Q&A: Colt's new CEO is ready to blaze her own trail

It's a long way, literally and figuratively, from Leadville, Colorado to London, but Colt's new CEO has made the transition with aplomb. Last week, Keri Gilder was named as CEO of Colt after previously working there for 18 months as its chief commercial officer.

Gilder grew up in Leadville, which got its start in 1877 as a high-altitude gold and then silver mining town. Leadville, with a population of about 2,700 residents and an altitude of 10,152 feet, is roughly 4,750 miles from Colt's headquarters in London. Leadville is now known for the grueling Leadville Trail 100 ultra-marathon and its pack burro races, but maybe it will be known as the former home of Gilder going forward.

"My great grandfather was actually the mayor of Leadville, and my whole family worked in the silver and gold mines there," Gilder said. "And then my dad worked at the Climax molybdenum mine for a long time."

Gilder, who spent 16 years at Ciena prior to Colt, said growing up in Leadville led to her embracing athletics since there weren't a lot of things to do there during the cold winter months. Today she does CrossFit—she likes to listen to Metallica during workouts—and yoga. Her career includes a degree in software management systems and stints as a software programmer and network engineer. She was often the only female employee in some of her past jobs, and she has been very active in diversity and mentorship programs for women.

All of which helped Gilder blaze a trail to Colt's London headquarters. During this Q&A, which was edited for length and clarity, with FierceTelecom, Gilder outlined the company's engineering roadmap, what it has learned during the coronavirus pandemic and Colt's plans for software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV.)

RELATED: After five years, Grivner out as CEO of Colt; Gilder replaces him

FierceTelecom: What have you learned about Colt over the past 18 months that will help you as CEO?

Keri Gilder: I think there are a couple of things that I've learned. First and foremost, for both CCO and CEO, if you get down to brass tacks, they both have employees and customers at the front and center of them. My role at CCO was centered around ensuring that the organization was aligned to the market, that we were delivering for our customers and we were providing the best service possible.

As a CEO, this alignment really doesn't change. It just requires bringing the broader organization along with me to ensure that we're focused on the right markets and we're focused on the right technologies and solutions, as well as enabling the partners that we have around us to serve it.

Keri Gilder, Colt Technology Services

FierceTelecom: At what point did you learn that you were the next CEO of Colt. Were you hired with the CEO role in mind?

Gilder: The intention when I was hired was that I would do a good job as the CCO. Then over the course of the past 18 months, as I was able to develop further relationships with the board, with our customers, with our employees, it became an opportunity to enter into the selection process for CEO. That process ran over the course of the last couple of months. When I knew that I was the CEO was when the chairman called me and said, "Guess what? You're the new CEO."

FierceTelecom: What have you been hearing from your customers during the coronavirus pandemic? How will services and applications change after this?

Gilder: A couple of things that we're hearing are that the ways of working are going to dramatically change going forward. First, I think most companies had started moving to the cloud, but this will definitely be accelerated going forward because what they did see is that their on-prem environment just didn't fit the purpose anymore, and that they needed a more agile type of working environment as they move forward.

We are seeing a bit of acceleration in regards to cloud migrations and a willingness to move critical workloads into the cloud. Interestingly enough, we had conducted a survey of about 250 senior IT professionals before the pandemic happened, and what came back basically was that 96% were absolutely confident that moving critical business capabilities to the cloud was at the forefront of their IT strategy going forward. Post pandemic, what we're actually seeing now is that we believe this will be accelerated, that the on-demand capabilities, cloud-like capabilities that we provide with our SDN service are going to be critical to that success as they go forward. They don't know if they're going to go back to tall, shiny buildings in the middle of metro cities, or if a large proportion of their workforces would actually stay at home.

RELATED: Colt CEO Grivner: SDN and employees shine in time of coronavirus pandemic

FierceTelecom. You mentioned SDN and in a previous interview former CEO Carl Grivner cited it as a key element for Colt's responsiveness during the pandemic. What are your SDN plans going forward, and are your customers asking for more SDN capabilities?

Gilder: We invested early in our On Demand service and what we have seen is that it is a big differentiator. The ability to dial bandwidth up and down on-demand, pay for it for by the hour, or for a couple of days, is a big differentiator because then the connectivity actually acts just like a cloud environment that you're turning up and down. It's very similar and that experience that the customer is getting is uniform regardless of how they're moving to a cloud environment.

