Net planning in the real world

People often refer to network planners as being divorced from others who work “in the real world,” and figure they work in ivory towers. Two recent incidents make me think such separatists must reside in dark, musty basements. Or that’s at least what they deserve.

In the first instance, a highly distributed company decided to re-evaluate and switch its audioconferencing providers. Many companies complain about the high price of audioconferencing services, so it wasn’t a surprise that this particular organization was shopping for a better deal. But two aspects stopped me cold:

• It turned out that neither the company’s telecom nor IT groups created the requests for proposal, conducted the evaluation, chose the provider, or signed the contract. Rather, it was finance that did the deal. Not surprisingly, it knew nothing about relative provider quality and never even considered the possibility of special user requirements. And yes, there was a big one.

• The organization in question holds lengthy, weekly conference calls between 50 and 80 revenue-producing, knowledge workers who call in from a variety of sites. Many are calling in from cell phones, hotel rooms phones or home phones.

These types of phones typically don’t have “mute” buttons – something essential to allow for an orderly meeting in which anyone can contribute on an as-needed basis. And the particular provider selected doesn’t support keystroke combinations to mute and unmute phones. Talk about a bad fit.

Readers may say, “Well that’s what you get for involving business administrators in technical work.” But sometimes IT doesn’t fare any better.

For instance, a fast-growing company began the process of issuing a global telecom RFP. The IT department hired a consultant to perform the upfront work, including creation of a working draft.

One of the important issues in creating such a document is knowing what the existing network requirements are, and understanding how they will change over the planning horizon – typically two or three years. The input of several diverse but critical groups of users was essential to understanding the adequacy of the current WAN infrastructure and requirements for the future.

Although the company agreed the consultant would perform this work, it failed to make the necessary arrangements.

Essentially, the draft RFP was created in a vacuum. As a result, it is highly unlikely the WAN topology and features chosen will serve the company well over the next two to three years. That means the company will be forced to scramble, doubtlessly paying more for WAN services than it should. For the network executive, this scenario could be very career-limiting.

My advice: When undergoing the service and provider evaluation process, planning is critical. It should always be conducted by competent technical professionals, under the network executive’s watchful eye. But it also absolutely must take into consideration and integrate the current and future requirements of users. Anything less is simply poor stewardship.

Pierce is a research fellow at Giga Information Group. She can be reached at