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William Y. O'Connor.

Call it the case of the disappearing chief information officers. William Y. O'Connor encountered the problem last year while conducting customer research as the new president of Ascom Timeplex, the computer network supplier. "I noticed the guys I was talking to were no longer there," says O'Connor. "I started thinking that this CIO position was pretty dangerous." Small wonder. The competitive edge gained from linking together via computer offices, suppliers, and customers around the country--and increasingly, around the globe--was never more crucial to big business. But the complexity and rapidly changing technology of the networks that link them, plus the burden of choosing the right ones, have overwhelmed many a CIO.

To make the job less daunting, O'Connor has moved quickly to revamp the sales strategy of Ascom Timeplex, a subsidiary of Bern, Switzerland-based telecommunications maker Ascom Group. The company's staff now includes specialists in banking, the airlines business, and auto manufacturing, who focus on integrating, rather than dumping, existing equipment. O'Connor advocates plenty of hand-holding. "After about the fifth or sixth visit, we start talking product," he says. He also has slashed the delivery time of customized products from weeks to days by bringing design, manufacturing, and marketing people in at the start of production.

This strategy is not new to network suppliers, but it is to Ascom Timeplex. Result: At least one analyst is predicting revenues of $375 million for the Woodcliff. Lake, NJ, firm this year, up from $300 million in 1992, roughly 15 percent of its parent's total. Half of that will come from overseas, particularly the high-growth Pacific Rim and China, where facilities have just been opened in Beijing and Shanghai. Customers currently include Chrysler and Citibank, and O'Connor is shooting for bigger deals, such as the $16 million contract he signed recently to consolidate the data processing centers operated by each of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks into three processing centers located in Richmond, VA; Dallas, TX; and East Rutherford, NJ.

"We won't get the numbers I want if we only knock down $30,000 opportunities," says O'Connor,49, who has spent most of his career in telecommunications, including positions as general manager of General Electric's mobile communications business, and head of broadband communications at Scientific-Atlanta. "Our abilities will help the Federal Reserve Bank to optimize its significant investment in this network."

This nationwide backbone network, called FEDNET, will enable all the Federal Reserve Banks to handle check processing, wire transfer, and automated clearinghouse services for depository institutions more efficiently and cost-effectively. FEDNET, which will be managed by the Network Management Control Center based at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, will carry more than $1.25 trillion in transactions per day. Under the terms of the agreement, Ascom Timeplex will oversee various aspects of implementing the FEDNET backbone, including designing, staging, and installing the network and supporting the management of its systems.

Individual contracts aside, O'Connor's biggest challenge will be to make Ascom Timeplex a major player in the next generation of networking. The company pioneered wide-area networks and has moved into connecting local-area networks. Now, with the blessing of the Ascom Group, which bought Timeplex from Unisys in 1991, O'Connor is plowing 20 percent of equipment sales into R&D. Of that,17 percent will go toward developing a technology called intermodal processing. INP will transmit not only voice, data, and image, but full-color video transmissions from desktop to desktop, enabling people in different locations to collaborate on projects as if they were sitting at neighboring desk

O'Connor hopes to have the first INP devices out next year, but Ascom Timeplex is not the only company working on the technology. Todd Dagres a vice president of the Yankee Group, communications and computing consultants, notes that networking competitors Newbridge and NET, and even carriers, such as Northern Telecom, are also in the race. In the unpredictable high-tech world, "they could be co-developers or competitors," he says.

"It's turf wars, big-time," O'Connor says.
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Title Annotation:N.B.; president of Ascom Timeplex
Author:Rehak, Judith
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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