Okay, I get it!
I admit, I completely missed the point and I missed it for years but I do get it now.
What am I talking about?
The mindset in which a communications infrastructure needs to be planned around. For the longest time I focused in on the “business model” (something we all know is critical in sustainability) as well as the diversity of services that can/should be carried on the network. I have had incredible arguments with people over what a realistic ROI should look like and why grant money (read my tax dollars) being used against local businesses (like my business) was a self-defeating concept. At the same time I saw the total benefit of these networks as being centered on Broadband as well as providing different services all the while totally missing the point – all of it, every bit of it, is meaningless unless the community – every last member of the community – is getting benefit from the deployment.
What does this mean? I mean what does this really mean?
The fallacy is that a communications platform should be a business first is wrong – very wrong. A communications network is a benefit to the community, one that when properly implemented serves the community but does so in a way unlike other utilities. This may be the very first instance where we will see a real dramatic drop in real costs to any given area while increasing a myriad of services – but only if the design, build and most importantly the implementation is executed right from the conception to the actual launch with the community foremost in the designer’s mind.
Why is this different?
Let’s look at how the typical sales cycle would work in a fictitious network sale.
The salesperson contacts “Mr. Interested Party” and starts to explain all of the benefits of their product and what it will mean to “Mr. Interested Party’s” captive audience. As with every good salesperson, only the features will be touted leaving any unpleasant details out of the conversation because, after all, who likes to bring up unpleasantries?
Remember, “Mr. Interested Party” isn’t usually a highly trained technical guy, he is the man given the questionable task of gathering all the details, learning as he goes, and trying to make sense of it all in a three page report to “The Governing Body” who will eventually be charged with making a decision. Occasionally, “The Governing Body” will appoint “A Committee” which is another group of well intentioned people who have the function of interfacing with “Mr. Interested Party” and trying to learn as they go but really the only function “A Committee” serves is to help spread the blame around in case everything goes badly.
What needs to be kept in mind is that “Mr. Interested Party” is depending on salespeople to provide him with everything he needs to know so he can then regurgitate all of these facts back to “A Committee” allowing them to make an educated choice. And, as we all know (including “Mr. Interested Party”) salespeople are always a reliable source of unbiased information.
Eventually, this entire process comes to an end and a vote is taken allowing one or another salesperson to get a huge commission. Where the story goes from there is really up in the air. Based on my experience there is never a time when everyone (I mean like every single one of the people being governed by “The Governing Body”) is satisfied but that is human nature and we probably shouldn’t take that too seriously.
But this is how it works, what should we be doing differently?
Stated in its most basic form, we should be working from the bottom up, not the salesperson down.
What? What the heck does that mean?
This is a very simple process, one that takes the entire community’s perspective into account and aims to make sure that as big a percentage as possible not only takes part in the process but sets the boundaries for the process.
I see this process as taking on another tact when the decision comes to attack this problem. First, there needs to be a survey as to what the community needs. This survey should be centered on several things including first and foremost how this network will save the community money – real money. Once that issue has been addressed we then need to ask the community what services the community feels is important to them. Broadband might be one service but what about things like access to government services or reducing the time it takes to get answers out of their government? Will this network allow for interaction between more people and their government? If so, how?
Next up, but every bit as important, how will this network benefit ME? Seriously, we live in a society that is only really concerned about “ME” so let’s look at how this infrastructure will make MY life better – and I don’t mean indirectly. If I have an accident will this network improve the response time from the police department, fire department and the ambulance squad if I need one? Will I be getting better treatment while I am being transported to the hospital because of the network? Will traffic be routed around the accident scene and will the tow truck be dispatched any faster so that my neighbors will not be stuck in line (ah, never mind, that’s not really important to me – forget them, I might have been hurt and after all, who is important to ME?)
How about senior citizens, how will this improve their quality of life? Will they be able to live in their homes longer while having a safer life? Will the kids in our community also be benefited directly because of this network? Will a gaming server be set up so they can utilize this type of entertainment? Will there be a chat board set up, hopefully one with enough foresight to be multi-generational – not that adults or senior citizens don’t already have enough interaction with our kids, right?
How about education? No, not that education, I mean real, quality continuing education. We all know the Internet has become the largest inactive library on the planet allowing anyone to learn just about anything they might want. Will this new infrastructure allow for local information to be stored there for retrieval? Will WWII veterans be able to share their history with many of the kids who have an interest in that black and white war? How about the retelling of what it was like to live through the Depression? These stories could be gathered locally and be made available for posterity – because if there is anything we can all agree on, posterity needs this.
Education? EDUCATION? Forget that, I want entertainment. Let’s face it, we could all have the Smithsonian in our backyards and a sizable portion of the residents wouldn’t even walk out back to see what it was. So, in addressing these people (hey, they’re part of the community too!) we need to explain how this network will benefit them also.
But probably the single most important question out there is how will this network help me financially? Will it allow me to make more money by working less hours? Certainly, there are a ton of nice people in Nigeria that want to reach out and touch someone but what about all those foreign lotteries I keep hearing about? Hey, I hear there’s online gambling that will certainly help me pay my bills – as long as you own that online casino.
Seriously, how does this network help me in my career? Can I now get a job that allows me to work from the comfort of my home? Will this network allow me to telecommute, not only saving me time and money but allowing me a choice – a real choice – on where I choose to live? Will video conferencing be a reality as well as real LAN connections to the corporate office from my home so I can get my work done? Will this help lower my company’s total cost of operation so I will get a pay raise based on there being more money in the company’s bank? (Okay, I admit, that’s not going to happen.)
How does this process happen?
The answer is amazingly simple, change the current perception of how we think the process should be handled.
No kidding. Sometimes the most complex situations have the simplest answers.