Gary Knee, Head of Software and Managed
Typically when you hear succession planning,
you think of the executive suite. However, in rural US, CEO
succession is not the only thing costing company managers
Today's rural networks contain a well-orchestrated blend of
legacy equipment such as TDM switches and older
access gear alongside softswitches, high-capacity
optical rings, complex routers and gateways. With such a blend,
planning the evolution of the network in a cost effective manner
that meets the growing expectations of customers has become a
significant challenge. Even the most modern networks will retain a
significant amount of previous capital investments.
That's why, in the race to embrace The New IP,
it's important to remember that it's not just the equipment that
needs a succession plan -- the technical team's knowledge base
needs a refresh too. Unfortunately, the demographics of the
technical teams supporting this gear matches the tenure of the
equipment. That knowledge gap is creating some major problems for
companies that often have less than a handful of technicians
familiar with, and capable of configuring and supporting, the older
equipment in their networks.
The knowledge gap is typically ignored until the last person
capable of provisioning that 1980s era switch announces that he is
taking an early retirement. Many of the younger set of new hires
are networking phenoms, but have understanding of legacy
technology, and routinely ask "what is a TL1 interface?"
So what should rural providers do? Where does that leave them?
There are options of course, each with its own benefit and usual
downsides. One approach is to label the old gear as unmaintainable,
and while that choice makes equipment manufacturers happy, it
usually doesn't have the same effect on the company board that must
approve the expense.
Another possibility is to steal the guy from the company next
door, which may provide short-term relief, but comes with an
inflated hiring bonus and collateral damage to your reputation as a
cooperative industry player. Service providers always have the
option of contracting the necessary skills from companies that are
busy collecting those skills like a treasure trove and offering
them back to you at a "reasonable" price. However, employing a
lower-level technician that has only a basic understanding of the
equipment he's managing means you need to be prepared to have a
little less control over some of the more vital parts of your
business, since you've contracted more knowledgeable third parties
to do that for you.
Technical colleges need to be preparing the technicians of today
to deal with the networks of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The
today and tomorrow are already covered mostly by the current
curriculum -- it's the yesterday that's usually sacrificed as
budgets and priorities are usually set with the future in mind.
Increasingly, it's clear there's a need for the programs that
support today and tomorrow to become a learning hub for some of the
These programs could be supported in part by various
associations and communities of interest, along with financial
contributions from the various equipment manufacturers that made
their business success from this equipment in the first place. By
being offered locally and as part of a college curriculum,
graduates will already be trained to support this equipment,
pre-empting the need and cost to do this after employment.
Whichever strategy you choose, make that decision soon. Your
equipment and the people who know how to run it are not getting any
This blog post can also be viewed at TheNewIP.net:
To inquire about Software or Managed Services contact Gary Knee