This article was first published in the TeleChoice newsletter TeleSparks in November 2002.
Many say that the telecom/networking industry is to blame for the failure of the economy.
+=+=+The TeleChoice Take+=+=+
The telecom industry is clearly in the midst of intense trials and tribulations, but we must not lose sight of the incredible blessings delivered through networking in the past few years. Looking back on this first year of TeleSparks, I believe it’s time to dwell on the good fruits of the industry, the things deserving of praise.
It is incredible to look back just 5-10 years and see the awesome improvements in how people and businesses operate because of the advances made in our industry. I think the foundational (but enormous) impacts can be summed up into four key areas of benefit:
– Immediacy of communication
– Freedom from time
– Freedom from place
– Ubiquitous access to information
Obviously, there are overlaps between these areas, but I’d like to explore each one briefly to help us all dwell on these good things at the end of a very bad year.
+=+ Immediacy of Communication +=+
Go back 10 years. How did you communicate? You probably used three primary tools: telephone calls, faxes, and letters/memos. Do you remember when an Inbox really meant a metal tray on your desk and not something accessed using your phone or your computer? It wasn’t that long ago.
Think back – official communications were largely put in writing. Faxes were not yet accepted as legally binding communications, so an original document had to be physically delivered.
Internally, memos were hand carried from building to building, from floor to floor, from secretary to secretary, and finally into that metal inbox. In the large company where I worked, mail was picked up and delivered to our floor twice a day. If I put a memo into my outbox before my secretary brought in my morning mail, it could make it into the afternoon mail pickup, get sorted in the basement, and hopefully delivered to my co-worker 20 feet below me the next morning.
Moving outside our company added more days to the process. In those rare circumstances when I could justify overnight delivery, getting a letter into my outbox in the morning might get it into the FedEx truck that afternoon for 10am delivery. If the mail sorting department on the other end was operating well, it might be on my correspondent’s desk by mid-afternoon – a day and a half after I “sent” it. Best case, his response to me would be in his outbox the next morning, and best case, I’d have the response on my desk by the afternoon of the fourth day. (Day 1 a.m.: my outbox, Day 2 p.m.: his inbox, Day 3 a.m.: his outbox, Day 4 p.m.: my inbox).
Of course, most correspondence didn’t rate express delivery, so add at least a day into each of the above steps, and we’re talking a week or more for roundtrip communication. (Mon. a.m.: my outbox, Tue: transit, Wed p.m.: his inbox, Thursday a.m.: his outbox, Friday: transit, Monday a.m.: my inbox).
Compare this to e-mail. Roundtrip best case: 5 minutes. Roundtrip worst case: typically 1 day.
Sure – fax was faster, but in most companies, fax machines were centralized and delivered through the same 2-a-day cycles described above. So, if a document wasn’t legally binding, and would be legible when received via fax, then the process for communicating anywhere in the world would be reduced to the same timing as internal communications. (Day 1 a.m.: my outbox, Day 1 p.m.: faxed, Day 2 a.m.: his inbox, Day 2 p.m.: his outbox, Day 3 a.m.: faxed, Day 3 p.m.: my inbox).
And, of course, we could always pick up the phone and call, if our need for immediate information justified the cost (daytime rates of $0.50/minute?). If I was lucky, I’d catch my counterpart at her desk and able to talk. If not, the response from the other end might go like this: “I’m sorry, Mrs. Jones is not at her desk, would you like to leave a message? No, I don’t know when she might be available. She keeps her own calendar. Would you like me to write your message down on a pink sheet of paper so that she can return your call and try to catch you at your desk?”
Praise the blessings of voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, pagers, blackberries, and falling long distance costs!
+=+ Freedom from Time +=+
Directly related to the above description is how networking technology has freed us from the constraints of time.
Those of us doing international business were the first to experience this blessing. Fax machines were the first broadly available technology to combine, the immediacy of telecom networks, with the ability to time shift communications. I recall projects where work was being done on two continents with no overlap in workdays. Work would progress on one continent. A summary of progress would be faxed at the end of the day to the team on the other continent, who would receive it first thing in the morning. They would work all day addressing any issues and fax their results back at the end of their day. This early technology, although primitive, laid the foundation for how most of our business is conducted today.
Between voice mail and e-mail, we are now almost completely freed from the constraints of time. Even among people working in the same time zone, how many messages do you receive that are either left or sent outside of your “normal” working hours? Think about how many tasks you’ve been able to accomplish purely through voice messages or e-mail messages sent back and forth, without ever speaking directly with each other? Think about how many times you’ve been able to reach conclusion on an issue within one day, despite the fact that schedules would not permit a direct meeting or conversation?
Of course, the concept of time shifting has extended well beyond these critical tasks and now is taken for granted. Think about audio conference playbacks, hosted storage of streamed videoconferences, even the mundane task of
watching TV using a TiVo or ReplayTV unit.
Praise the blessings of falling networking costs, falling storage costs, and the development of technologies that have made time shifting as simple as speaking into a phone, typing on a keyboard, or looking into a webcam!
