumen. What interested you in going over there? And for those who may not really know, Lumen, somewhere in there, gives us a little bit of the elevator pitch.

Umesh Lakshman:

Sure. And Lumen has gone through multiple lacerations of identity change, I would say, and in the last, I would say, 12 to 18 months, with Kate Johnson coming on board as the CEO and a relatively newer leadership team coming on board, that has evolved too. So our purpose has evolved to kind of unleash from furthering people through technology to really unleashing the world’s digital potential. That’s our purpose statement now. Our mission has been around how we unlock business growth for our clients by connecting people, data, and apps quickly, securely, and effortlessly. So those two simplistic statements are what it’s led to. We are trying to extract the value of what we have in terms of an asset base, right? We were heavy on a network. I mean, we still are.

Scott Kinka:

Everybody knows you guys for the network legacy and the companies that they know all the names that became part of

Umesh Lakshman:

Yeah, exactly. So, in century and level three, embark on savage. So there are a lot of those pieces that came in that are historic, what I would call our legacy and our identity, a heavy, strong identity. And we’re taking those, what I would call telecom-focused assets, and really moving into how you get more tech adjacent. And what that means is how do you build solutions that are higher up in the stack and closer to the application so that we create more of a seamless one-stop shop semi-easy button for our clients to come in and say, Hey, I would like to go do this. Great. Here are your four Lego blocks that we can easily piecemeal together from network to potentially the fabric or an edge to potentially an underlay or an overlay of security with a look at work from anywhere kind of a view. And oh, by the way, we’re trying to look at it from a digital experience as well, so maybe we can do a network as a service. So we are trying to piecemeal all of those pieces together, and we are in, I would say, phase one of our own renaissance of sorts.

Scott Kinka:

So we keep coming back to this renaissance concept, but listen, we’ve had front-row seats at Bridgepoint to the Renaissance. I mean, I’m not one for trying to compare rankings and all that, but let’s just say we’re strategic partners together, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time and had an immense amount of success expanding the conversation and selling those strategic services. Yeah, I mean, listen, the network is the least sexy part of all the things that we’re talking about, but it’s the enabler to make all of the other sexy parts happen. So you’re already having the conversation. Go have the conversation about the rest. So, in my mind, my advice to CIOs or directors of IT who might be listening and have maybe any of the legacy lumen solutions on the traditional telephony and connectivity side is that there’s just a lot more under the cover and a lot more to go get. Is that what attracted you to come over, by the way? We never really answered the question about why you moved.

Umesh Lakshman:

Yeah. So I think for me it is, you kind of really netted it out, right? Moving away from purely just the network and the hardware to service and its consumption to creating a higher-order application-centric view was kind of the biggest driver from a technology standpoint and a domain standpoint. I’ve always wanted really my next step to run a larger domain. So the opportunity posed itself, and as I mentioned again ding, ding, ding, renaissance. At that point in time, the IC leader called me, and he said, we are looking for a cultural reboot. We need somebody to come in and do a cultural reboot on the way we look at technology and not sound like us,  Somebody who can consume what we’re doing already but Extract it. 

Scott Kinka:

You’re arguably one of the biggest network providers in the world to make that statement. So I don don’t want to skip past that. I’d like to make sure we say it again like you were asked to come in and lead a cultural reboot in the way, frankly that one of the biggest network providers in the world sees itself. Yes. Am I overstating that?

Umesh Lakshman:

No, it was true because I stated the domain and the lens as well, right? When I came on board, I led Enterprise West. You cannot run a west region similar to a central or an east. We are just different. I’m just going to call it the way it’s right there is geographical wonkiness. That’s my technical term for it, which comes with being on the coasts as compared to the center. And so culturally

Scott Kinka:

And the coasts themselves are different also, right?

Umesh Lakshman:

East and West are so different. And for me to come in, they wanted somebody who would embody, I would say, the West Coast’s way of leading and show the SE community that this is what culture looks like; this is how we get there faster, sooner, and easier. And while we have challenges, we can focus on challenges as much as we want. The opportunities are 10 x, so why are we not focusing on opportunities versus the challenges? And it’s just a typical cultural reboot of taking your colored lenses off and looking in with clear glasses, and that’s what needed to happen.

