New Corporate Excellence Options Gained Through Telecommunications.
Making things happen, getting results and meeting objectives are the marks of achievement in a company's endless pursuit toward corporate excellence. That many try and few achieve that goal is heavily influenced by the corporate body's ability to communicate. To that end, telecommunications will provide increasingly important tools to aid in the process of communications.
How well these tools are utilized depends to a large extent upon the organization's structural and cultural underpinnings. Accordingly, the applications of telecommunications, as well as the environment in which these tools are applied, become subjects of increasing strategic and operational importance.
Strategic and operational planning are essentially cross-functional communications and integration processes. Value in developing plans comes primarily from the actions that both precede and follow their commitment to paper. In a way, plans are like a dictionary used occasionally to review a word; however, the real value is in developing a language with which all can communicate. Some would say they're "singing from the same hymn sheet." Others would call it a "game plan" assisting players to function as a team. Both produce "wins" with these kinds of synchronizing efforts.
in this respect, business is no different. Usually possessing far greater brainpower and other basic resources than are fully utilized, the task for most businesses is to align the interfunctional energy vectors a little better than a competitor does, so that things happen a little quicker, a little better, and at a little less cost. While desirous of breakthroughs, leapfrog products and the results of other pioneering efforts, the name of the game in most cases is to improve the follow-through in the bread-and-butter work of the business. As a result, plans and planning efforts that help rally the troops around well-defined and supportable goals are often more effective than those that are masterpieces in theory and analysis but are lacking in implementable and supportable programs.
Classical planning deals with the analysis of external and internal environmental factors, the development of strategy and the implementation of action programs. Internal factors are the business' ability to conceive, design, produce, market, service, finace and manage its products and services. Effort culminates in new product/service programs, with attention also given to marketing, sales, facilities, capital equipment, technology, quality and human-resources programs.
Little attention has traditionally been paid to the singular subject, communications. In the future, emphasis on the above will not decrease; however, emphasis on communications will increase.
Communications is of significant strategic and operational importance, and within that domain, telecommunications is an important tool for differentiating a bu siness from its competitors. Telecom tools have the power to amplify or leverage the communications "signals" that exist within an organization. If the signals are "noisy," there exists the opportunity for greater noise. In a way, the situation is analogous to the old caveat about installing a computer: "Before I got a computer, my records were a mess. Now, with it, they're a computerized mess." For example, if there exists interfuncational contention of one kind or another, the appearance of teleconferencing may tend to intesify it. "Think of it...we used to confront each other monthly. Now, through the miracle of electronics, we can blast away weekly or even daily!" The Leverage of Productivity Improvement
However, if there exists a spirit of mission, common objectives and cooperation, the presence of the same new tool can amplify the success scenario the business is currently enjoying. The message, of course, is that telecommunications won't perform at its best when based on a weak foundation. When basic communications is in a state of disarray, new telecom tools will, at best, reduce costs and, at worst, degrade an already unsatisfactory situation. What's desired is the leverage of productivity improvement.
Two needs become apparent. The first is to better understand the tools of telecommunications. New telecom tools developed in recent years are staggering both in capability and variety, and a better understanding of what they are and how they can be used for the benefit of the business is important. The second is to better understand the environment in which they are applied. Changes in the workplace are also appearing, and the possibilities for accommodating them and enhancing them with telecom tools provides the opportunity to improve productivity from each, with a bonus for synergy by considering the two together.
Beter communications won't necessairly make an obverse difference to a business. It will, however, make subtle differences, and it's these subtle differences that often distinguish between a winning bid of $1 million and a losing bid of $1.05 million, namely, the extra $50,000. While $50,000 may be only a fraction of $1 million, it's a huge difference when it decides the winner of the contract. In the case of a new product, better communications can help the product get to market a few months sooner, with a few more features, a little better reliability, a slightly lower cost, and supported by better-trained people. The result is better revenue, better net income, a higher market share, more satisfied customers and an insatiable appetite on the part of committed employees to do still better in the future.
Experience has taught that attention to basics in business pays dividends. It's another way of saying that common sense makes good business sense. These basics include good plans, the right resources, personal commitment and effective communications.
Good strategic plans identify value to customers and to the business supplying it. Good operational plans assist the business in producing it. As for resources, the "weakest-link" theory applies. If we design, manufacture, distribute and service, we need appropriate strength in all of these areas. If we have the resources, then personal commitment on the part of all employees is the ingredient that makes it happen. Communications Permeates Other Functions
This brings us to the fourth basic ingredient, communications. Communications permeates the other three. It's the "oil function" that assists the others to operate smoothly and to interface with each other. As communications improves, these operations and interfaces also improve.
