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Communications Department's Profitability Is Dependent on Sound Strategic Planning.

I would like to talk about how you go about setting up a strategic plan for telecommunications and establishing priorities for this process. Unfortunately, telecommunications doesn't lend itself to traditional planning methods. I think those of you who have tried it will agree when I say that it's difficult beyond belief to sit down and plan telecommunications along traditional lines. For one thing, since 1/1/84, routine business has become a major preoccupation. During much of the past year the day-to-day problems of managing routine business in telecommunications largely crowded out any extracurricular activities. However, even in peacetime I don't think that the traditional planning exercise works very well when you're trying to plan telecommunications.

In most traditional planning documents you can find three elements. To begin, there's a mission statement that tells you what the telecommunications department is supposed to be doing. Then there are high-minded, undoable goals stating what the organization should be doing in the future, like enhancing productivity, contributing to the bottom line, or some other equally vague promises. Last, but not least, there is an action plan, an example of which might go something like this if we were honest enough to reveal our own ulterior motives: we will build, operate and maintain our own company network (what we really mean is that no other undertaking comes to mind that is really grandiose enough to properly showcase our talents); we will develop a professional staff organization (since we found that beefing up the payroll is a good way to begin building an empire with people who have their allegiances straight); and after we build our network and assemble our staff we will become our own telecommunications company (because not only will we be able to keep our users totally under control with our own system, but we'll also be able to tell a lot of former vendors to get lost).

As appealing as this may sound, the problem with traditional planning is that there is often no connection whatsoever between mission statements, goals and action plans. As we cast about in search of something meaningful, we often come up with answers to questions that no one asked, somewhat like the search for the office of the future.

The first step in any strategic plan is putting together a mission statement, and with this you can go after any number of key concerns. However, in my experience, if you concentrate on going after costs, quantifiable productivity gains, service levels and some kind of return on investment, you'll find yourself with a challenging set of priorities that make sense in a general business context.

Almost everything we do in telecommunications can usually be thought of as either administrative or discretionary services and functions. Now some administrative chores might be paying bills coordinating major alterations, resolving service problems or placing orders for new trunks or private lines. Administrative are simply a necessary cost of doing business.

Discretionary Activities Questioned

On the other hand, there are those functions that I like to call discretionary activities, which are those that probably wouldn't be pursued if we weren't around. Just because we choose to get into these activities of our own free will doesn't mean that they always turn out. Some of these crusades turn out to be gratifying personal triumphs and others turn out to be self-inflicted wounds.

Discretionary expenses are those resources that we use for pilot programs, for consultants and for additional payroll that are not essential to carrying out our recognized administrative responsibilities. Discretionary activities are best described as projects with clearly marked beginnings and ends.

We have spent some time looking at the likely elements of a strategic plan and measuring the priorities we should place on administrative and discretionary activities. Unfortunately, we can waste a great deal of time tinkering around with mission statements, action plans and all of the other paraphernalia involved in traditional planning. I don't have to tell you that procrastination has become a real art form in telecommunications. However, good planning demands a systematic approach.

We simply must distinguish between what we're doing now and what we might do in the future, between what we're compelled to do and what we choose to do, and between what's worth doing now and what's possibly not worth doing at all.
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Author:Kraakevik, T.
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:transcript
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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