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Executive Spotlight: Zain Ahmed, SVP of Public Sector at Lumen Technologies

Executive Spotlight: Zain Ahmed, SVP of Public Sector at Lumen Technologies - top government contractors - best government contracting event

Zain Ahmed, senior vice president of public sector at Lumen Technologies, recently talked to ExecutiveBiz about the company’s commitment to helping agencies transform and protect their mission-critical IT infrastructure.

He stressed the importance of working with a trusted partner that can bring innovative modernization and cybersecurity expertise to the table during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.

You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Zain Ahmed below:

ExecutiveBiz: With the influence of emerging technologies impacting every aspect of business, how has Lumen Technologies been able to drive digital transformation efforts to stay ahead of innovation in the federal landscape for yourself and your customers?

Zain Ahmed: “I would break this topic down into three buckets. The first is based on the network, which underpins the foundation of everything we do and lays the groundwork for any IT modernization effort.

At Lumen, we have multiple SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) solutions with a software defined layer that interacts with and enables machine-to-machine learning. I like to call it a ‘zero-touch network’ because people don’t have to wait for resources and the whole process is automated.

We’ve seen a lot of government agencies, like NASA, investing in software-defined networking (SDN) that improves their ability to scale up or down quickly depending on the need. Our SD-WAN product includes a secondary wireless solution that kicks in if needed so all the capabilities can keep running without skipping a beat.

The second bucket is the importance of cybersecurity protections. Lumen operates one of the world’s largest and most interconnected networks. We see more so we can stop more. We’re constantly securing our high bandwidth connections that are absolutely essential in today’s day and age.

From a network security perspective, we’ve automated a lot and made critical investments in SASE (secure access secure edge) technologies to help protect the network. The concept of zero-trust networking also comes into play as well as the importance of segmenting your network. We’ve integrated best-of-breed security services into a package of network solutions so our customers can tackle these challenges as they come up.

Another bucket, and arguably the company’s most important investment, is our focus on edge computing. Before we started storing data in the cloud, we stored it in data centers. The next evolution is having that stored data accessible everywhere all at once, especially at the edge of the network where most transactions take place.

The question now is how to distribute and scale edge compute resources so agencies can have better, more informed conversations about an issue as it’s happening.

For instance, edge compute can help a border patrol drone that is talking with a nearby computer quickly utilize information stored either in the data center or in the cloud to take a closer look and  respond appropriately in real time.

That’s where Lumen can help. Our edge compute network can serve 97% of U.S. enterprise locations within five milliseconds of latency or less.

ExecutiveBiz: With zero-trust technology becoming a major focal point moving forward, what can you tell us about the difficulties of implementing zero-trust architectures and focusing on data security?

Zain Ahmed: “Zero-trust is an architecture that government agencies can implement today, although certain agencies have specific ways of looking at zero-trust capabilities. But if you look at Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) 3.0, that’s a good initiative that truly modernizes an agency’s approach to security.

While it’s a federal civilian executive branch requirement, it’s a really good framework for any government agency or organization to follow because they no longer have to be their own  centralized data hub. From a remote worker or a branch office perspective, agencies can instantly and securely access data stored in the cloud wherever they are in the world.

Lumen has been working closely with several agencies to deploy auto-pilots. We were the first to offer TIC 3.0 solutions on a GSA contract vehicle. These solutions can drastically decrease latency while enhancing the user experience.

We have a laser focus on the remote user and the urgency to modernize how people look at network security following the pandemic. This focus leverages identity-based security services as well as access and control technologies that enable us to provide customization and flexibility in our approach.

Modernization will always be a journey. There’s no silver bullet or one size fits all solution. It’s best for agencies to talk to a trusted partner that can come up with a strategy on how to properly execute a plan.

Lumen has helped multiple government agencies develop and work through their security plan and we’re now moving into the execution phase as these agencies continue to transform their operations. Agencies need to remember that everything must be tailored for their particular environment and how their users are interacting.

There may be a lot of legacy technical issues to work through, which means agencies need to upgrade older applications to drive more productivity and improve security. But it’s the cyberattacks from foreign entities as well as the latest ransomware trends that can create an imbalance from an urgency and resources standpoint.

At Lumen, we understand that you have to bring artificial intelligence and machine learning into the mix in order to solve the problem. You can’t just throw the same old technology at new issues, especially cybersecurity problems. There’s always a need for a fresh perspective on how to secure and create a user experience that  addresses people’s needs without creating a system that is too hard to maintain.”

ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the challenges facing federal networks and platforms as data security initiatives impact the best business practices in our industry and across other areas like the U.S. military and government agencies?

Zain Ahmed: “The future of defense looks to be based on a Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system, which is still in its formation as we try to bring that concept to reality. Lumen is looking at the impact of these changes on the internet itself all the way through to the end user experience.

For an improved end user experience, I would argue that focusing on putting all the data together in one place to see the bigger picture is the key. After that, we can use artificial intelligence to mitigate some of the threats that show up.

It’s also critically important as you’re thinking about building anything, you need to  address the core network infrastructure and make sure it’s ready to be a software-based network.

Software defined networking enables you to tap into the benefits of using AI. For instance, SDN means you can shut down any network element where there’s a security issue in a matter of seconds with a machine-to-machine conversation.

A recent survey of IT and cybersecurity professionals revealed that as many as 45 percent have considered quitting their roles. A lot of respondents attributed it to the stress of the job, but the primary issue was tackling the unrelenting cyberthreats from ransomware and the expectation to always be on-call and available.

That’s a significant challenge today, especially in the government space. That’s a big reason why Lumen has been working with federal agencies very closely to launch our new security operations center or SOC as-a-service offerings for them.

SOC as a service takes the burden off agencies’ shoulders by providing the latest private sector security resources and tools that can help jointly address today’s cybersecurity challenges going forward.

Lumen can bring the full range of cyberthreat mitigation tools at our disposal as well as people with a ton of cybersecurity experience so agencies aren’t forced to use so many of their limited resources just for cybersecurity protections.

It’s also important to invest in upgrading equipment and software while managing those licenses and everything else, like human capital. We need an attractive market for cybersecurity professionals to do what they do for a living and ensure the protection of mission-critical infrastructure. That’s where the private sector can help.”

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