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Engineering Wise - The Road to Expo and Beyond

Tue, 05/31/2011 - 8:15pm
Mark Dzuban, President and CEO of SCTE

I can’t wait to see where we are by Expo this fall.

If it says June on my office calendar, can the middle of November be far behind? It doesn’t feel that way when you’re planning for SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

This is the time of year when the excitement truly begins around our annual technology and engineering showcase. Thought leaders are drafting and submitting abstracts for presentations. Vendors are shifting their exhibit plans into high gear. The industry at large begins seeking insights on the new solutions that can refresh operators’ bottom lines. In short, this is the time when Expo begins to take shape as the place where problems and problem-solvers meet.

Mark DzubanEven though we’re five months from the hubbub of a week of Expo-related activity, there’s a distinctive feeling that the technology community is starting to coalesce around the event. Under the tireless leadership of Suddenlink CTO Terry Cordova – and reflecting input from the highest levels of the MSO technical community – our program committee is putting together an event that is taking the spirit of Expo to some new horizons.

On the agenda when the curtain goes up at the Georgia World Congress Center will be a smorgasbord of educational opportunities that point the way to new directions for the industry. A pre-conference Capacity Management Symposium that will address the challenges that technicians, engineers and managers face in planning, optimizing and running cable networks in the face of increasing application and service bandwidth needs. An increased focus on cable’s growing relationships with the consumer electronics industry. Continued activity around IP delivery, energy management, business services and other areas. All of the things that are creating a buzz of excitement around cable engineering that’s greater than it’s been in the past.

I was thinking about this during our SCTE Leadership Institute program with the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College a month or so ago. As I watched hands shoot up around the class, I thought of how engineering has changed from the province of self-proclaimed “geeks” (myself included) to thought leaders who can, and should, command attention at the highest levels of the cable system operator hierarchies.

At Tuck, I watched engineers and other operator and vendor executives dive headlong into exercises about how to evaluate opportunities, navigate corporate structures and make sure that good ideas have every chance of succeeding. I heard Glenn Britt and Mike LaJoie, our friends at Time Warner Cable, talk about how it is more important to take risks, and to understand what didn’t work and why, than it is not to try new things or to attempt to hide our failures.

I’m not sure if there has been an “aha” moment, but the electricity around Expo and the lessons of Tuck all seem to fit together like some well-engineered network. The urging of the operator community, the zealousness of our SCTE staff, the trends within the industry, and even the thinking inspired by our Tuck program, all are driving change, the likes of which we have not seen in some time. As we approach Expo in November in Atlanta, here are some thoughts to consider:

• Whether it’s Glenn Britt’s comments at Dartmouth or the anticipated involvement at Expo by Cox CEO Pat Esser, there are top-down signals being sent that cable is at one of those pivotal points when engineering takes center stage.

• If we don’t drive the new technological thinking that will help our industry to meet increasing consumer expectations, somebody else will. A focus of Expo will be how we can work together with the CE community to create solutions that can optimize the ability of both of our industries to deliver the new services that our customers desire.

• Time is of the essence. One of the things that came through loud and clear at Tuck was the need to move quickly to implement change or risk being caught in the “prop wash” of a hard-charging competitor.

Over the past 24 months – and, indeed, within the past few months alone – our industry has begun to move in directions that were well over the horizon as little as five years ago. With Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cablevision leading the way, viewing of programming on tablets has become an overnight phenomenon. Energy management, spearheaded by our own SEMI program, is grabbing a growing share of the industry spotlight. And through relationships with consumer electronics manufacturers, Smart TV apps for cable appear to be in the on-deck circle.

As an industry, we’re being bold. More than ever, it feels like we’re in a time when we’re evaluating the way we’ve done business; seizing on new opportunities; and entering into new relationships with our customers, former adversaries and – in the case of energy management – entirely new industries. A time when we’re demonstrating that a willingness to take risks and even make some mistakes can still lead us to end results that benefit the entire industry.

Maybe that’s why this spring feels so busy. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see where we are by Expo this fall.

E-Mail: mdzuban@scte.org

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