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Telecomm: a new social awareness?


There's a trend in most large corporations to put more emphasis on social issues. Telecommunications can be a "social issue" as it gains status as an infrastructure in our society.

Telecommunications managers can take advantage of this trend to advance their careers in the corporate hierarchy if they aren't timid or lazy.

The Personnel Department in most companies is now the Human Resources Department. The Equal Employment Opportunity Department is now The Cultural Diversity Department.

Name changes are only the tip of the iceberg, however. Senior-management has changed the way they look at corporate responsibility. Social issues abound.

In the midst of this--and much ignored--is the emergence of telecommunications as an infrastructure in our society. It's ignored because many senior managements still have no clear vision of the potential of telecommunications in their companies and because most telecomm managers remain technicians and not managers.

And no one is training them for anything different!

Look at the subjects at most trade shows. After a cursory nod to the international scene, or the "information age," topics quickly cluster around fiber optics, ISDN or PBX update (always a big draw!). Meanwhile, in most states, telecommunications is lurking in the background as the most promising path to economic development, an overworked euphemism for job creation.

My point--if I haven't made it yet--is telecommunications managers are blessed with both a burgeoning technological profession AND a socially significant profession. You all understand the technical explosion. Be equally aware of the social aspect and its increasing importance in your company.

Study Support

There have been multiple studies in recent years, mostly ignored, that point out the inclusion of telecommunications as an infrastructure. A recent Notice of Inquiry from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce, docket number 91296-9296, said, "Historically, the term infrastructure has included water and sewer systems, electric power systems, and transprotation systems, such as roads, railroads, and airports. In an information-based economy, there is little doubt that it should also include telecommunications systems."

Couple that statement with another statement in the same docket that says, "Over 50 percent of all U.S. workers are currently employed in information -intensive service industries that are heavily reliant on telecommunications (e.g., brocerage, banking, insurance).

The message is obvious. Get out of the technician rut and start to think socially, economically, politically about telecommunications. Read, read and read--and then alert your senior management to these developments and opportunities.

There are numerous recent studies you should read. The aforementioned Notice of Inquiry from NTIA is one of them. After giving the reader a comprehensive update on the status of telecommunications in our society, it called for comments by March 19. I'll wager no more than one or two Fortune 1000 companies responded on their own behalf.

There were probably some responses from associations with comments so watered down from intra-association bickering or consultant bias that the points were meaningless. There were probably many responses from vendors but where were the individual USERS?

Blueprint Work

Then you should read and study a document just published by the Citizens League of Minneapolis-St. Paul, titled "Wiring Minnesota: New State Goals for Telecommunications."

Written for Minnesota, it could be a blueprint for any state in the U.S. The Citizens League in the Twin Cities area forms volunteer research committees of League members to study public policy issues in depth and develop informational reports that propose specific workable solutions to public issues. Recommendations in these reports often become law. Here are just three conclusions from this study.

"In an Information Age, the capability to access information and the easy transfer of information are critical to Minnesota's goals: improved public education and health, better government services, economic growth, political awareness, efficiency and productivity, and reduced need for transportation.

"Telecommunications is an important tool to achieve these goals. It is becoming increasingly critical in all aspects of our personal and business lives. Providing statewide access to a broad range of telecommunications services requires development of facilities and networks serving the entire state.

"Telecommunications networks are the 'highways' of the next century. Each community...will need telecommunications highways that will allow traffic to reliably come and go, although the traffic volume may differ."

This excellent, 45-page report can be obtained for $10 from the Citizens League, Suite 500, 708 South 3rd St., Minneapolis, MN 55415.

Another study that should be absorbed is "The New Urban Infrastructure: A Study of Large Telecommunication Users," issued in 1989 as a joint project of The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the Center for Research on Communication Technology, and Society, College of Communication, The University of Texas at Austin.

One sentence from the conclusion of this study says it well: "Majors, city councils, and high-level managers should realize that telecommunications is rapidly moving from being a taken-for-granted utility to becoming a strategic component of modern urban infrastructure."

This 269-page study examined telecommunications infrastructure in 12 major American cities, namely Atlanta, Boston, El Paso-Ciudad Juarez, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Rittsburgh, Phoenix, Seattle, and Toronto.

Don't Miss Chances

A good example of the myopia afflicting many telecommunications users is their attitude to divestiture and deregulation. They ignore the opportunities for participating in its development and success in the face of the fact that no other event, including all the technical gee-whizzes in memory, has been so cataclysmic--and so advantageous--to their professional and corporate careers.

Don't let your eyes glaze over at non-technical issues. Study them, report on them, relate them to your company's operations, be a part of looking at tomorrow, and simultaneously advance your corporate status.

I remember years ago, when I was otherwise employed, I finally said to myself, "Forget about permission in advance. Charge ahead until someone grabs you by the shoulder and says 'Stop'."

That advice gets better with age.

Augie Blegen is a telecommunications consultant and executive director of the Association of Data Communications Users, Inc., P.O. Box 20163, Bloomington, MN 55420, (612) 881-6803.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Blegen, August
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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