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ICA Education Efforts Help Members Cope in Increasingly Complex World.

There is a temptation for an outgoing president to use this time as a period to reminisce. The ICA has been undergoing a period of explosive growth, and I could enumerate a litany of statistics proclaiming that growth. For example, the proclaiming that growth. For example, the exposition at this year's conference is three times larger than it was just five years ago. That is impressive when you realize that five years ago we were still the largest exposition of its kind.

Well, I well resist that temptation. I would rather use this time as a period of reaffirmation. John Kennedy once beseeched us to "Ask what you can do for your country." There is, I suppose, a temptation to paraphrase that admonition. But I won't do that. Instead, I want you to ask the question "What can the ICA do for you?" You as an individual, and you as a representative of your corporation. Is it possible the ICA has outlived its usefulness? Do members really benefit from ICA participation? Should they continue their participation? Those are the questions I will address.

Has the ICA outlived its usefulness? A strong case can be made that, if anything, the ICA role is more vital and critical than ever. Look at how the job of the telecommunications manager has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. A strong case can be made that, in that short period, telecommunications has moved from one of the least-complex, least-challenging management functions within a firm to one of the most complex. Not many years ago, the telecom management function was limited to dealing with one firm, because no one else was authorized to offer products or services; there was only one price, and it was illegal to sell above or below the tariff, so price negotiation was non-existent; there were limited alternatives from which to choose and technology advanced at what could best be called a modest pace. Telecom management was reduced to two questions: Do we need it? How much of it do we need?

Today the world is much different. There are hundreds of companies offering telecommunications products; there are more-complicated financial alternatives; there are often multiple technical solutions to the same business problem. In fact, the telecom management environment can be summed up in one word: complexity. What other job function today must cope with rapidly changing technology, then be faced with a whole additional layer of complexity having to manage in a highly unpredictable regulatory environment and then have to deal with an unstable industry environment where our single largest supplier is itself undergoing enormous change?

What can the ICA do for you? It can help telecommunications professionals cope with this complexity. How does it do this? Let us look at the activities and programs of the ICA to see.

Our activities and programs fall into three main categories. First, programs surrounding the regulatory and public policy arena; second, programs designed to enhance the telecommunications-management profession and, third, programs designed to educate our members. These are our main thrusts. Let us look at these one at a time.

First the regulatory arena. I suppose one of the crosses we bear is that telecommunications is in a transition period, moving from regulation to competition. The problem is that the two are like oil and water. They are fundamentally incompatible. Furthermore, deregulation is occurring under a series of fits and starts. There is no master plan. This situation creates an environment that is unpredictable, uncertain, haphazard, changing. As a result we may as well resign ourselves to the fact that regulatory turmoil will be a point of the telecommunications manager's condition for some time to come.

What does this mean to the telecommunications manager? It means complexity. You simply cannot make a major equipment or service decision without thoroughly exploring the regulatory ramifications.

What is the ICA doing? We have hired expert economists and lawyers who, together with our Public Policy Committee, make the user point of view known both at the FCC and Capitol Hill.

How do members benefit? Some of the benefits have been simply cost savings. There is no doubt that ICA members have saved hundreds of millions of dollars because of our participation in several cost-related proceedings. Further, we vigorously oppose proposals that in the long run are anti-competitive. One of our primary goals is to support changes in the regulatory structure that would promote meaningful competition to the benefit of all users. But perhaps the most-important benefit we provide to the telecommunications manager is information; information that allows the telecommunications manager to understand the impact of what is occurring in Washington. This information is disseminated in many ways: at the annual conference, at the interim seminar, at special one-day topical sessions and member mailings. This information helps in making those complex procurement decisions.

Where from Here?

What more do we have to do? Well if you consider it was only five years ago that we changed our bylaws permitting regulatory participation, our progress has been extraordinary. We have become the major user voice in Washington. However, we need to go further. We need to convince regulators that we are not merely representatives of big business solely concerned with minimizing our telecommunications costs. We need to convince them that our first and foremost goal is the long-term health of the industry; we also need for them to realize that we are the consumer, with vested interests yes, but the vested interests it is their duty to protect.

