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Peering into the DARK SIDE

There is a soft underbelly to our industry that is seldom acknowledged -- one that bears closer inspection from us all.


May 1, 2000  


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Telecommunications, and its physical media infrastructure (structured cabling), has seen tremendous developments in recent times. I liken it to the cherished last chapters of a great novel: the continuing developments keep us all rushing to turn the next page.

For me, this is what makes it an exciting, challenging and rewarding place to be. I respect and love this industry and am truly thankful for it’s gainful employment. Perhaps it is this thought that, as I grow older, stirs me to ask: “What contribution can I make?” My first thoughts are humbling for I quickly realize those contributions I will not make. No stunning technological advancements lie quietly dormant within me, nor am I likely to correctly forecast the day fiber triumphantly lays copper in the grave.

However, in my search to contribute I discovered an industry “dark side”, one seldom acknowledged, let alone ventured into. Simply stated, the business ethics that under-pin our (or any) industry have not kept pace with our heritage of technological advancement. In fact, I suggest our ethical development has been inversely proportional to our technological achievements — and no segment of our industry is without need of reflection.

If I could, in an appropriate way, stimulate productive dialogue on this soft underbelly, I might be making a small contribution.

THE VENDORS

As a representative of the vendor community, it seems fitting that I begin close to home. Perhaps it is innovative and creative spillover, but the vast array of performance descriptions in our ever-abundant marketing literature is truly an accomplishment of some description.

Typical, average, average worst, average minimum, worst case are but a few of the published performance claims. The fine print (or missing) detail further clouds standards compliance. Were results based upon a three- or four-connector model? Was compliance at the component or channel level? For an industry traditionally recognized for its support and commitment to open, clear standards, we should expect — or rather demand — better.

THE CONSULTANTS

In our industry, there are many good consultants who keep abreast of developments, investigate new techniques of design and wisely recognize that knowledge is drawn from many sources and perspectives. Unfortunately, some of today’s tenders still reflect old school relationships and “cut and paste” comfort zones that no longer address current realities.

Our industry needs consulting firms with courageous individuals willing to wade through and boil down real issues that deliver value, regardless of the present political and relational implications.

Distributors and contractors are pivotal market segments. Acute competitive pressures are undermining their unique interdependence. Ethical, respectful relationships are crucial and encompass so much more than price and delivery. Wise end users and consultants recognize that the complexities of installation demand great teamwork between contractor and distributor.

THE CUSTOMERS

As always, end users, or customers, remain at the centre of it all. Our industry exists to serve them — it is that simple. Believing this, and putting all else in proper perspective, customers can, and do at times, exhibit troubling tendering and award practices.

Our amazing technology is our badge of honour, worn so proudly. However, lest we fly too close to the sun, we must acknowledge that technical innovations are contingent upon relationships. In science, there are laws of physics that are absolute; likewise, there are laws just as true and absolute pertaining to relationships.

Our technical standards go to fantastic lengths in defining and measuring important performance characteristics. Who is not familiar with Attenuation, NEXT, PSNEXT, ELFEXT, Return Loss, Delay Skew and ACR? We understand their significance to performance. Likewise, it is important to the continued health of our industry that we just as stringently control and measure the clarity, honesty, fairness, respectfulness and overall integrity of our business relationships. These also effect ultimate performance.

IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS

Marketing, consultative and customer practices must reflect a commitment to honest, open competition. All of our relationships must also be held to the highest levels of honesty and integrity. Are these high expectations? Not really. To an industry that can move terabits at gigahertz bandwidths, challenges are the things we thrive upon.

But how can we measure ethical performance? Individually we all carry meters that are more precise than any level 3 tester. The ethical performance test is easily and quickly conducted with immediate results, for it is based upon the quiet, simple and absolute golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If these thoughts have influenced you to dust off your own personal meter, then maybe, in a small way, I have contributed.CS

David Mantle is General Manager of the Siemon Company Canada in Markham, ON.


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