Communications comes in different "flavors" as well. There's a knowledge-oriented communications (data-base look-up), employee-oriented communications (information-exchange meetings), coordination-oriented communications (project management), transaction-oriented communications (order entry) and customer-oriented communications (user groups).
For example, the first type of communications (knowledge) contributes to the selection of markets, products and services. The second (employee) contributes to the personal commitment of employees and results in reduced turnover, improved cooperation and the spirit of a team with a mission. The third (coordination) enhances overall results by improving resource management, interfunctional cooperation and development of the organization by improving delivery integrity, customer responsiveness and asset utilization. The fifth (customer) improves product responsiveness, customer relations and competitive differentiation. All five contribute a cost reduction, productivity improvement and the overall success of the business.
Of the four basics, too often we have good plans and enough resources, but compromise their most effective utilization in order to meet short-term needs. And, since human resources are virtually all companies' most important resource, it's difficult to stimulate commitment to plans if the plans are either unknown, are not fully communicated or are looked upon as being of temporary nature. Effective communications is the key to that commitment, and follow-through is another. In the future, high priority to good plans and the right sources will continue, and priority to facilitating personal commitment and effective communications will increase.
Of course, one of the "right resources" in our list of basics is good management. Good communications is not a cure or a substitute for bad management. Communications, good or bad, is also not totally separate and apart from management. Parts of both are inextricably intertwined, and new telecommunictions options would be hard-pressed to overcome shortfalls in either management or basic communications. Examples of shortfalls include a non-communications atmosphere, a penchant for destructive communictions, a preponderance of mixed signals, a feeling of "we/they" and a "not-invented-here" syndrome.
Non-communications, for example, whether deliverate or not, leads to sub-optimum business results with a variety of direct outcomes, including resignations, rumors and tension. Destructive communications tends to discredit or stymie the free flow of communications. Mixed signals tend to confuse. We/they communications tends to stifle cooperation, and "not-invented-here" communications is we/they's first cousin.
Turning the coin over, one almost has to expereince a positive communications environment to appreciate the difference. It's an atmosphere in which communications flows freely and is constructive and coordinative. A win-win spirit prevails. Priorities that have understandable meaning are established. People talk with one another about problems and solution options, and programs reach completion quicker. The list of descriptors could continue. What seems apparent, though, is that as the nation advances into the "information age," so will the winning workplaces. That translates into much more communications. both of the person-to-person kind and those varieties enhanced by telecommunications. Can't Save Sinking Ship
Telecommunications won't solve the shortfalls nor ensure the successes noted above. In a way, new telecommunications capabilities are analogous to a new escalator being installed on an ocean liner. If the ship is the Queen Elizabeth II, the new escalator is a wonderful tool to get from deck to deck. If it's the Titanic, that's another matter. If the vessel called "the business" is intact with respect to the basics mentioned earlier, new telecommunications capabilities can levarage what otherwise might have only been a respectable showing into first place with a chance of breaking a record or two. But, they're not likely to resurrect a sinking ship.
Certainly, the preeminent driver for new telecommunications capabilities is technology, in which advances in the last 10 to 15 years have been nothing short of staggering in signal processing, transmission and switching. Comparable advances have occurred in microcircuitry, data processing, software and storage systems. The digitization of analog signals that originate in digital form. This advance has helped lead to the integration of data processing and communications systems, and voice messaging is but one result of this integration.
Satellite communications ended the distance sensitivity of communications circuits and ushered in video conferencing. Fiber-optic links are providing tremendous point-to-point bandwidths. Packet switching is providing new efficiencies in data transmission. Personal computers are beginning to make electronic mail and data base systems household terms. Voice/data PABXs are beginning to make integrated office systems a reality. Lans, in both baseband and broadband configurations, are handling specialized multi-megabit data rate applications.
The list of advances could go on and on, from signal-compression technolgoy to user-friendly, ergonomically designed, multi-function workstations, to expert systems, voice recognition and synthesis, end-to-end digital systems and others. The end is not in sight; only the beginning has been seen. And, while each item on the list is important in and of itself, perhaps the most important benefit will accrue as they provide us with "new ways to think" as we begin to understand and utilize their powers.
A colleague recently purchased a personal computer and now uses it for the typical spreadsheet, graphics, data-base management and word-processing applications, as well as for on-line access to remote data bases. When asked what its greatest benefit was to him, and expecting him to name one of the above five, he said it provided him with "a new way to think." It wasn't any one application because each was valuable in its own right. It was the release of time constraint that previously would have prevented his plowing new ground. He was making new discoveries of value to the business, and was also being personally stimulated by the whole process. It was a win for him and a win for the business.
