Industry Focus: Telecommunications

Telecommunications executives met at the office of City National Bank to discuss the need to stay current amidst technology overload.

Left to right: John Fountain, Cox Communications; Jeff Oberschelp, CenturyLink; Joey Marlow, Strategic TelecomJeff Grace, NetEffect; John Wilcox, City National Bank

With the threat of cyber attacks at an all time high and transition to Cloud storage becoming more common, the telecommunications industry is evolving at a rapid pace. Recently, telecommunications executives representing companies throughout the industry met at the office of City National Bank to discuss the need to stay current amidst technology overload.

Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. The monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues relevant to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.

How do you assist your clients in adapting to technology?

Joey Marlow: You have to find the customer specific needs of what they’re trying to accomplish. You help design a program that makes sense for them with budget, adoption and just trying to find the right solution.

Jeff Grace: It’s really about helping the decision-maker make a well informed decision. Just like Joey [Marlow] said, you listen to their business challenges and their business needs and put together a solution that addresses it.

Jeff Oberschelp: It depends who the decision-maker is, to some degree. If you talk to a senior executive or a business owner they’re going to tell you whether they’re capital constrained. In some cases, that’s going to lead us to a solution that provides a model that may be Cloud based. Capital is one issue; the other is flexibility. Do they need flexibility in their business or are they a steady, state business that’s not going to change? I can’t imagine there’s very many of those out there. The decision-maker is going to tell you whether they have capital constraint requirements or whether they have flexibility. Those will lead you to a solution that’s going to provide them with the comfort of knowing that they made the right choice. There’s an organization, the Gartner Group, that ranks data center companies and they call it the Gartner Magic Quadrant. You would probably want to look for someone who’s strong in that magic quadrant, can deliver, and has the capability, products and services.

How much of an issue are cyber attacks for businesses?

John Wilcox: We’re seeing it significantly on the rise, because we see a variety of businesses. We’re going to start a series of seminars just on how to protect yourself from cyber fraud, because it’s huge. There are people everyday that are working full time just trying to get your information.

Marlow: I’m a small company and I know how many times I can get dinged a day. The average time to compromise a computer on an open bay connection is 14 seconds.

John Fountain: If you’re not concerned, then you’re probably missing something. If any business is not thinking about that problem, they definitely need to reconsider that idea. There are minimum things you need to do. Companies should be very careful about how they connect to the internet. They should be using firewalls and getting a security guy to look at it or at least an expert network guy. I could go on for an hour about the details around a cyber attack, but it’s not about being an expert, it’s just about realizing it needs to be dealt with. The level of response needs to be comparable to the level of risk. If your business can’t operate because someone walks in, picks up a server and walks out the door with it, then you should treat your internet connection that way too. Number one, take it seriously. I’m not trying to tell people that the world is ending, but you should always be cognizant about it. If you’re not using firewall and protected connectivity to the internet, you’re almost guaranteed to be leaving yourself exposed in some form.

Grace: Most folks take the internet for granted and I remind them that the internet is a public place. When you connect to the internet, you’re connecting yourself to the public internet with anybody, anywhere, in any country.

Oberschelp: If you’re a business, the important thing to do is get a security consultant, somebody who specializes in this and know that they’re going to do intrusive testing on your service. They can give you the security and protocol and they can give you the testing and show you where you’re vulnerable, it’s important. It depends on size. If it’s a small company, maybe they won’t make the big investment to have a security guy, but certainly anyone of any size should do it.

Does the industry face staffing challenges?

Oberschelp: We typically keep somewhere between 40 open requisitions out. Most of that is on the consumer side, but there’s a tremendous amount of training and certification that happens on the business side, as new applications and software are coming out. If you’re a small or medium sized business, do you want to have to train your employees to do that stuff or would you rather have a professional and that’s their core competency? We have a lot of training that occurs every quarter and every month to make sure that the employees stay current. From a consumer perspective, we’ve changed the profile of the technician that we’re looking for. We’ve opened up a new technician opportunity to bring in people who are computer literate and have good technical skills, however aren’t particularly in our industry. We’re finding that customers want to be able to talk to somebody they can describe their concern to and then have that person understand what they’re concerned about and be able to fix it. We’re working hard on the communication side of it.

