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Special Interests Compete to Influence Changes in Telecommunications thru Working Task Groups.

I find communicating via paper-napkin drawings during coffee breaks particularly interesting in this age of communication satellites. It's a fairly primitive method of eplaining a telecom system idea that I have used for years.

In fact, there's a beautiful presentation (of the plain-white-napkin variety) depicting the current status of communications changes that's circulating between the desks of expert in the field of communications at this moment. It is a staunch do-it-yourselfer approach to strategically surviving changes in the telecommunications industry. As to whether most telephone consultants communicate this way, I will probably have to research their methods at brainstorming sessions as I continue to be involved in reviews of current and future telephone technology.

Professionally, each year I design dozens fo creative telecom plans. But when it comes to my personal life, I use the telephone as an everyday appliance. I often dismiss the advancement of the Information Age of the 1980s.

Recently, however, I havd had many opportunities to take part in a more-formal kind of brainstorming session called a "working task group." A task group consists of a moderator discussing a set of topics with a panel of representatives from special-interest groups. In the instances I have shared a task-group experience, the topic was telecommunications. The panels included consumers (users of telecom services), manufacturers and carriers of telecom services, lawyers, government officials, expert consultants, union leaders, economics professors and publishers.

Why is there this high level of interest on the topic of telecommunications? Well, every representative finding valuable time to spend in these discussions does have a purpose for being involved in such a formal working task group. Brainstorming new game rules and forming new playing fields for a multibillion-dollar industry is, to say the least, a challenge. (What's fascinating is the passion and zealousness with which different group representatives describe, analyze and criticize the breakup of the Bell telephone system). Amidst the representatives from each special-interest group, the art of negotiating is at its best. Creative measures are being drafted, developed and marketed daily to meet the future needs and demands of telecommunications users. Profitable Products Keep Coming

Since the invention of the telephone, the "tools of the telecommunications trade" have been changing. Big ideas remain to be seen as far as the telephone-service providers are concerned. Each special-interest group is led to ever-so-clever collaborations. When the right time to introduce telecommunication improvements and innovations arrives, there will be profitable ventures for many companies, and many users will benefit from enhanced telecom services.

The changes realized since 1970 that have promoted competition in telecommunications can be compared to an explosion of dynamic forces. More than 200 companies yet await entry as providers of new telecom services. The fall-out and stabilization period following changes of such magnitude and vastly complicated proportions is an opportunity for some and a detriment for others.

It is necessary to reflect on the impact of change for a well-functioning communication system. Only with an acute awareness of how a communication system can absorb state-of-the-art transitions will there be a smooth acceptance of upgraded technologies.

What does it mean to be a major user of telecommunications services and to be forced to change a business direction on short notice or to upset telecom equipment installations recently implemented? Why is a delicate balance of change so vitally important to telephone users? Decisions Require Early Planning

Let us assume a user gave thought to future telecom direction 24 to 36 months ago. The time to gather expert consulting opinions and strategic views of the trends is an expensive interval with no tangible product to assess, except perhaps a well-documented study delivered to management. If the study should happen to coincide with a long-range business direction, perhaps the budget to take the recommended course of action can be afforded. So begins a telecommunications project.

Now the user must have detailed specifications for a telecom service documented. Usually, an extensive analytical process follows, while replies from a bidding process are received. A final design is then reviewed prior to the outlay of a capital expenditure.

The payment for changing telecom services will not end with the costs for the actual manufactured goods and services rendered. Sophisticated purchases require knowledgeable staff to supervise, monitor and test systems during implementation phases of a project. Often, it's necessary to maintain trained staff after an installation and associated expenses are incurred--for the life of the telecom system. Change Keep Heads Hurting

Next, introduce an untimely change to a well-conceived telecom plan. Exquipment already purchased and not fully depreciated under normal accounting methods would have to be written off at a loss. New planning studies would have to be drafted showing budget impact and cost-effective alternative action plans. Trained staff would have to be retrained. Procedural changes may dismantle a stansentiment: confusion, dismay, complaints of poor planning, frustration and more than likely a higher telecom budget to top the mood off. (Coffee break napkins may be used to wipe the tears.)

Users of telecom services are unyielding to technical advances simply for the sake of sheer modernization. They are more than content to keep a well-operating telecom service simple, standard and within a budget. Until emerging technologies--fiber optics, holograms, infrared, home computers, integrated digital, videotext and others--are better understood, changes will be perceived by the users to be culture shocks rather than improvements for productivity.

Aside from the users of telecom services, the impact of change in this new world of telecommunications has been recognized by all task-group representatives. Confusion or troublesome issues are dealt with by individual interest-group tactics.

What issues are the special-interest groups dealing with while a multitude of high-technology telecom services are entering the marketplace? The following descriptions of interest groups highlight a separation of telecom concerns, which demands distinct action plans:

Manufacturers and carriers of telecom services realize a business need to increase sales of products already off the assembly lines in order to recover the development costs. Every telecom product seems to be challenged in a fiercely competitive market. Premature product releases have been devastating to many company earning records. Each player takes a market positin to benefit from new telecom tools in production. The timeliness of new-product releases must coincide with a tactical marketing plan. Lawyers Do the Rule-Making

Lawyers' increased involvement as the new telecom rules are being drafted is not surprising. Local, federal and international rules for telecom activity are changing in a simultaneous fashion. Protection of consumers and suppliers alike has burgeoned case loads and required specialized legal counsel.

Expert telecom consultants have a new value for their data-base information. There is now an ability to organize timely impact scenarios when telecom products reach price and availability changes. The trends in telecom practices must be known in advance of the happenings, andd experts now have a lucrative business opportunity if their forecasts or predictions have been accurate and if they stay current on regulatory changes.

Government officials have accepted the repsonsibility to draft new telecom legislation. The ultimate gola si to maintain "universal service" and the excellent core of the national telecom network that has been providing residential, business and national-defense service adequately for decades. There are also thoughts of developing new taxing opportunities on telecom services while monitoring the infrastructure of competition in a once-monopolistic marketplace. Union Leaders Monitor Automating Union leaders have monitored the level of automation introduced into the marketplace. It will continue to be important for all to understand the transition in job responsibilities in the new Information Age.

Publishers know that the vast number of people keenly interested in the telecom industry hunger for the printed materials that shed light on the new marketplace. What better place to search for the providers of telecom services than trade journals? New magazines, newsletters and books are being published at as rapid a pace as the telecom industry is moving. Circulation of popular magazines is increasing during the confused state of affairs since deregulation of the telecom industry. What better way is there to keep current on telecom news? Yes, the publishers themselves need to keep current with the trends. Reading articles on telecom topics is an ongoing education process even for the veterans in the consulting business.

The academic community sees that the introduction of telecom courses at the college level as a unique specializatoin is now in popular demand. Certification of professional telecom managers is a goal of some local and national associations. Cooperation with universities across the country may soon provide many credited course structures to meet the new telecom training requirements. Establishing education plans is a task at hand.

My observations are not on the people representing special-interest groups. Instead, as I'm listening, I am balancing their maneuvers of compromise toward good design, imaginative ideas and skillful construction of a new game plan for the telecommunications industry. Enhancements Ease Agonizing

We will undoubtedly continue to handle hard telecom decisions, and many will demand expert guidance. But for all the agonizing, there is enormous pleasure in sharing the infinite possibilities brain-stormed in a working task group. Fortunately, and despite all indecision, enhanced telecom services will materialize from ingenuity--perhaps in the form of paper-napkin drawings--into reality.

In this time of dynamic telecom change, progressive strides are being taken to be informed, compromising and prepared for the new telecom directions.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Author:Peterson, L.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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