Scott Kinka:

I say internally. Often people get tired of hearing me say, stop sucking your own carbon dioxide, take a deep breath, fresh air on this one step back. We keep treating ourselves the same way. You hear the same message, and you believe it over time. It’s a super interesting way of looking at it. So let’s take all of that. So you lead the E organization. You’re asking it to look at the business itself and also your customers differently. But you said it earlier. It’s right in your title on LinkedIn. You are a storyteller, and you meet with customers every day. So let’s talk a little bit about, our listeners are largely directors of IT and CIOs and people like that, and they want to know they’ve got peers that the things that they’re hearing that are keeping them up or the things that are keeping their peers up at night. What are the stories that you’re hearing and the stories that you’re telling today? What does a typical week look like in terms of the kind of problems that you’re trying to solve?

Umesh Lakshman:

And I’ll create some level of boundary. I lead mid-markets and channels, so the size of the customers might vary, but I led larger key customers before as well. So I’ll try to

Scott Kinka:

How do you define mid-market, by the way? At Lumen, just to put it in perspective,

Umesh Lakshman:

It’s basically a function of employee size in a company and MRR, so it can be up to 5,000 employees. So like I said, the higher end of mid-market could be a pretty large company. Sure.

Scott Kinka:

5,000 employees. This is a big company and big company problems. Let’s be very clear. It might not be a multinational corporation, but that’s a big company problem. That’s real.

Umesh Lakshman:

Indeed.

Scott Kinka:

But in that space, I just wanted to make sure we clearly defined it because people define that in all kinds of different ways, right? You’re talking to a 5,000 or 2,500, even a thousand-employee IT lead. What does the storytelling look like?

Umesh Lakshman:

It ties back to what I was talking about on where Lumen is headed. When you really talk about it, I mean general thematic elements that pop up when I talk to CIOs. I’m trying to onboard new technology, but I’m trying to find an easy way to do it, minimize risk, and do it agile faster. So somehow balance that. That’s box one. Two, I wanted to be fully integrated and weaved in with security. Security shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be always front and center. So, let’s not think of it as a bolt-on problem that we need to solve. Third, I would say consumption mechanics. How do we really how take this, onboard it, consume it, operationalize it, and then use it to orchestrate and drive insights from a technology standpoint? And I’m trying to stay away from jargon as much as I can just because,

Scott Kinka:

No, I get it. It’s fine. If you need to use the jargon, use it. Just define it, right? I get you.

Umesh Lakshman:

And last but not least is how do I get a faster ROI? So how do I do this and get a return on investment that’s quick and easy and it’s tangible and I touch and feel and I can measure it very quickly. It’s no longer like, oh, I have a five year ROI term. It’s like I want an R OI in 18 months or less. Sure.

 

The Convergence of Network and Security in IT Strategy

Scott Kinka:

There was a lot in that answer. A couple of things I want to poke in on. Let’s stick with the ROI one you just talked about because you’ve been having SE conversations for 20-some-odd years, and we have this conversation about the burden of proof for an IT leader that has changed over the years, in particular since the pandemic. Have we almost changed from getting me the thing I need for as cheap as possible to getting me the thing I need so that I can prove a business ROI? Have we gotten there, and do you feel like the pandemic, in a lot of ways, caused that change? What is the role of the IT leader?

Umesh Lakshman:

I mean, the pandemic, I think, changed the playbook completely for an IT leader. A lot of reactive things are pushed by the wayside, which we’ll get to. It suddenly became like a P zero problem overnight, literally overnight. We had, even in the mid-market space, if you have 5,000 employees and 2,500 of them were remote, now suddenly you’re like, I don’t have the infrastructure to balance that. It became an instant change in scale and dynamics and the way technology had to be put together. Almost re-architected, I would say. And they had to do it quickly. So, I think during the pandemic, you saw more and more managed services providers stepping in to showcase value Quickly. It was an opportunity for a lot of us to come in and showcase value and become that easy button for them to come in and really consume technology in a quick and easy way without having to usually do it and having to go through their own process from an onboarding perspective. The other thing I feel is that to your point of proof of value as a SEE, one thing I tell people is, where’s my demo? Where’s my demo? Where’s my POC? That has become such a crucial part of, I would say, taking an opportunity from discovery to design and then potentially towards closure. I want to see how this is going to work. I want to see this, I want to look at it, and I want to play with the bells and whistles. And so we are having to now construct solutions that we have to go to the client base and say, here you go. This is almost like its own marketplace or its simplistic entity. You have APIs. You can play with them. Here’s your sandbox. Go to 10 for three months, and let us know if you need something. So we are trying to move to those models as well in terms of proof of value,

