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Building and Maintaining a Telecommunications Staff.

Twenty-five years ago, the role of telecommunications management was new and, in many organizations, only took up a slice of an office manager's time. That was principally because the industry was highly regulated, and therefore, a user had very little choice of vendors, products or services.

Now, many of the regulatory wraps have been removed, the products and service options have exploded and you can find vendors on every corner. Your job has changed significantly as it is more demanding and more interesting.

What proof have we that things are changing? We know that interest in the profession is rising and that demand for competent professionals is rising because academia is focusing more on telecommunications. Programs are popping up at schools including the polytechnic Institute of New York, New York University, the University of Colorado and Southern Methodist University. Just recently, the University of Pittsburgh announced the introduction of a new graduate Master of Science in Telecommunications degree with an initial $300,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation.

Some Indications of Change

Top management is increasingly interested in telecommunications. Also, it is no longer a closed discipline. Those in telecommunications for more than 10 years remember that seldom could you discuss what you did with anyone other than fellow practitioners. Today, many people understand basic concepts, are interested in industry events and welcome a chance to talke with telecommunications professionals.

Perhaps the leading indicator of all this is that you are valued more as manifest in your pay. The number of telecommunications managers earning less than $40,000 annually declined 21 percent, while those earning $40,000 to $60,000 rose 29 percent and those commanding $60,000 to $80,000 jumped 100 percent within the past four years. In addition, six-figure incomes aren't uncommon.

Why is any of this relevant to my topic? Because you can't build and retain a competent staff unless you understand your importance and believe that you play a vital role in your company's business. The technology you shepherd is pivotal, and choosing intelligently among the options requires skill and business sense.

One of the big issues today is the relationship between MIS and telecommunications. It is important not simply because of what we consultants like to call the blurring and collapsing technological boundaries, but because MIS and telecommunications represent complementary technologies that together and separately are of critical value to businesses.

The two functions are getting married in many organizations, either by folding telecommunications into existing MIS or by repositioning both under a new chief information officer. Recent reports suggest that roughtly 50 percent of larger companies have merged the two. Clearly, there is overlap. Currently data communications responsibility resides with MIS in 85 percent of companies in this survey. But when considering the implications of commingling telecommunications and MIS, keep in mind these prophetic words from Woody Allen: "The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won't get much sleep."

Against this backdrop and these currents, what must you be doing? The new imperatives include rising above day-to-day chores, leading rather than doing, planning instead of reacting, and getting involved in the business.

You can't allow yourself to get bogged down by the rising tide of paper. You can't be administrators, otherwise, you're hiring people and giving them no vision or challenge, and your doors will be revolving doors.

That brings us to the organizational and staffing challenges, of which I have identified five: balance business and technical skills; adapt to twin business/technical needs; find and retain good people; promote a working relationship with MIS; and forge vendor relationships.

By balance skills, I mean shifting emphasis appropriately from mostly technical to mostly business as management responsibility rises. In other words, as you climb the management ladder, you should begin to shift your focus from mastering the technology to understanding better the business and objectives of your company and how to best apply technology. By so doing, you expand the role of telecom, set a pattern and goal for those beneath you, and you leave behind the gaps to be filled by your staff.

Adapting your telecommunications organization to twin business and technical needs is to create different entry points and alternate paths. You might bring in someone with sharp technical skills whose destiny is to be a technical guru or you may hire a clerical type who gets trained technically or remains administrative. You probably should hire people fresh out of school whoe can rise rapidly through administrative and technical positions to management levels. Be flexible and give people different avenues, but set the tone yourself.

Find and retain good people. The finding part I've become convinced is pure magic. It's increasingly difficult to find affordable good people, but attracting and retaining you can do something about. They are functions of your leadership qualities, the environment at the workplace and a visible career path (spelled opportunity) for new hires.

Promote a working relationship with MIS through joint planning, joint projects (the most obvious of which is networkin), and shared resources. That is, you should swap people between MIS and telecommunications to cross-train them, establish a shared research group or person and pool staff-development budgets and use the pool for the best people and joint goals.

Forging vendor relationships is a vehicle for containing costs and augmenting your staff resources with those of the vendor. I'm not suggesting exclusive purchase arrangements with one or two vendors; however, I am suggesting preferred relationships with two or three vendors for critical products and services for which compatibility is important. This can open the door to advance product knowledge, more-liberal training and implementation support, and faster action and reaction. I'm even suggesting foregoing formal RFPs on some projects.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Conroy, Dennis
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:transcript
Date:Jan 1, 1986
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