Grace: It’s always a challenge to find qualified people. To piggyback on what Jeff [Oberschelp] said, for us it’s a lot about people matching our core values and people who can communicate. That’s the bigger challenge for us, is finding these folks who meet our rigorous standards. It’s more of a challenge than finding people who have the tech background and experience. Although, that’s a challenge as well, especially now that we see the economy starting to pick up. We had two people, just in the last 30 days, that we went to offer a job to and they had accepted another position. That hasn’t happened in a long time. That’s a sign that the economy is improving. Training is key, because technology changes so quickly that really one the best ways to have qualified people is just to train the people that you have.

Fountain: We’re lucky to say that we usually have a very good pool. A lot of folks want to work for Cox and we have a good reputation. We have very good employee moral and the company treats people very well. So, we get a pretty good pool to choose from. It is harder to find a deep subject matter expert in some of these areas. There’s always that challenge and the demand challenge, like Jeff [Grace] said. We are seeing that right now. It’s more about the deep experts for us.

How much did the downturn of the economy affect the industry?

Fountain: We saw a definite downturn, but we’re lucky that we’ve still shown growth over time. A big part of it was adding the different services and also having something competitive. We saw a big dip and we’re moving towards the right direction. We finally hit 300,000 commercial customers, but it took a little while.

Grace: Our clients expect more. They want more for less and they want to squeeze every bit of efficiency if they can. One of the challenges that is facing our industry is providing greater and greater value.

Oberschelp: We’re seeing good decisions on investment and [they’re] looking for a path to keep their technology fresh. When business was booming, people were spending a little more liberally. Now they’re saying, “If I make this investment, where am I going to be in two years and is there a path to keep me current so that I can meet my customer demands?” We’re seeing an improvement in investment but really more intelligent investments.

Marlow: We leverage technology and we help companies be more efficient and do more with less. We were pretty blessed through the downturn because people were starting to figure out that they have to do more with less. In the past, companies would spend a lot of time and money in the four walls of providing great services. Now they’re like, “Well, I have to put two more stops on my route and manage two more customers with the same person.” They’re leveraging technology to do that. We’re finding customers that are still a little shy on spending capital costs. We’re starting to see them make those investments and start to hire. As an organization, [we] help companies be more efficient. That’s the challenge that companies face that are still not 100 percent. I don’t like to have to hire new employees, I’m not sold that the economy is where it needs to be. If I can find a technology to help me do that without having to hire another person, I like that.

What can businesses expect from technology in the next few years?

Marlow: The device and your car are going to know you and everything about you. On my device now, it tells me that I’m going to a meeting and, based on traffic flow, I need to leave now. [In] the future, when I get in my car, it’s going to know me and it’s going to know the type of music I want to listen to [or] that I like to stop at this restaurant, so it’s going to tell me menu items and I can order from my car or my device. At the end of the day, next year, it’s truly bandwidth [that is needed] because everybody is mobile and they want more. The wireless carriers are building amazing networks and it’s going to be a very competitive world in 2014 for those companies. As technology advances, you’re advancing the way you build technology.

Fountain: You’re going to see more of the video data voice integration, the Dick Tracey watch that does everything and knows what you watch on TV. We have a new video experience where it knows what you watch in your home, instead of what your spouse watches. Eventually, [that will] tell you, on your phone what to watch or what you like, because you’ve been watching these programs. We’ll see more of that personalization in everyway. All combinations of that, video voice data in the device and in your home.

Oberschelp: Today, data centers are very prolific and there’s a lot of data center floor space being developed. You can capture tremendous amounts of data, big data. What you’ll see in the next year or two is a refinement in the mining of big data. When you get in the car it knows what kind of music you like, or if you turn on the TV it already knows what you want to watch. It’s grabbing all of your social media stuff and it’s grabbing all of the devices that you own that are connected to it and making elegant outputs from big data. Big data is what we’ll hear a lot about over the next year or two and it’s all enabled because of the internet and proliferation of data centers.

Grace: The bits and pieces will start to come together and will coalesce into a more coherent home. Whether it’s your music, video, what you like and want to watch, your business or data and applications, it’s going to come together to make a bit more sense.