Scott Kinka:

I guess that is why I totally agree. I mean, the proof is always in the pudding, and the demo is always the thing, right? I mean, as people, we’re natively tinkerers. I think it has to be part of the DNA, right? Yeah. I think people often think about it as this very antiseptic place. And I can tell you the characters that we have on this show, half of them are musicians, some of them paint. Most guys wrote books. I don’t think people realize that the direct connection’s there, but I’ll get off my soapbox on that for a moment. And just to come back to the general, you were making a general statement a couple of minutes ago about proof of value in the demo. I guess the question for me is this: when a lot of your services are sort of plus up on a network element or are modifying a network element, securing a network element, changing network schema, those kinds of things, and they’re not your customer already, that makes it really hard to give them a POC, does it not? Because you sort of have that underlying, is that what you mean in this marketplace? Expand on that a little bit for me. How do I trust something with you?

Umesh Lakshman:

Sure. I’ll maybe draw two worlds for you, right? In today’s world, where Lumin is partially at, partially at is, we have a network service and a security service overlaid on top. We have potentially an edge fabric that could tie into that. We have managed and professional services that can put it all together. You can get as complex as you want as you talk through where we are headed. Step one of that is to use the network as a service for us, which is really bringing that digital front end. When I think of it in my head, I can hear Jeff Bridge’s voice from Tron right now, the grid, the final frontier. That’s literally where we’re trying to go is the final frontier here or the first frontier that we’re trying to cross is evolving the network, making it elastic, making it simple to consume instead of having it as an on-off button, giving it a spigot that gives them flexibility that they can increase or decrease depending on when they want to use it. And really pay as you grow kind of a model or grow as you grow kind of a model. So that’s step one. So that’s literally the first underlay itself, which is foundationally changing. That’s where we are headed. The second thing is to think of security as a bold-on service instead of thinking of it as a bold-on service. Everything’s going to be cloud-delivered. Everything’s going to be delivered from our own domain. So all you have to do is go to a portal and say, Hey, I have NAS from Lumen. I would like to add a DDoS service. Click here. These are the flavors that are available: essentials or premium, whatever it might be. I’m going to select the right one based on what I need to be done. And it says, okay, it’s going to reboot your link for a second. And maybe it’s not even rebooted because if it’s not transport-dependent, it’s not even needed.  So it’s just going to be a service chain in the cloud. Three. I can now take that same service chain in the cloud model to network. Again, with DDoS, which is step one, I can go from the network to SS E on the backend. I can start adding SS E as a function in itself because all of those are cloud-delivered pieces for all effective purposes, as long as the edge can do what it needs. If I had proximity to an edge node, I could effectively drive that ecosystem and pull in, maybe. Hey, I have 15 petabytes of storage here. Do you want storage object storage? Here? I could maybe say, okay, click. And it creates your local network storage right away. So now I’m creating just one network link. I’m creating an ecosystem of services that sits behind it, and all of them are just clicks. They’re not necessarily, Hey, I’m going to truck roll somebody. I’m going to change this box. I’m going to reconfigure this. It’s going to take you three months to get there. I’m going to give it to you in three minutes or less.

Scott Kinka:

Yeah. It really is remarkable how it’s all coming together. I’m going to ask you one last kind of stay with this for one minute, and then we’ll have some fun. But we have this debate internally in technology, and I think it’s partly born out of the idea that we’ve always been tinkerers at hard and we want to buy a bunch of best-of-breed things, a bunch of best-of-breed things that put us in the integration business, not in the running our network business. You know what I mean? I got to stitch these things together, but I also think partly because of the economy of rankings and analysts and all those things, we want to put people in boxes, but the reality is that the value is created, and the time is given back to it when you release solutions that are spanning multiple categories, but it does make it hard to categorize. So we have this debate about network and security all the time. Internally, network or security, network, and security, or is it just at this point network and security together? How often are you having a network conversation that doesn’t land in security?

