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Engineering-wise: General principles

Tue, 12/03/2013 - 6:58pm
Mark Dzuban, President and CEO of the SCTE

The excitement that surrounded SCTE Cable-Tec Expo confirmed what we in the industry already know: This is a time of great opportunity for cable. Spurred by technology, driven by customer needs and challenged by competitors, we’re creating networks that can do more, can do it faster, and can do it at less cost.

So as I write this, it’s through the lenses of the exhortations, the expectations and the education that marked our four days in Atlanta. At every level, the sense of urgency was clear: time, technology and customer need are poised to position cable on the competitive high ground; we simply need to marshal the resources needed to capitalize on our advantages, and we need to do it better and more quickly than anybody else.

Who better to turn to for advice on that than General Colin Powell? The Leadership Primer from the former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff is “must” reading: not just for those in the position of building teams and driving change, but for the broader workforce as well. As I was re-reading it recently – we’ve added it to the Leadership Program page on the SCTE website -- it struck me that many of the 18 tenets can be particularly applicable in helping our industry plan for and manage the innovations and new services ahead.

While the presentation is directed to those in positions of authority, the reality is that a number of these are common- sense approaches that have applicability at many levels.

Here’s a look at some of them, as well as my take on the relevance to cable engineering and operations professionals: • “Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites.” -- One of the hallmarks of our industry has been our ability to innovate, but it hasn’t always been without conflict. As we develop new technologies, we need to make the use and business cases that will win over skeptics, so that we can expedite the changes that will help cable sharpen its competitive edge.

• “Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.” – Innovation doesn’t happen without a willingness to question the established ways of doing business. Whether it’s been the evolution to HFC architectures, the development of broadband and voice services or the expansion into business markets, change happened because somebody questioned the status quo.

• “Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be doubly vigilant.” – We’re in the business of providing services that our customers desire and – increasingly – that they require. Customers depend on us not just for video, but for key services such as voice, data and business services. As we enhance networks to deliver new services or initiate disaster planning scenarios, we need to take greater care than ever to ensure that the negative impact on the customer experience is as minute as possible.

• “You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.” – Too often, we’re afraid to take the risks that will help us succeed, but when new problems or opportunities arise, some times there’s simply no answer to be found in the rulebook. At SCTE, we encourage our people to come up with creative solutions that don’t always hew to our accepted ways of doing business. We’re not always successful, but we win more than we lose, and we learn along the way.

• “Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shirk from doing so because you might not like what you find.” -- With competition from telcos, satellite and now online video providers, we can’t afford to be secure in our position, even when we are the dominant provider in a market. That’s the surest path to eroding market share. Instead, we need to identify areas below the surface that can be improved and can be converted to bulwarks against competitive forces.

• “Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved.” – They don’t get much more important than this. At the end of the day, organizations and technologies are only as good as the people behind them. To optimize results for our industry, each of us needs three things: the training and expertise that will help us do our jobs as well and as efficiently as possible; the all-in personal commitment to provide the best possible products for our customers; and the willingness to reach out to management with suggestions for improving service delivery and ROI.

As we enter 2014, our SCTE leadership programs are looming large on the horizon.

Applications are now being accepted for our SCTE-Georgia Tech Management Development Program with the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business (March 10-14) and our SCTE-Tuck Executive Leadership Program with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (May 4-9). In addition, our SCTE Chapter Leadership Conference is scheduled for April 9-10 in Charlotte.

In his Leadership Primer, Gen. Powell’s closing maxim is that “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” Similarly, we in cable have a long history of exceeding expectations.

We would do well to be mindful of the lessons of Gen. Powell as we work to make the promises of Expo the business opportunities of the future.

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