What has the ICA done for members in the regulatory arena? It has provided significant cost savings, promoted competition and provided the information members need to better do their jobs. Are we resting on our laurels? No, we are constantly looking for opportunities to ensure our voice is made even louder.

The second arena where the ICA concentrates its efforts are programs that enhance telecommunications management as a profession. We have been very active for several years encouraging colleges and universities to offer degree programs in telecommunications management. Many of our members serve on various university advisory boards. We, for many years, have granted scholarships to students pursuing telecommunications degree programs. This past year our scholarship grants totaled more than $100,000. Many of these students are attending this conference as our guests.

We also conduct industry studies. For example, this past year we published the results of our industry telecom expenditure study that documents the phenomenal size of the telecommunications marketplace. We also commissioned Coopers & Lybrand to conduct a job-profile study to better understand the telecommunications manager in terms of education, salary and other demographic data.

We have also made an attempt to increase our public imatge. There's been a marked increase in publicity the ICA has been receiving. There have been countless articles featuring the ICA. Articles on regulatory matters invariably include a description of the ICA position. As the ICA president, I have been contacted by trade and national press on almost a daily basis.

How does the ICA member benefit from these efforts? They all play a part in enhancing the image of the telecommunications professional. They help communicate to senior management, and to the rest of the world, the high degree of professionalism required to be a telecommunications manager.

Do we have more to do? Yes. We plan to become even more active in developing and promoting these types of programs. For example, we decided at our last board meeting to further increase our assistance and scholarship programs to college and universities.

The third area of ICA concentration is the development of programs that educate our members. These programs address technology, regulation and management issues. This very conference, both the exposition and the seminar program, constitute a tremendous educational opportunity. We also conduct an annual interim seminar. Our professional development program has grown quickly in just five years. This past year we taught courses to more than 500 students. We are excited about the possibilities videoconferencing presents as still another educational vehicle. Our first videoconferencing venture on the new AT&T private line tariffs was attended by over 600 people at 16 different sites around the country. Another videoconference is planned next month. All of these programs are designed to provide the information telecommunications professionals need in their daily jobs.

Will we rest on our laurels? No, education is vital. Someone once said that "Ignorance is the primary source of all misery." If that is so, then education is the answer. We will continue to expand our short-course programs. We have also decided to launch a Summer Institute next year. Designed for those members who wish more in-depth coverage of a subject than offered in our short courses, the Summer Institute will feature intensive, one-week courses in a university setting. The short courses in a particular area of study such as data communications will serve as course pre-requisites.

Our goal is simple: To offer our members a high-quality education program to enable them to contend with this amazingly complex industry.

So, in summary, what does the ICA do for members? The ICA promotes regulatory programs that reduce costs, promote competition and help in understanding the changes that are occurring.

The ICA is helping enhance the image of the telecommunications manager so the importance of the position to our firms is recognized.

The ICA is providing education. Education probably is the single most-important key toward dealing with this new environment.

But members can't be passive. They must participate. Sometimes we lose sight of what the ICA is. It is not a separate body of people attempting to help the telecom manager. Members must be a telecommunications manager simply to belong. To paraphrase Pogo: We have met the ICA and the ICA is us. We are not here to generate profit. Even our programs that have profit potential, such as our short courses, are specifically designed to be non-profit. We are here for only one purpose: to help ourselves. The ICA is a body of telecommunication managers bonded together to provide self-help.

And this very fact is the source of another important benefit of ICA participation: the benefit of information exchange. The annual conference and other ICA activities provide a forum to discuss problems of mutual interest with peers from other firms. In my years of ICA involvement, I have always believed that was the single-most-important benefit I received. I urge members to take advantage of that opportunity. In fact, you can build a strong argument that the advantage of participating in one of the many ICA committees is that it creates even more opportunities to exchange information.

So what can the ICA do for members? It can help them cope with an amazingly complex job that, at the same time, is one of the most-challenging and exciting jobs in the world.
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Author:Sobczak, J.
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:transcript
Date:Jun 1, 1985
Words:1804
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