Ed Morche leads Level 3 Communications‘ government markets group as its senior vice president and general manager, leading all functional activities in support of the firm’s civilian, defense, intelligence and other customers.
In that role, the more-than-20-year telecommunications veteran also sets strategic direction for the firm’s capture strategy for government contracts.
Morche recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss how his commercial background helps fuel his ability to bring commercial solutions into government, and a number of ways government and industry can better collaborate in communications, networks and other areas.
Ed Morche: Level 3’s government markets group has been selling into large public sector institutions since 2001. When I assumed the lead role here in 2007, I decided to change our group’s channel strategy, which at the time focused only on direct sales to the government.
Since then, we’ve built strong relationships on the indirect side with top systems integrators, carriers and satellite providers that have lots of experience integrating and modernizing legacy systems and managing huge government networks.
Level 3 works well with partners as either a prime or sub on government contracts. Today, on the direct side, we have one team that serves federal, state and local government agencies, the DoD and branches of the military, as well as research labs and universities.
On the indirect side, we work with the systems integrators that have expertise in the sectors I just mentioned. Moving forward, we will build on our past success with a continued focus on both direct and indirect sales channels.
Ed Morche: Today, almost everyone has technology that lets them work from just about anywhere, anytime using a mobile device. Public sector employees are no exception. When off-site, they need secure mobile access to email, unclassified and classified content, collaboration tools, databases and big data sets, and other legacy and cloud-based applications housed in government or private data centers.
Level 3 provides a number of network and data center solutions that enable telecommuting and provide the continuity of operations and disaster recovery that customers need. Our solutions architects work closely with our large public sector customers to design the best solution for their needs which typically brings together components from our Managed Access, Managed Security, SIP Voice and Cloud Connect Solutions portfolios.
This approach not only provides a high level of reliability and better performance of audio and video over Level 3’s global network, but it can really reduce overall network and IT costs for public sector organizations. As an example, we recently partnered with Amazon Web Services to provide public sector organizations with direct, private connectivity to AWS’ cloud services.
Level 3 connects to more AWS locations around the world than any other provider which is great for agencies that want to move to FISMA compliant and FedRAMP-certified cloud services like AWS GovCloud in the U.S. As a result of our partnership with AWS, our customers have a more efficient and flexible IT infrastructure they can depend on whether they are on-site or working remotely.
Another way we enable remote personnel is with our Vyvx service which is the largest video distribution network in the country. If you’ve watched professional sporting events on television or via the web, you’ve probably experienced Vyvx first hand.
Similarly, in a government or military environment, a leader can broadcast real-time video feeds to field locations around the world. We take that same video feed, encapsulate it and run it across Level 3’s content delivery network [CDN] so the performance and user experience are optimized.
Ed Morche: I’ve been in telecom for 21 years, and like most people, I started out working for one of the original post‑AT&T breakup companies. What I was really looking for though was a company that had the financial wherewithal to do what it wanted, but still felt like a start-up.
One with that vigor, the desire to do something different and the one with the ability to solve customers’ challenges in a better way than legacy providers could. It’s this kind of esprit de corps that Level 3 still possesses. When I joined Level 3 13 years ago, it was just finishing the build-out of its backbone in the U.S.
Having joined on the product side of the house, I was able to influence how we developed and grew our products organically, what companies and assets we acquired, and what we’ve accomplished over the last ten years. Since then, we’ve grown organically and inorganically by acquiring multiple companies, the largest of which was Global Crossing. That acquisition positioned Level 3 as a global player.
In spite of all the growth though, Level 3 has maintained a relatively flat organization as well as its growth oriented culture. That’s important to me and I know it is for our employees too. In my position, having a voice with some weight allows me to really drive the changes that will take Level 3 to the next level. That’s good for everyone involved – employees, partners, investors and most importantly our government markets customers.
At Level 3, I’ve had the freedom to grow the government markets group the way that I thought it needed to grow. That requires trust, which I’ve earned over the years with the executive management team. We know each other well and trust each other to make decisions that better our people, our organization, our bottom line and our ability to give our public sector customers exactly what they need to accomplish their missions.