+=+ Freedom from Place +=+
Remember when that metal box and that black phone on your desk would wait patiently for your return, along with the growing stack of pink message slips.
I remember when I dreaded returning to the office after either a long business trip or vacation. The stack of memos and messages would take days to wade through and return. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better, but now, at least I can wade through the voice mails and e-mails on a daily basis – deleting the unimportant, and responding to the urgent.
Cell phones, of course, make you reachable almost anywhere in this country, and most places you’re likely to travel in the world. In fact, no one even needs to know whether you’re sitting at your desk, across town in the doctor’s waiting room, or in a far corner of the world. If you need to be reached, or if you need to reach someone, it’s now as easy as if you were still chained to that desk.
But even beyond this incredible freedom we all regularly enjoy, the freedom from place can be even greater. The way that TeleChoice operates is a great example. We often struggle to answer the question “Where is TeleChoice based?” Our employees literally stretch from Maine to San Diego. Our CEO is in the Northeast. Our President is in the Southwest. And our CFO is in the Southeast. And our business has taken us to every continent on the globe (except for Antarctica – so far). And yet, as you ‘do business with us, you probably have no sense of where we are, unless you ask. And even then the answer might surprise you. On a recent conference call, client participants were in the U.S. Pacific time zone and London, while TeleChoice participants were from Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones. And yet through web conferencing and teleconferencing, we were able to communicate nearly as well as if we were all in the same place.
A key component of TeleChoice’s ability to cohesively operate despite out physical separation is our use of Instant Messaging. Through my IM client, I can quickly see who is “in the office” and can easily “stick my head” in someone’s “doorway” to ask a quick question and get a quick answer. In fact, if I’m able to multitask, I can actually use this technology to carry on several such conversations at once.
Thanks to incredible networking technologies, there’s no longer any sense that place matters when performing in business. Other than the amenities of your comfortable desk chair and keeping your lunch in the office refrigerator, there’s no difference between doing business from that Steelcase desk with the metal inbox and black phone, and doing it from an airport lounge in a far corner of the globe.
Praise the blessings of ubiquitous network coverage, increasing wireless options, and wonderful applications, which have made the desktop, truly a virtual reality.
+=+ Ubiquitous Access to Information +=+
What was life like before the web? Did you ever have a job that required much research? Do you remember what the terms “copy” “cut” and “paste” originally meant? Do you recall what the inside of a research library looks like? Do you own an encyclopedia that takes up more than half an inch of physical shelf space? Do you remember when the analyst reports you purchased only came in big binders (I mean, really big binders with more “thunk value” than “thought value”)?
These days, we’re surprised when we CAN’T find some information within seconds from our desktop. We’re shocked when we can’t receive an information product in electronic, downloadable form with instant delivery. We’re frustrated when someone only has the document we need in a physical form that has to be mailed or hand delivered to us.
My how times have changed, and how rich our blessings are, thanks to the World Wide Web and all of it’s offspring (Adobe Acrobat, secure credit card transactions, e-mail attachments, online magazine archives, Powerpoint presentations, the list goes on.)
+=+=+What’s Next? +=+=+
In a year that has focused on the failings of our industry, when many have collectively painted us as fools or charlatans, please take a moment to savor the richness of the blessings that our industry has delivered to the world. Perhaps this is just a private moment, or perhaps these are thoughts that you can share with others to remind them that you have no need to be ashamed of the industry you serve.
This has been a tough time for many in the industry. It has been painful to watch great teams dismantled, great technologies lost for posterity, and great people suffer personal challenges. I hope that this final TeleSparks of the year can encourage us all to continue to amaze and deliver.
Specifically, think on these things:
– How can you and your company build upon the foundational benefits discussed here. Research in Motion is a great example of a company that has done just that. What are your opportunities?
– What other barriers can be knocked down through networking? What physical constraints can be eliminated when we replace the physical with a networked virtual equivalent?
– What opportunities exist to make these advances available to every business, every organization no matter how small or no matter in
what corner of the world they operate (or in how many corners, for that matter)?
– Microsoft and National Semiconductor are focused on “smart objects” – making everyday items intelligent and networked. How will this change how we live and work? What opportunities does this create for you and your business?
– Are you and your firm taking full advantage of these advances in how you operate, or do you still chain people to their desks with a metal inbox and a black phone?
The ability to appreciate the past while envisioning a better future will always be a critical requirement for success in every industry. Let us know if we can help.
+=+=+Need Some Help? +=+=+
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On occasion, we share with our industry friends our views on major events and issues in telecom. We use TeleSparks as the primary vehicle for sharing these (usually highly opinionated) views, and we welcome your feedback. Feel free to forward these on to others, but please copy us on the messages so we have a sense of the extent of distribution of our views.
TeleSparks is generally authored by Russ McGuire, TeleChoice Chief Strategy Officer, with input from others throughout the TeleChoice organization. You may contact Russ (firstname.lastname@example.org) or your favorite TeleChoice contact to share your thoughts on these matters.