We absolutely will continue to invest in SDN as we go forward. We have been able to help enterprises transform their ways of working during the pandemic. And again, I just see this accelerating as we go forward. We're investing and looking all the time at new capabilities within our SDN portfolio in order to move that forward.

FierceTelecom: What is on the engineering roadmap going forward?

Gilder: First, we will stick to the core of our business. What we do is build networks and we build them very well. I think that as we move forward, we'll be further investing in automation, and that will be with SDN, and also with the integration and the interconnects with our partners, whether that be a software-as-a-service provider, a cloud provider, global content provider, even systems integrators. If we can find ways to enable a seamless and effortless customer experience to the enterprise, which will continue to be our focus, we will absolutely drive what we need to do in order to provide the next-generation capabilities around cloud connectivity, reporting capabilities, for example, or continuing to invest in network function virtualization applications as we move forward.

We've built a significant network. We're now far beyond 29,000 (on net) buildings. We're in 900 data centers, and we continue to drive direct cloud access with the providers and partners that we're working with. We'll be looking at the roadmap from an investment perspective and from a market base. We will be looking at where our customers need us and how we can provide more expansive services to them in those specific geographic areas. I can't really speak to those right now as it is day five (as CEO), I think, on the job. Maybe in our next interview, we can go into more detail around geographic expansion.

RELATED: Colt Technology Services takes 'Lean NFV' on a test drive

FierceTelecom: You mentioned NFV and I was going to ask you about Lean NFV that Colt has been trialing. Do you know if Colt will transition to Nefeli Networks' Lean NFV?

Gilder: Well, it's an interesting one and Colt's always looking for innovation on our services. We think Lean NFV is definitely a disruptive technology and it has the potential to simplify, even accelerate the adoption of NFV. We see even the potential for it to possibly displace the current incumbent NFV orchestration. We plan on running a production pilot later in the year round Lean NFV, and at that point I will be making a decision on the adoption of it going forward.

The current incumbent technology everybody is using today is based on the ETSI NFV MANO standard. The Lean NFV technology is an alternative management and orchestration technology

FierceTelecom: What's on the fiber roadmap?

Gilder: We made a decision last year to continue on our fiber expansion portfolio. As you're probably aware of over the last couple of years, we've been very proactive in those expansions. Our IQ Network now goes all around Europe and it goes across Asia. In 2018, we rolled out our network in the United States. Since then, over the course of last year and this year, we've performed metro expansions in Dublin, Berlin and London. And we're looking at where we need to go next. We have an innovation team that's been looking at 5G and at network edge and at some of the industry vertical areas and what those requirements would be. We're starting to now investigate what does that mean for our fiber infrastructure going forward, and where do we need to build?

At this point in time, I can't give you any specifics on where that would be, but what I can tell you is that we are taking very much a market-based view with the next-generation type of interconnections and connectivity requirements, like edge, into consideration.

FierceTelecom: Any final thoughts?

Gilder: It's pretty obvious because I'm one of the select few females in the telecom industry, but I do believe that thought diversity is going to be required as we go forward. I don't just mean that in a gender or geographic way. What I mean about that is that I think it's very important to think beyond the status quo around the way that we've worked together and the way that we will need to work together going forward. In order to do that we will have to get the best brains in the equation, and those best brains may have to look a little bit different than they've looked in the past in order for us to be successful on that transformation as we go forward.

FierceTelecom: Do you feel added pressure as a female role model in the industry?

Gilder: I think the good news is I grew up in technology.  I think I've always had a certain level of additional pressure on me because I've often been the only female in the room, but what I found over time is that a lot of times we just put that pressure on ourselves.

I think the message that I would send out there is that pressure will always be on you, regardless. When you're in these jobs, of course pressure will be on you. I don't care what color, what age you are or what gender you are; that's the reality of the job. I'm honored to be selected as one of few females (in the industry.) Mentoring has been a big part of the equation for me throughout my entire career. My plan going forward is to continue to help others that have maybe a harder way to the top because of a lack of diversity or a lack of inclusion.