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Now Is the Time for Telecom Managers to Make an Impact by Taking Control of OA.

Telecommunications was once an easily defined discipline. There were few vendors . . . only one for voice. Data communications was essentially straightforward--terminals and controllers were connected via modems, Bell or Bell equivalents, to a mainframe. We usually reported to a building or general-services department and the rest of the technical world was quite happy to let us do our special thing--have our AT&T luncheons, provide telex services and meet with our colleagues monthly or annually to discuss how we managed AT&T, how we installed private networks or the lack of reliability on data lines.

All of a sudden, maybe seven or eight years ago, in the aftermath of Carterfone we got sexy. Our cousins from data processing saw pictures of satellites and earth stations. They learned what PO and erlang were and the difference between a bit and byte. They saw that even mainframes have limitations and that with the advent of microchips, intelligence could rest anywhere, even in a DP shop. They yearned to use words like CBX, electronic mail, propagation delay and value added because by this time the traditional standbys like CPU, DOS, HASP and multi-processing were losing their impact.

And that's when the war started. Many telecommunications departments were incorporated into DP, not MIS. Many were relegated to voice only--telephone and PBX installation. Data and voice were separated, with the feeling being that the real action was data. Telecommunications was welcomed into the DP area on the same basis as IBM welcome DEC terminals or AT&T welcomed interconnect.

Then, even in some cases with just voice in the early 1980s, we became even sexier. PBXs could do some interesting things, digitize voice, transport data and protocol convert. Wiring could be more than just copper. In fact it could be used to move and change all kinds of information locally. Voice could be digitized, stored and forwarded. So could telex-like information, only at higher speeds.

The changes came in three stages. The idyllic stage was before 1970 when there were few vendors, straightforward services, we reported to general services, and did business by relationships.

The Carterfone stage lasted from 1970 to 1980, and we began to have experimentation, an ever increasing unumber of vendors, and a growing number of services--voice, electronic mail, teleconferencing and facsimile. During that time we also saw acquisition by DP, a dramatic savings in equipment, and separation of voice and data.

From 1980 to the present the industry has been in a state of flux, we've seen a scarcity of talent, telecommunications managers have come center-stage . . . with the AT&T divesture the dominate force behind the changes in the industry.

Never before has the telecommunications manager had greater opportunity, which of course is also to say never before has there been greater risk. Now that we have center stage, now that we have greater influence, and now that the technology is broadening, now that we are a scarce resource, what do we do with it? My answer is quite simple, and that is move towards office automation . . . whatever that is.

The reasons for this are threefold. Office automation is growing rapidly, it has the greatest potential impact on the corporation, and whoever gets there first wins!

According to most industry analysts, the office-automation area will grow even faster than telecommunications, perhaps even by a factor of two or three. I suppose that part of this analysis depends on what is defined as office automation. It is also the area that is "virgin territory--the new west in technology."

But perhaps of most immediate concern is that it is the area that is defining telecommunications as part of its discipline. As an office-automation colleague commented to me the other day, "Telecommunications is part of office automation." He views the following as pieces in the office mosaic: telephones; electronic mail; voice mail; personal computers; and integrated voice/data workstations along with the software to support it.

And he's right. All of them are productivity enhancing. I suppose, for that matter, so is a touchbutton telephone. But if one can use a basic telephone instrument to calculate, calendar and send messages electronically (so does voice), is it no longer a telecommunications responsibility? If mail is sent at higher speeds than telex, stored and forwarded, is this no longer telecommunications? If one adds controls, formats and standards to cabling does this become something different than telecommunications? If voice is digitized and stored is it no longer a telecommunications service? When a telephone becomes a PC who gets the action?

What the telecommunications manager must now design is a plan for action. This is an opportunity that once missed will rarely be regained. Unless we get a major slice of the office action, we will severely limit our ability to have an impact on corporate life. After all, if we simple provide the switch or the facility we are, in fact, only an intermediary to those who are making the decision. If the decision for the terminal, the front end, and the office service is made before we get into the act, we are relegated exclusively to support. In view of this, what I am suggesting is that it is imperative that we design ourselves into office automation now while most corporations don't have a real feel for where it should report or what effect it will have on the corporation.

We must understand IBM and we must develop relationships. It is clear to me that IBM will play a major role in both telecommunications and office automation. They run Rolm and SBS. They are rapidly developing both a telecommunications and an office automation strategy. They are the most important vendor in the technology business. This will be a very big boat to miss if we do not understand them, meet with them, attend their seminars and comprehend their lingo. We must define ourselves into a contact position with this most important company.

Our plans for action must include a major say in where do we report? Who are we the gateway for? What is our relationship to IBM?

The typical adage regarding telecommunications has always been "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is negotiable." Data processing has risen to positions of influence on the IBM star and expanded its responsibilities as IBM permeated corporate life. We were not given a comparable star to ride. Now that telecommunications vendors are providing everything from voice mail to electronic mail, PBX terminals, local-area networks and integrated voice/data workstations. We must insure that we have a voice on committees that address or plan for distributed systems, office productivity and technical planning.

Now I know you are thiking this is easy to say, but how do I do it. The simple answer is ask for it. How does anyone get anything in life or business except by asking for it. Put down in writing your view as to what your discipline is, what it includes, and what you need to be involved in to do your job and then--and I hate to use a word that may deem distasteful--go sell it. Office automation really works under a telecommunications manager.

Now is the time, while we have the stage, while the technologies are not clearly defined, and the possibility of having a major impact on corporate life is great. Go ahead and do it. Believe me, you'll like it.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Overlan, K.
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:transcript
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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