Ed Morche: Early on in this role, I spent a lot of time communicating with agency customers and the GSA. It was very helpful to walk into an agency as a seasoned professional who simply needed to understand my customer’s mission in the context of the government market versus the commercial market.
But I realized pretty quickly that dealing with the public sector, while similar to the private sector in many ways, had its nuances. Yes, you still negotiate with someone who wants something of value from your company at a certain Networx, WITS3 or GSA IT Schedule 70 contract price. Yes, the attributes of your products and solutions are important to them.
But to be of real value, you really have to engender a certain level of trust that your network architect will design and put together just the right solution – one that provides a high level of quality, reliability and performance at a competitive price. That, when combined with our customer first mentality here at Level 3, is where government customers find real value.
Understanding that dynamic has allowed us to be really successful developing consultative relationships with agency employees and partners at all levels. You realize that agency CIOs and people who handle procurement are really no different in government than they are in industry. They want to do the right thing. They have budget parameters.
They always want to do more than they have money for, and typically they’re looking for someone to offer ideas that ultimately help them accomplish their mission. So right up-front, we always sit down with an agency or university to try to really understand their mission and IT and budget challenges before we put a contract together.
Listening is the most important skill I’ve tried to instill here – and being an active listener applies whether we’re working with a government agency or with or through one of our many systems integrator partners. We make sure that we talk to each other as professionals so that we fully understand the agency’s objectives.
Only by doing so can we help to solve their complex infrastructure challenges in a cost-effective way.
ExecutiveBiz: How can industry and the government better work together to increase how agencies use commercial technologies?
Ed Morche: The root answer is always communication. Agency stakeholders need to let industry professionals know what they care about and what concerns they have so they can respond accordingly. While this seems simple, it can be very challenging to do. And just because a customer wants something and you can provide it, it doesn’t mean current contracts and procurement processes allow it.
To facilitate discussions on how to increase government’s use of technologies already widely deployed commercially, industry players should understand that government agency buying processes are more complicated than in the enterprise space. This is particularly true when it comes to working with the Federal government.
Org structures, acronyms, buying timelines, procurement rules, contract types and terms, and the jargon used all differ. But, many of the Cloud First and Shared First related implementations are good examples of where the use of existing solutions have helped agencies save a lot of money.
Level 3 has already created the largest Internet backbone in the world, does it make sense for an agency to build their own backbone and operate their own network and data centers? Or does a “shared first” approach that frees up agencies to focus on their real missions make more sense? Why not just extend existing network into secure local facilities that offer agencies economies of scale?
Probably the most important thing to get across to agencies is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel — private industry has already developed advanced security technologies being used successfully by banks, financial exchanges and research institutions. So, we don’t have to rebuild things over and over again.
Government buyers must realize they can depend on the experts who design, build and run these very large interconnected global networks we have built and depend on every day whether it’s Level 3 or AT&T or Verizon. Agencies also have the opportunity to use newer, proven technology to operate a more secure environment.
It’s about knowing how you can take an instance of that and use it for yourself in a low‑cost, easy‑to‑access network as a service‑type application.
ExecutiveBiz: Great. Well that was very informative and interesting insight into how agencies can use what’s already out there in the marketplace. So those were all the questions that I had for you, Ed, but is there anything you’d like to add to wrap things up?
Ed Morche: You hear a lot of remarks from other companies in the last, say, 12- to 15-months about how sequestration has really dampened earnings results. But what we have seen, and I’m sure what other challengers to incumbents have seen, is that our sales and revenue have actually grown because of sequestration and the government shutdown prior to that.
Agencies have been forced to become much more creative and have bifurcated their spending. So, rather than awarding all their business to one provider, they are moving toward a best‑of‑breed buying approach that requires a higher level of understanding and engagement with Level 3’s direct salespeople and indirect government focused IT solution pros.
It’s becoming much easier to help agencies free up funds to pursue their respective missions.