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Blame It On Cisco

We all interpret things differently, and sometimes that's partially the reason for the pickles we find ourselves in. If you missed Allan Sulkins post on Enterprise Communications Market Enters New Competitive Order then take a moment to review it.

We all interpret things differently, and sometimes that's partially the reason for the pickles we find ourselves in. If you missed Allan Sulkins post on Enterprise Communications Market Enters New Competitive Order then take a moment to review it.During the 1990's IPT was called the "disruptive technology." TDM dealer buddies that I compete with called me crazy for walking on the other side, and I got plenty of friction from guys working for me about this walk. It was more like a blind run.

Some TDM guys get fat, dumb and happy. Why? NATA reported a difference between Voice VARs and Data VARs-70 percent of the voice guys' revenue is repeat business while only 30 percent of the data dudes' revenue is repeat. Meaning the data guy has to work pretty hard to get 70% new business each year? You can interpret the differences however you like. Maybe it means customers are more loyal to the TDM guy or customers don't like their IT guys or perhaps customers don't have a distinction in intrinsic values and look too often for the cheaper way out.

But that's old news. Complacency will find you out whether you are a VAR, employee or the guy sitting in the mailroom wishing for something better. That's key to changing, not being complacent, and while some misinterpret it a sign as "never being happy" that is far from the idea. The IT guys do get this.

I've noticed very recently, the theme of sales training on telephony products has taken a turn. "We can no longer just sell boxes, customers want applications." Those words came from a trainer of a longtime TDM factory. The TDM dogs are still catching up and who can say that Cisco hasn't been a good influence on TDM? I'll give them that as a major point. Otherwise, we'd probably still be poking around software using TTY terminal emulation or pressing Feature ** 266344 on the telephone keypads to program customer mission-critical voice systems. Cisco, 3Com and other early entrants did in fact disrupt the TDM market and I'm glad I was there taking a small part in it. In spite of the rough ride, more good came of it.

The telecom industry needed challenging and it doesn't mean there's only one solution or one way of providing voice services. Today, we certainly now have better solutions than the past and they extend deeper into the customer and carry broader meaning than just providing phone service through a box.

Consultative selling is new to some, and those out of practice or unable to see the value and benefit in it do make it easier for those of us wanting to do more than just install a box. Making contributions to a business and helping people use the telephone isn't new to TDM guys and they are good and I'd even argue better at it than some of the IT departments providing the service of voice. Where the old voice guy better get in practice is in the delivery of business applications related to voice. This skill-set comes embedded in the IT guy's brain with a microchip that colleges implant in all graduates- so IT guys just do it in their sleep. Where the voice folks can help their IT buds is in the understanding of voice, which doesn't mean talking shop but showing the IT folks what makes telecom work and how, and uncovering the weaknesses of existing methods, systems and practices. Both of you will prosper.

Along the same lines, the IT people need to bring telecom folks into the fold and get them onboard with the IT process. Even though you all won't admit there's any separation, I know better. As Judge Judy says, get over it! Both telecom and IT folks have too many common objectives. What are they? Reduce telecom network costs, improve customer service (internal and external) and improve business processes, to name a few. Develop a strategy to reduce telecom costs while improving customer service. Integrate plans to cut costs with building better methods to improve customer service, and make sure they hinge on one another. Then work to flatten out the call center: it's like Microsoft, in need of a diet. The CFO wants cost reduction and in a down economy, he won't see spending money as prudent unless you can improve the value of the service that directly and positively impacts the shareholder value and at the same time reduces costs. Then your chances improve.

The IT guys want to know why and do like to plan accordingly. They're like the US government- they are willing to wait forever so long as you get an answer back to them, and they don't mind doing research either, they have all the time in the world. They've learned how to make themselves needed within the organization. The telecom guy is fully entrenched in the idea that dial tone is sacred and he knows the meaning of that specific customer experience, while the IT guy deals with many experiences. According to a recent AOTMP study (CIO and CFO Perspectives), only 51% of organizations surveyed feel that their telecommunications network provides the company with a competitive advantage. Then, 67% of those surveyed feel that IT serves as an agent of change. Both IT and Telecom folks need to blend these skills into developing an overall better customer experience and both have opportunities to learn new skills. IT has a higher perception of value than does telecom--and please note I said perception. Again, both must learn to work together to improve that perception. The big cheese, likely the CIO or CTO, will need to ensure job rotation is set up beforehand to enhance this journey.

The disruption has occurred, Cisco is top dog and has taught many lessons to the older dogs. Dogs do tend to form packs and hunt together. They even kill and eat the weaker ones. I do think telecom is going "to be a better place to be" than ever, (remember Harry Chapin) and as many standards as there are, we will all struggle with them through the next evolution of change. Now some may think I'm the dirty dog for bringing this all up and make no mistake, I'm not rolling over for anyone, and I can learn new tricks and no one will ever say I'm a dumb dog. Firewalls, routers, switches, hosted services- all make sense to my bottom line and applications make me more than needed by our customers.

Let me say it again differently- make yourselves needed. I've attempted to craft this blog to address both vendor and employee. So when your customers stop calling you the 'voice guy' or the 'IT guy' and begin calling you the other, then you are making marked improvement. When they can't tell the difference is when you ask for a raise.

So, personally speaking: thank you Cisco for disrupting and influencing the telecom market and as a result, our work is more meaningful, telecom is improving and our profits are better. We will get along.