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Survival of the Fittest

With fewer pieces of the pie to go around, cable installers need to find new ways to move forward.

November 1, 2003  

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The cabling industry is going through some challenging times. Installers/contractors will concede that there are simply fewer pieces of the pie to go around and that’s a problem of significant proportions.

As with other industries facing a similar dilemma, the challenge is finding new ways to move forward. For those that can’t grow traditional sources of revenue such as cable installation, a viable option is to look for opportunities that lie outside their current business model.

For cable installers, those potential opportunities could lie in working with their customers on the networking and connectivity side of the equation.

While this represents an uncharted territory for some, expanding services to include the interconnection of the network components they have installed is one area that could deliver potential gains.

Changing Times

Why the need to change business models? Simply put, the cabling world is going through long-term changes, and rather than waiting for a miraculous turnaround, which won’t happen, astute business people realize that they have to adapt accordingly if they want to survive.

For one thing, economic realities have dramatically altered the market landscape. There are fewer building starts, which translates into less investment in new cabling infrastructures.

Economy is the watchword of the day, which means businesses are less inclined to upgrade at will and more inclined to make do with what they have. Major projects are being postponed as budgets shrink. Installers/contractors that wish to stay ahead of the game therefore must look into diversification.

For some, this is not a new tactic. Many who started their business in the electrical industry have already evolved into data communications services. Networks represent the next logical evolution.

The people and skill sets required to manage networks are also changing, making enterprises increasingly dependent on suppliers to do the work for them. Today’s networks require a new type of expert that has an in-depth knowledge of standards, protocols, testing procedures and installation requirements.

Those in the cabling business would be well advised to apply some resources to getting up to speed on the necessary skills and tools, and make the transition before their competition beats them to the mark.

Today’s installers need to be all things to all people, or at least more than one thing to all people.

In order to do that, they should be concentrating their efforts on learning all there is to know about the properties and standards associated with copper (Cat 5, 5e, 6), fibre (single and multimode) and wireless (802.11b, g, etc.) and Ethernet protocols.

Fortunately, education is changing to keep pace with this ever-evolving market. Colleges, associations and other educational groups are constantly working with industry to develop course content, train instructors and stay current to ensure that their course offerings are relevant to today’s certifications.

There is no question that as networks become more complex, and in-house resources shrink, more and more customers are looking to suppliers to outsource their network maintenance, monitoring and troubleshooting functions.

While this has traditionally fallen within the range of network specialists and hardware providers, there is room for some healthy competition from cabling contractors.

The competition in this area may be significant, but cable installers do have some unique advantages that allow them to market additional products and services such as hardware installation, network connectivity, integration and support to effectively grow revenues.

For one thing, cable installers are interfacing with the customer at the ground level, which means they are strongly positioned to leverage that early contact to drive a continued relationship.

Secondly, they know the cabling infrastructure better than most, which can be a compelling selling point for some customers. Third, the transition is a logical and cost-effective one — both for contractors and in the minds of customers.

Diversification may not be the only option, but for those willing to invest the time and effort, it could be a viable one.

The times they are a changin’. For people that won’t change with them, there could be some difficult challenges ahead.

Brad Masterson is Canadian Product Manager for Fluke Networks and a member of Cabling Systems’ Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached at