Building the next-generation telecom team

Ask any telecom manager about the hardest part of his job, and it invariably has to do with personnel.

Perhaps it’s getting the voice and data teams to play nice during a VoIP rollout. Or maybe it’s effectively managing a service installation. There’s always the question of whether the team is sized correctly and has the right skills to cope with a changing telecom environment.

I’ve learned that it’s these softer issues that can make or break an IT operation. One of my favorite bellwether companies always manages to be at the cutting edge of technology — at the same time displaying overall best practices for IT people and processes. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Here are some areas to pay close attention to as you build out your telecom team:

– Converge your voice and data staffs sooner rather than later. Even if you have no immediate plans for VoIP or unified messaging, it’s a good idea for your teams to understand both worlds. I’m convinced that in the 1990s, Cisco Systems Inc. increased the challenge of promoting VoIP technology by pitting voice and data teams against each other, thereby creating unnecessary tension.

– Invest in project management. Good project managers — people who can make sure complex projects are broken down into digestible steps — are indispensable for large service rollouts, migrations and any outsourcing your company might plan.

– Have a training budget — and review it often. Lack of relevant skills is a gating factor in rolling out new technology and it can cost money. I’ve heard IT executives say lack of trained personnel has kept them from implementing technologies such as storage-area networks, open source, Web services and VoIP — all of which can provide savings of up to 80 per cent. Training is one of the best investments because it’s win/win: by increasing your team’s skills, you let them assume more responsibility and grow professionally. In return, you get a team that intimately understands your operating environment and has the necessary expertise.

– Effectively leverage outside consultants and outsourcers. That said, sometimes there are cases in which it’s not cost-effective to train internal folks: one-time projects for which you won’t need the skills again, or routine tasks that can be done less expensively elsewhere. Have enough people dedicated to that task, and ensure that they have the right skills, such as project management and negotiations savvy.

– Build bridges. Most work gets done through informal networks. In addition to keeping in touch with your IT peers and the lines of business, you and your team should stay close to the co-workers in facilities, finance, procurement and legal. Good relationships with those groups can sometimes make the difference between a gold-star project and a disaster.

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