Umesh Lakshman:

You’d be amazed. I would say there’s still a good 40% to 50% of clients who may have a higher wall between the two boxes. And even for the others, I feel like while the wall has reduced in height, there’s still some level of, oh, that’s a security team problem versus a network team problem. So, it is an organizational mechanics problem.

Scott Kinka:

It’s an organizational problem more than it is a functional separation.

Umesh Lakshman:

I mean, like SASS E, when I’m talking Sass E, it’s network plus security delivered as a service. So when you take that, and you expect two teams to come together to put something like that together, it’s just harder and more challenging.

Scott Kinka:

And look, I mean, I think it’s business prudent. I mean, the whole strategy of having the security team and having a separate C level who’s managing compliance and managing security and all the things that are associated with that, it makes logical sense organizationally that you can’t have the fox in the hen house at all times. It does the work, and we’ve got a security group that is both layering on security and checking and making sure that the way we’re servicing the organization meets some standard organizationally. That’s right. Or at least organizationally. That makes sense, right? I think the challenge, this is a big takeaway for me, and I’m going to make a note of this because I’m going to use it in conversations, but I think organizationally, though, that does make it hard for us to acquire, implement, and manage product that spans both network and security. The reality is that the network is blurred. I mean, in particular in the pandemic when these big monolithic NPLS networks, they’re out from big, silvery, shiny buildings aren’t really as important as securing the edge and securing the people where they work and all those things. The lines have blurred so significantly, but our organizations haven’t morphed to simplify the operation and decision-making around it.

Umesh Lakshman:

Exactly.

Scott Kinka:

Really, this conversation, I mean, honestly, I could probably go with you for another hour. I’m going to have you back on. We’ll do this. This has just been wildly interesting, and we both have a lot of perspectives from having done engineering and design work in the field with clients. So, getting it from your perspective, particularly after all those years with Cisco, I’ve been a partner of Cisco in various businesses for many, many years and know tons of people over there, and then currently operate as the chief strategy officer here at Bridgepoint, where we’re incredibly closely aligned with Lumen. In fact, my next call is a QBR with our team,

Umesh Lakshman:

And you and I are going to be on the same call.

 

A Futuristic Peek into Tech and Entertainment

Scott Kinka:

Well, fantastic. There’s a jacket over here that they mailed me. I wear it in the call, so we’ll be on that call in a couple of minutes. But this has just been so fun to just kind of banter about it and not get super geeky, but really just talk about the challenges that the people that we are working with are seeing been really amazing. I’m going to ask you three fun questions to end this off though. Alright, you ready?

Umesh Lakshman:

Sure, sure,

Scott Kinka:

The first one is, I wouldn’t call it fun. Aside from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to MPLS, which you wrote in 2005, what are you reading right now?

Umesh Lakshman:

I am a big self-help leader, sometimes psychology, human psychology, all kinds of stuff. So, at any point in time, there’s maybe three or four different things going on. I’m trying to see which ones I’m looking at.

Scott Kinka:

I had to do that. Somebody asked me that question back on an episode. I’m like,

Umesh Lakshman:

So I’m actually reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Again, I thought it was a good time to read The Field Guide to Whiskey, which is some guy who loves my libations. Simply said, I know we talked about this before the podcast, but English is kind of like a second or more like a third language, and I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into improving it as a skill, communication as a skill. And so I read a lot about how you simplify narratives. How do you make them?

Scott Kinka:

What’s that book called? Simply Said?

Umesh Lakshman:

Simply Said.

Scott Kinka:

Alright, I’m going to look that one up immediately and take a look at that one. I definitely want to do that. Alright, that was a good answer. Next question. This one is a little bit more dramatic. Whatever the next pandemic that happens. It’s way more dramatic than this one. Maybe it’s Skynet finally Descending. Maybe it’s PLE of the Apes. I’m not sure which one it is. Something along those lines. One application continues to work on your mobile phone, but I’m giving you the option to choose which one. What’s it going to be in that dystopian future?

