Windstream banks on its consulting firm to better serve retail sector

Windstream may not be among the biggest service providers in the U.S., but it does have a retail consulting firm that's a key differentiator.

Windstream acquired retail management consulting firm BRP when it bought Earthlink for $1.1 billion early last year. BRP largely helped out retail stores on the application level, but now it's taking a network approach as retailers move more of their applications and service to the cloud.

While BRP is able to help retail customers with their digital transformation, Windstream also benefits from sitting at the same table.

"I'm not aware of another service provider out there that has its own consulting practice with this level of expertise in any vertical, and certainly not in retail," said Joseph Harding, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Windstream Enterprise and Wholesale, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We're leveraging BRP to gain greater insights on the needs of retail. What we've found is that the network is a bit of an afterthought in their overall IT strategy."

BRP has roughly 70 employees, and the majority of them have hands-on IT experience in previous retail careers, according to Harding. While BRP and Windstream work hand-in-hand on enabling services for retail customers, BPR can work with other partners if Windstream isn't a good fit.

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Harding said that prior to Windstream, BRP was more focused on helping retailers with their applications, but now that focus has turned to the network as a whole and specific services, such as SD-WAN.

"So now they're (retailers) focused on 'How do I move my point of sale system to the cloud? How do I move my enterprise resource planning applications or system to the cloud?'" Harding said. "What we're finding with many of those customers, and even the application providers supporting their migration to the cloud, is they're not thinking ahead in terms of what does my network architecture need to be to support this cloud application strategy?

"As customers move those core applications to the cloud, the network is becoming more critical to enabling that strategy, both in terms of the performance of that network as well as keeping that data secure as it transits back and forth to the cloud. We're trying to encourage customers to think about those things holistically or at least in parallel."

When BRP meets with retail customers, it performs a comprehensive audit of their network technology and then makes targeted recommendations on moves they can make to both reduce costs as well as improve performance.

"One of the areas that we've been really involved in a lot is assessing their networks and as part of that, we look at their communications and voice services," said BPR's David Naumann, vice president, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "One of the big areas where we're finding the biggest cost savings is replacing the POTS (plain old telephone service) lines with voice over IP and a lot of that savings can help fund other network investments that they're making.

In addition to VoIP, some of the other things that we see driving the need for greater bandwidth in stores is greater demands on their WiFi from a consumer perspective and from connecting to the cloud. We often see an increased need and demand for greater bandwidth."

Harding said SD-WAN, which Windstream first launched in 2017 with vendor VeloCloud, has gained the most traction with retailers. BRP's team is now fully up to speed on SD-WAN, and is currently getting up to speed on unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) going forward, according to Harding.

"SD-WAN has the most traction because again it kind of goes part and parcel with that move to the cloud," Harding said. "So SD-WAN includes connectivity to AWS or Azure or any of the other large cloud. That's pretty transactional and basic, but that's part of the customer's strategy or maybe they have some of their own applications that they're hosting in those environments. We really have the network solutions to help improve performance or reduce cost there. Customers are also looking to migrate off of their legacy call center application to a UCaaS application. We've got a very robust CCaaS capability through our partnership with Avaya."