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BeginningsIn physics, there is a theory known as the "Big Bang" that attempts to explain the origins of the known universe. This recently postulated belief follows on the heels of work done by both Ptolemy in the second century, who argued that the Earth sits at the center of the universe while all other celestial bodies revolve around it, and that of Nicolaus Copernicus, who in the 16th century refuted the work of Ptolemy, claiming that the sun occupies the center of the universe and that the galactic bodies revolve around it. The Big Bang theory, suggested by Edwin Hubble early in the 20th century, contends that the universe was created following a cataclysmic explosion that occurred some 20 billion years ago, scattering cosmic debris in all directions that ultimately accreted into nebulae, planets, galaxies, and other cosmological bodies. He postulated that all matter was in a state of infinite density (the so-called "cosmic singularity") until the explosion occurred, resulting in the theory of a rapidly expanding universe and the basis of much of modern physics. This expanding universe theory also postulates that at some point, it will turn around and begin to collapse on itself.
Following the Telecommunications Big Bang of 1984 (usually called divestiture), that is precisely what has happened. When the telecommunications universe underwent its own cataclysmic explosion, during which AT&T was broken into a collection of companies, the many small corporations created in the aftermath remained independent for nearly 10 years but have now begun to accrete. The original 22 Bell Operating Companies (BOCs) were initially collapsed into seven Regional Bell Operating Companies(RBOCs) and directed to play in the local services game and only in the local services game. AT&T was told to become a long-distance player, one of three created in the regulatory explosion. MCI and Sprint arose as powerful players in their own right, and a host of other corporate nebulae arose from the cosmic dust of divestiture to occupy places throughout the telecommunications universe (see Figure 0-1).
Now, however, it has become obvious that Hubble was right. The original seven RBOCs have collapsed to three (Bell Atlantic, which now owns NYNEX and GTE; SBC Corporation, which owns Pacific Bell, Nevada Bell, SNET, and Ameritech; and Bellsouth. USWest was acquired in 1999 by Qwest). The plethora of equipment manufacturers that grew in the wake of divestiture has entered into a feeding frenzy, acquiring each other at a frantic rate. In the last three years, Lucent, Nortel, and Cisco have acquired a diversity of companies as they struggle to reinvent themselves in the burgeoning marketplace.
Similarly, technologies and networks have begun to merge, while the services provided over those networks and by those companies have begun to blur. We have returned to the concept of the network as a cloud. It doesn't matter what's in the cloud as long as it provides the services the customer requires. There is one difference, however. Before 1984, the customer had minimal choices. They took what the service provider offered because there was effectively only one provider. Today they have choices, and if the cloud fails to perform, the customer picks another cloud. Furthermore, the technology was the market driver in the years immediately following divestiture. The industry's research organizations (Bell Northern Research, Bell Laboratories, Xerox PARC, Bellcore, which is now Telcordia, and a host of others) rolled out innovative technology to the market, which would then scuttle away to build applications around those technologies. Today things are a bit different. The technology no longer leads the parade; the market does. The marketplace dictates applications, and for the first time, the technology follows the market as it races to accommodate application requirements.
There is an ancient Asian curse that wishes upon the accursed the desire that "they live in interesting times." By that measure, the telecommunications industry as a whole, and the customers it serves, have been roundly cursed. The changes that started in 1984 with the divestiture of the Bell System and the creation of the modern telecommunications industry continue apace, and the appearance is of an industry mired in chaos. And while there is a certain element of truth to that, it is also true that telecommunications is the fastest growing, most dynamic, and centrally critical provider of professional services in the world today. Try to identify an industry today that is not dependent upon telecommunications: I defy you.
THE STATE OF CHANGE
The changes that are underway are legion, and most are indicative of a healthy industry and a thriving marketplace. Generally, they fall into the same three convergence categories mentioned earlier: technologies, companies, and services. Consider the implications of the following changes for your own company:
Customers no longer want to buy technology. There was a time not all that long ago when "service providers" sold raw bandwidth, ISDN, VPNs, ATM, frame relay, and other equally obtuse products. Today customers have evolved to the point that they no longer care about the underlying technology. In the same way that the telecommunications industry has become extremely competitive, so too have the vertical industries that the telecommunications providers serve. Those customers want to buy services that enhance their competitive positions and provide solutions to business problems. That the services are ultimately built upon a technological substrate is unimportant to them. What matters is that the services satisfy their ongoing business demands. The job of the service provider should be to screen the technology from the customer, providing "gozintas" and "gozoutas" to and from the network cloud that deliver connectivity and proper quality-of-service (QoS) levels as required (see Figure 0-2). This approach has several advantages. First, it gets the "service provider" out of the pure technology business, converting them instead into a service provider in the truest sense of the word. If technology is part of the service package they deliver, so be it. It is, however, merely a piece of the overall package...