With telecommunications, too, as we begin using new capabilities, still other uses will materialize. Combinations of capabilities are evolving. For example, electronic mail will allow users to send character-based messages along with charts or graphs, and annotate both with voice messages. Expert systems or quasi-versions thereof will allow multiple-step transactions that now are manually restarted after each step to be automatically advanced according to the results of the previous step. Most importantly, though, is that those advances, in whatever form they take, including the above examples (which may be "old hat" to pioneers in their usage), are "new hat" to those organizations that begin using and benefiting from the implementation of them for the very first time.
Traditionally, we have looked upon new telecommunications tools as ways to reduce operating costs. That benefit will not decrease in importantce in the future. But what will increase in importance in the future will be the drive for productivity improvement. Therein will lie the greater incentives for innovation and new ways to think. Sometimes, suppliers call it the "step beyond the marketing approach," which suggests that they find out what customers' problems are and help them solve them. The "step beyond" utilizes the cliche, "a solution in search of a problem," and results in a customer saying, "I never knew I had a problem until I saw how much better this new way (telecommunications-oriented product, process, or service) is." As fast as the technology is advancing, it is incumbent upon suppliers to apprise customers of new capabilities and work as a partner with them in stimulating new ways to benefit for the advances.
Sometimes we are reluctant t avail ourselves of new ways to think. For some of us, the old way "ain't broke" so we "ain't fixing it." Others recognize that new ways, such as personal computers, are a better way to go, but they perceive the technology changing so fast that they'll wait for the "next generation" so they will get "better value for their money." Unfortunately for them, they end up with less value for their time during the interim, and by the time the next generation shows up, they wouldn't have even approached using the full capabilities of the previous generation had they started using it in the first place. Of course, competition will have taken advantage of the previous advances, so they'll be competitively farther ahead. To continually put off until "tomorrow" that which will open up new "ways to think" today and is within reach financially, is tantamount to relegating oneself to second place vis-a-vis competition. The fact that we all procrastinate for one reason or another is not an ecceptable excuse, when competition doesn't.
At other times we resist new ways for perfectly valid but unrelated reasons. For example, there are those who believe that such telecommunications marvels as videoconferencing, whether one-way or two-way, freeze-frame, limited or full-motion video, will never replace person-to-person communications. With agreement, this is analogous to saying that we cannot experience, via television, the same excitement as did 70,000-plus fans who watched Superbowl XVIII at Tampa Stadium. In fact, though, most of us would much rather be part of the 70 million watching the game on TV than only to have the option of reading about it after the fact. Telecommunications need not be considered as an artificial substitute for the "real thing." When "press-the-flesh" is needed, do it. The quality aspects of in-person communications will always win over telecommunications. But, just as we cannot squeeze 70 million fans into one stadium nor expand the football field, we also cannot afford the time, cost, energy or fatigue of transporting people to the same location to communicate.
While it may not be ideal in terms of total communications effectiveness and quality, telecommunications provides continuous and varied options for long-term corporate excellence, in contrast to the infrequent "perfection" of in-person contact. Telecommunications will not provide the impact of a lavish
business banquet, a road show to introduce new products or a personal visit by a corporate officer. it will not produce "perfect" communications. It will, however, provide a more valuable service: consistent and constant communications.
Today's advanced telecommunications technologies open the door for greatly improved corporate effectiveness and results. To capitalize on these opportunities, however, business must begin to plan its communications in the same manner used for planning product development, financing, sales or marketing. Because of its critical importance in determining the effectiveness of a strategy, from creation through implementation, communications should also be an integral part of overall plans. Need Effective Execution
It does not take long in any corporate environment to realize that internal and external communications can be improved. By implementing an integrated voice/data communications system, business gives itself the tools it needs to compete within a rapidly changing business environment. The phrase "there is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all" has a corollary: the greatest planning in the world will fail without effective execution. Communications systems are the key link between corporations and the outside world; between executives, management and staff; and between planning and execution. A planned approach to using the advantages of today's communication systems is the key to making those links as strong and effective as possible.
The choice of a communication system is admittedly difficult. The capabilities of a system must be compared with current and future needs. The key is to plan a system that will grow in size as the corporation grows, and that has "extensibility," that is, the ability to incorporate new technology as it becomes available. By acquiring an extensible system, a business can be assured that its investment in communications is able to adapt to changing corporate and market conditions. And, by using the same planned approach to communications that is taken in directing the growth of a division, the release of a new product or service, or the acquisition of a new company, business can ensure that its communications systems will meet future goals.
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|Date:||May 1, 1984|
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