IT Is From Mars, Telecom Is From Venus
The divide between data and voice professionals began long ago, but that doesn't mean it can't be minimized.
The best-selling book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus" explores the differences in how men and women view their environments and proposes how to bridge the gender gap in communications. Today's IT/telecom dichotomy is similar: Data people are from Planet Digital and voice people are from Planet Analog, and the two groups often don't understand one another.
This divide began long ago, with the shift in importance from local and long-distance voice-oriented services to data-centric IP networking (MPLS, VoIP, SIP, the Internet). For decades now, data has dominated communications and, as a result, telecom groups fall under the IT department's purview even though many traditional data people understand, or choose to understand, the voice world. But this doesn't mean the divide can't be minimized.
IT and the Voice Problem
While various factors contribute to why IT personnel don't learn voice issues, the biggest is that data expertise pays more than telecom smarts (e.g., a database administrator earns more than a telecom analyst). As a data professional, you build on your expertise and earning potential by advancing your knowledge of data capabilities and trends. Devoting time and energy to understand telecom does not provide the same payback.
And while you may hear of a telecom professional advancing into the data world, you rarely hear of the reverse happening. Ask yourself, within your organization, are IT personnel held in higher esteem than their counterparts in telecom? If so, why would an accomplished IT professional change his or career path to learn telecom?
Billing Uniformity Vs. Chaos
If you are a large national account organization with numerous offices around the country, the differences between data and voice billing is like day and night.
With data billing, you work with a primary vendor that provisions its own facilities or subcontracts out to local telecom companies to provide access to your sites. It offers a limited set of data products and services, and usually charges only one rate for each domestic site (access, port, PVC, managed services, CAR, etc.) regardless of location and actual usage. You sign one contract for all your locations. Reviewing data bills for errors and discrepancies is relatively simple.
With voice billing, you can work with dozens of vendors. You are responsible for setting up your voice communications at each site. You have an unlimited set of products and services from which to choose (T1, PRI T1, business lines, features, conditioning, etc.), and the rate you pay for identical services differs from site to site. Usage comprises a significant portion of voice expenses (local, intraLATA, intrastate, interstate, and international). You sign numerous local contracts with different termination dates. Reviewing voice bills for errors and discrepancies is relatively difficult.
Why would a data analyst get involved with messy voice billing?
Central Vs. Decentralized Control
IT centrally controls the internal company data network. To establish and maintain a data network, IT orders and maintains circuits, features, and capabilities. The field sites have little, if any, say in how they connect into the network.
Unlike data network decisions, which are made by the central IT organization, site managers usually handle circuit-level telecom decisions (with the PBX decision made centrally). Outside the oversight of central IT, the field sites obtain service and sign agreements with the local telephone company or competitive local exchange carriers.
Data professionals have a high level of control of the data network and would be uncomfortable with being responsible for the voice network (with little control).
Data Perspective on Telecom Expense Management (TEM)
IT personnel are comfortable with software products. A main part of their jobs is developing and acquiring the appropriate set of software products to address business needs. In that respect, TEM software can make a favorable impression as a means to address the perceived telecom inventory and pricing mess.
However, documenting and maintaining control over a data network may be child's play in comparison to controlling a voice network. A major source of TEM dissatisfaction is that the complexity and decentralized nature of telecom has been overlooked. The amount of work building and validating the telecom database turns out to be much higher and the reliability of the data is lower than expected.
Telecom Hangs On
The rumors of telecom's death have been greatly exaggerated. Telecom still persists -- and remains a significant part of a company's expenses.
The initial financial justification for migrating off legacy voice equipment and services has diminished given the dramatic drop in rates over the past 20 years. Combined with the difficulty to replicate the quality and reliability of the voice network and equipment has slowed the move away from traditional voice. Since telecom is not going away soon, the question is how best to integrate telecom in the organization's IT strategy.
If you are a telecom person, you may feel that you are the unwanted stepchild in the IT organization. It is in your best interest to gain a better IT/data perspective, which will allow you to advance your ideas, concepts, and arguments.
If you are dataperson, understand your telecom colleagues' backgrounds, perspectives, and concerns. The fact that your telecom group seems to have more vendor, user, and billing issues is simply the nature of the beast. And with further cutbacks and decrease in vendor customer service operations, this is not going to get better.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.