Umesh Lakshman:

Dystopian future? Spotify.

Scott Kinka:

Okay. I mean, we got the musician in you already. You’re like if all this has gone the pot, nobody cares about their networks anyway. There are, and

Umesh Lakshman:

Just because I feel like I’ll get some level of news, I’ll get some podcasts, I’ll get the music. It’s one app that I could turn off, and I guess if it’s a dystopian, we’ll figure out how to train pigeons to send messages. At that point, iMessage wouldn’t matter.

Scott Kinka:

Well, you just got to make sure you hit the download button before all hell breaks loose and the network,

Umesh Lakshman:

Oh, it only works for your liked songs list right now,

Scott Kinka:

Delete everything else off your phone to make room for Spotify storage before the network goes to pot at the end of the world. Alright, I get that one. That’s a good one. Now, this one can go any direction you want. It could be technology business, it could be politics, it could be sports. It doesn’t matter to me. Look into your crystal ball. Give me something in the next 12 to 18 months so we can look back the next time we talk and see if it happened.

Umesh Lakshman:

Next 12 to 18 months. What’s going to happen? Everybody’s talking about it. AI has taken over. I mean, it’s changed my life, honestly in more ways than one. I use copilot at work. I use Bing and Chat GPT all the time as my primary source of gathering data by asking questions. I’m going through a Wharton CTO program right now, and the way I study has changed because I can use something like chat GPT to net out a whole transcript into bullet points that I can consume quickly. So instead of reading or listening to a 30-minute audio or video, I’m going and reading three minutes of bullets and getting 80% of it almost. So AI has changed the way I even approach things completely, and it’s taken what I would call lazy me and made me lazier. But looking forward, I feel like it’ll be even more interesting to see. I’m beginning to see that with Spotify, they have this thing called DJ where you can click on DJ, and it plays lists based on your likes, and it feeds you more of things that you tend to listen to, and then it’s just progressive learning constantly as a data point. So I feel there are things in AI that are going to evolve that will mesh themselves with the Apple Vision Pro or whatever we want to call it in the AR VR world very soon here in the next 18 months. Okay. Right.

Scott Kinka:

I’m really looking forward to working out of an Apple vision at some point with all my apps up and just doing it that way.

Umesh Lakshman:

Minority Report, right?

Scott Kinka:

Instead of staring at all these monitors in front of me, that would be great.

Umesh Lakshman:

Yeah, just Minority Report. All that reminds me of is the Minority Report. In the good old days when Tomm Cruise was doing all

Scott Kinka:

This in the future, what’s going on, the ending is never good for humanity anyway. No, I get it. And I get into this argument all the time. People will send me when we talk about the dystopian future, my dad’s like, I saw a video of a robot saying that the best way to take care of the world is to kill all the humans. And I’m like, Dad, AI has to be informed. And he’s like, what do you mean? I like the fact that it has the same scripts for every movie you watch, too. What do you think it’s going to say? We never had an AI story that worked out and ended up in a movie. I mean, come on now. He’s like, oh, I didn’t really think of that. I was like, trust me. It’s not arriving at that conclusion on its own right now.

Umesh Lakshman:

I don’t think the singularity will happen in 18 months. But

Scott Kinka:

Yeah, I do ask that question quite a bit. So that’s a hot take. Well, I don’t think the singularity will happen in 18 months, either. I think the question is, will we know when the singularity happens? I mean, that’s the whole kind of idea. It is not going to wake up all of a sudden if it does wake up in consciousness. Do you think it’s the first conclusion I should probably tell the people who can pull the plug out of the wall that I know what I’m here? That’s not the first thing that’s going to come to the conclusion of No, but I get you. This was just a lot of fun, and I really appreciate your time. We’re going to do this again soon. Thank you for joining us here on the Bridge. I really appreciate it.

Umesh Lakshman:

I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

Scott Kinka:

A hundred percent. My guest has been Umesh Lakshman. He’s from Lumen as the VP of Solutions Architecture there for national bid markets and channels. Looking to hearing more from him. We will, in the liner notes, include a link to his podcast as well. And we’re looking forward to seeing all of you soon on another episode of The Bridge. Thank you.

 

 

 

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