Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FirstNet - Carriers squeeze the market! Old timers stay in the fight!

One thing I remember from my past, that still resonates with me today, was when someone said, “you need to check your equipment before you jump out of the airplane. Once airborne there is no turning back without some major issues”, this same comment holds true today.

The major issue that FirstNet will face in the coming months, years, will be the shortage of available telecom firms to build-out the Public Safety Broadband Network. I spoke about this in an earlier article addressing the shortage of Tower Crews, but in this case that shortage will also include lack of the big guys in the EPC and GEC industry. The catalyst for this shortage is the stereotype of the telecom bust in 2000. When the telecom industry burst back in 2000, all the major telecom players, GECs that is, pulled back from any type of market in telecoms. GEC means general Contractors. EPC means Engineer Procure and Construct.

All the big EPC and GEC players have either eliminated, or tucked their existing telecom units into other, more profitable, industry units. For example: Bechtel used to have Bechtel Telecoms, Parsons used to have Parsons Telecommunications. Bechtel tucked telecoms under Bechtel Power, and Infrastructure.  Parsons tucked theirs under Environmental and Infrastructure, why they did this makes sense. In order to insure the success of ongoing work, and to hedge bets if the industry comes back, these EPCs and GECs want to have some type of expertise they can sell in the field. The market never really recovered so those business groups withered on the vine. It’s hard to compete with such large overheads as the carriers squeezed every last ounce of energy from the mid to low-level players in the field – thus the Turf Contractors.

When a lot of people hear the word “Turf Contractor” they believe it’s related to a geographic assignment, when in reality the term is really used to describe the war’s that go on within a geographic market. These wars enabled the carriers to squeeze lemon from a rock; as of today that rock is now a pebble. The effect of this squeezing process forced the big guys out of the market, what is left are the Turf Contractors. These companies continue to work because they have too, so the carriers continue to enslave them. After all, you can’t blame the Turf Contractors due to the market we are in today, but the Public Safety Broadband will be the game changer.

Like I have stated in the past, if a carrier decides to hold off on a market for a couple of weeks, these smaller guys will fold, or they start laying people off. Worse yet, the Turf Contractors will start looking for crumbs with the new asset holders of Crown Castle or American Tower. The fact is we are in the last vestiges of the commercial broadband market, a market that is being consolidated into 3 major carriers who don't see a future in selling wireless access, rather they see a future in content and services, thus FiOS, Uverse. The issues that were created from the Turf enslavement process will be transferred to the FirstNet initiative unless we take charge now and setup a big new market.

Without the big players being interested in the market, the chance of FirstNet getting it’s build completed, will be a long time coming. I have witnessed two of these situations first hand. The excitement is easy for those who understand telecommunications, but very sour to those that went through the telecom crash of 2000. Most of those sour-apples now sit on the boards, or hold highly influential roles within these giants, which means, if you say anything that resembles the term “telecommunications”, you will be cast out into the shark invested waters of the telecom turf warzone or face the unpopular position of welfare sustenance.

Even if they manage to muster enough support when a very real opportunity exists, an opportunity that will definitely allow the company to move the bottom line, these firms will only pull back when they look internally for operational support. The reason for the pullback is because of the old withered-out telecom infrastructure support and resources, held together with duck tape, cannot deliver on a promise the company does not fully support. How can you commit to a Billion dollar contract with a State, to build out their PSBN architecture, if all you have is some old remnants of EFI (Engineer, Furnish and Install) services that never really took off in their pursuit of the Turf Markets? How do you use your stalwart resource, which has been with the company since the telephone was invented, and expect the leadership that is needed to push the creativity and drive that is required for such complex technology rollouts? Hell, I know a few guys that still use a telephone to communicate with their subordinates. Without some major leadership changes these companies will not be able to compete. The perception that telecoms is a doomed industry is right, when it comes to the commercial telecom market, but the perception does not hold water against the Public Safety Broadband Market.

The Public Safety Broadband Market will enable a new market of players willing to step forward. This will be a major blow for any large EPC who is holding back because of past fears, why? This new market will be defined by the new entrants who will be small, nimble, and quick to respond, and most importantly, very cheap compared to the overheads of the big guys. There still is hope for the big guys.

In order for the big guys to be successful, in this market, will be based on their own willingness to invest in the new creative talent needed to drive it. Just because they come in with inflated overheads for telecoms, protectionism towards change, they will realize that cost is not everything. Some of these States will want to use existing relationships and commit to quality rather than the lowest price, but that means those big EPC/GECs need to resource and market toward the future. As my experience shows me, this will be next to impossible due to the fact that these organizations are infested with those stalwart workers who manage to hold on to work because of old relationships. These players will not rock the boat with the old-timers at the helm, essentially any hint of creativity gets crushed, and thus they are doomed. You can’t blame them, these resources are the last of the old timers who have held the same job for more than 20 years, and they still have fight in them and to them telecom is evil.

The relationships we have today are based on long-term roles of friendships bred from within the market place. I ask you this, if those friendships have been in place for a long time, does that mean those relationships were based on the mindset of the telecom collapse? What happens as these long-term relationships start to retire? We are in the middle of the largest retirement movement in our history – the Baby Boomers. I see this movement as good and bad. Forget about the notion that if you want insurance by playing it safe with old talent – that’s just a fallacy. The network will be built no matter who is in charge of its rollout. The fact of the matter is that it’s all about letting go of the reins and embracing creativity. Creativity is what made the companies in the first place, and creativity is what you set as a goal just after bankruptcy. A word to the wise, these large EPCs and GECs need to avoid the market in its entirety, or grab hold of it and lead the charge. Carpe Diem! Their business may depend on it.   

The thought of having to retire can take a personal toll on anyone, but added with the stereotype of the “telecom bust”, only helps foster resentment to creativity, which means forced change inevitable, and as a result such resentment only forces the “way we have always done business” to defend itself. As the saying goes, there is always a reaction to every action; or every action an inaction. In this case people would say that we must learn from our mistakes, or we are doomed to repeat them; but we must remember the reaction or inaction piece. If we are avoiding issues due to our historical actions, then the opposite must be true as well, that is, we are ignoring future opportunities that we can excel at. In essence we are frozen in time. In the end, the next generation can either sit idly by and wait for those that sit currently in the leadership roles to retire; or they will fight to take over leadership. My suggestion, make it easy on everyone and step aside, let go of those predetermined notions of loss. The markets of yesterday are no longer. Let the new players make their own mistakes, else what have we to learn from? This market will not wait for the next generation, it will just plow over anybody in its way, I recommend that if you are faced with such retirement, just remember, the world will not stop just because you are no longer at the helm. How does a “young guy” like me know this? You can thank my 6 kids for that.

We are our worst enemies, especially, when we are shell-shocked and have built a wall of trepidation to the point that we are frozen in time. Stop worrying about getting hurt, let creativity exhumed as the next generation takes hold and just get out into the market and make an effort. If you don’t then this new market will roll right over you -- that new market in telecoms is the Public Safety Broadband Network, a Network that will be twice the size of AT&T and Verizon combined…geographically. The best way to make sure that this next market is a boom is through the Myers Model™ Public Private Partnership…a masterpiece of creativity if I say so myself.

But then again who am I other than…

Just some guy and a blog…..

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Words to Live By: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs)