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Volume 27, Issue 3

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October 26, 2007

Don’t Be a Victim of a Communications Disaster

Written by  Melvin Hale
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When most of us think DISASTER, we think flood, hurricane, fire, earthquake, or some other cataclysmic event. We visualize anxious people scurrying around trying to save lives and protect property. There is, however, another type of disaster transpiring daily in most businesses that won’t be recognized until a cataclysmic event occurs. This disaster is the uncontrolled and unmanaged existence and growth of communications cabling and equipment.

Managing these resources requires periodic (in most cases, daily) accounting for the materials and channels of communication needed to support even a modest-sized business enterprise. Resource management is knowing where every cable pair and jack is connected and accounting for all intervening connections. Effective communications resource managers know where every valuable asset is located, who is using it, and its service history. A disaster may be caused by the simple breakdown of a vital piece of equipment. Resource management allows you to become more proactive as you respond to these breakdowns, improves the speed and quality of your recovery when a major disaster occurs, and saves you money.

Businesses rely on the use of communications, whether they are local, national, or international. Prior to the 1984 divestiture of the Bell System, computers and telephones were viewed and managed separately. Computers were primarily mainframe machines run by data processing people, while telephones were “managed” by the accounting department, which was concerned mainly with paying the bill. Both deregulation and technological developments have changed that dichotomy, blurring the distinction between computers and telephones. Both typically use the same network to transmit conversation and to transmit data between computers.

Resource management is based on the premise that the communications environment needs to be documented with current records. A multiplicity of vendors’ equipment means that no single vendor can be expected to know what is deployed at a given customer site. As farfetched as it may seem, many vendors do not know what vintage of equipment they have sold to a given customer or who the end user may have been. This information may be documented in a piecemeal fashion throughout an organization, but, in the event of a major disaster, it may not be available in a timely fashion.

Let’s look at one big incentive for managing your communications resources. One of the effects of the Bell System divestiture is that the local telephone companies are no longer required to manage premise wiring. When these “assets” are completely amortized from their ledgers, building owners and tenants will own them and be responsible for their maintenance. In many states across the country, such as California and Illinois, this announcement has already been made to businesses and home owners, and the burden of managing miles of cable and hundreds of strands of wire has been placed on the new owners. Businesses whose profits can be measured by network uptime cannot afford to lose control of such vital, detailed information regarding who is connected to what and where.

Just such a loss of control recently caused a securities firm to undergo a costly relocation to a new building. When faster and better terminals for data and voice communications were approved to enhance responsiveness to worldwide market conditions, the firm’s management suddenly realized that they did not have reliable information about their communications resources. They had no easy way to determine either the available capacity of existing cabling or its capability with the new terminals. The herculean process of answering these questions would have reduced responsiveness and disrupted business activities rather than improved them. Moving to a new building was deemed the better solution.

Can communications resources be managed? Can a situation that is out of control be tamed without major disruption and aggravation? The answer is an unqualified YES. The solution involves people and the way they perform moves, adds, changes, and deletions. So first, a process needs to be implemented which ensures that all changes are handled in a consistent and defined manner. The solution also requires using a management system tool, which both makes it easy to create a database of the assets needing to be tracked and accounts for the dynamic movement of people and equipment.

The people needed to manage these vital areas are probably already on your staff. What many of them lack is a commitment from the organization to provide them with the mission and tools needed to manage communications resources effectively.

Fortunately, more and more companies are realizing that lack of controls and tools are having a direct impact on bottom line profit/loss figures, as well as day-to-day business activities. Effective controls and procedures are currently being implemented, so you should no longer need to contend with a daily disaster.


Melvin Hale is Director of Telecommunications Services, CHI/COR Information Management, Inc.

This article adapted from Vol. 3 No. 1, p. 9.

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