DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATIONS
RYERSON POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY. SEPTEMBER 30, 1994
We are communicating more, but are we managing any better?
In the last couple of years, individuals and businesses have started to make new advances in the communications field an integral part of their organization or work. For example,
• Fax traffic now exceeds voice traffic overseas.
• There are now over 30 million users of Internet.
• Voicemail has replaced the pink slips.
I€¢n the United States, there is enough fibre optic cable coast to coast for any one of the major US carriers to handle all the transcontinental voice and data traffic.
Satellites have made cities around the world accessible to CNN Business News.
The Global Village has truly arrived.
But what is the impact on how effective we are? Naturally, I believe the result is largely positive or I would not be in this business. But can we do better with more thought being put on how we use these facilities?
First, let’s take a look at the capability of the new technology from several aspects.
The greatest immediate advantage for business is the global impact of communications. The fax has largely freed us from an unfortunate design fault – the fact that the Earth is round rather than flat. People, therefore, sleep at different times.
The fax means that most communications can take place while we are at our office, not when the Japanese, Koreans or others are in theirs (mind you many of them work such long hours, they have a slight advantage in being accessible!).
Voicemail has similarly expanded our work day. Now longer, for example, do I need to wait until Monday morning to return Friday’s calls. I just leave messages over the weekend on people’s voicemail and they are ready for the caller at his or her convenience.
Telephone tag has largely disappeared. I estimate that perhaps two-thirds of my calls do not require me to actually talk to an individual. In fact, I am irritated when I get someone’s secretary and usually ask to be transferred to voicemail!
So effectively during the last several years, our working hours have been expanded to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if we so choose.
E-mail has had a similar effect and has already started to replace some fax usage. If one is already typed in a message, it makes no sense to print this out and then fax the printed the copy. A modem on the PC effectively eliminates this step.
PC’s raise an interesting new communication possibility. The greatest drawback of older Information Technology capability has been the proliferation of data not converted to actionable information. The use of graphics to distill raw data before creating a presentation has been a great step forward in our effectiveness as managers (try using Corel Draw to make dull statistics alive and meaningful).
Behind all of this revolution is, of course, the change to digital. This has allowed computers to be converted from number crunchers to true information machines. Multimedia is made possible by converting all transmission and storage to a stream of bits. It does not matter whether you are transmitting data, voice, graphics or full motion video. Only the speed of the communication line limits what you can do.
The line? We should remember that the new technology not only frees us from time restrictions, but also space restrictions. Wireless transmission means we can work wherever we are – at home, in the car, in a plane or at the cottage. The digital world has allowed us to tie our PC to a wireless modem and have our multimedia capability with us wherever we are.
Well almost! There is still not a convenient way to pick up full motion video on a wireless modem without a somewhat cumbersome antennae. However, with the new Direct Broadcast Satellites, the ‘dish’ is getting smaller all the time. So, at least for one-way video, true multimedia portability is becoming a realistic possibility.
As we are largely already freed from time and space limitations, what does the future hold? The impact of the above developments on work will be profound.
Individuals will not only be able to work at home as effectively as in the office, (why spend time commuting to an office to go to the 64th floor just to make phone calls or send faxes, as my friend, Frank Feather, has noted), but will be able to work globally.
The new technology has freed the individual to become a truly internationally mobile worker. Workers in the future will typically hold several jobs adding value to products and services for multiple employers. International entrepreneurs will be a new cadre of workers.
Just look at what is already happening in the software field with programmers from India or Russia developing components of programs to be integrated via computer in perhaps North America or Europe.
The impact on retailing will be just as great. Already CUC has 30 million users. This company operates by coordinating purchasing for its members. The company “sells everything, stocks nothing”. While the goods are largely North American, there is nothing to prevent this concept from being expanded globally to provide members with over-the-phone access to goods and services from around the world.
Multinational companies will use the new graphic capabilities, such as those of Alias or Soft Image to design and test new products with components being worked on in multiple locations. The Airbus design is a good example of this.
Closer to home, the broadband capability combined with digital compression will make available new capabilities for job training. It is a well known fact that people already switch jobs four or five times during their lifetime. I am a good example of this having been in multiple high tech industries such as computers, data processing services, cable television and latterly, wireless communications.
Efficient means of retraining will be available locally or remotely.
I might add that recent applicant for a Canarie grant slightly misunderstand the concept of Video-On-Demand (VOD). They proposed contracting with educational institutions to videotape lectures and then sell the tapes over the phone promising next day delivery by courier!
I might add that making use of the latest in multimedia techniques for training and retraining is the only way that educational institutions will survive. None can now afford to bring students from distant places, house and feed them, only to provide what could be delivered to their living rooms. By the way, I hope you saw the School Net demonstration on the way in.
Video-conferencing the oft talked about way of communicating will become truly practical with most offices and houses linked with two-way video. Homes will have small videocameras that attach to the top of the VCR or a PC monitor. These are already available, and again, will help redefine what is meant by ‘home work’. The impact on the transportation and travel industries will become more profound. The new global communications should reduce the need for people to travel. The resultant positive impact on the environment will also have a major effect in the years to come.
Cash will disappear. The immense capacity of the I-way will mean that everything can be paid by a swipe of a smart card. As wireless capability will allow terminals to be used in moving vehicles of various kinds, even your bus fare could be paid for in this manner.
THE ROGERS’ WAY
The role of Rogers Communications Inc. in all this is unique. Ted’s vision has lead to a company that has combined high speed digital transmission over fibre and co-axial cable for local delivery of signals with an interest in a long-distance network through Unitel, and an overseas capability with an investment in Teleglobe – to say nothing of the wireless side with AM/FM/TV broadcasting, and of course, Cantel with its cellular, paging, wireless data and air-to-ground services.
More recently he has expanded the scope of RCI by moving into the content arena with the proposed acquisition of Maclean Hunter. The diversity of the Maclean Hunter magazines and publications is in itself unique and could form the basis for new multimedia services in a variety of specialty areas.
The company is committed to an all digital environment. Cantel has already added a national digital network to its analogue network. Unitel offers digital services coast to coast. Cable will be ready for the immense capacity of file servers digitally storing hundreds of cd-rom Entertainment or Edutainment features. With the newly announced joint development with Microsoft, Cable will be at the leading edge of interactive multimedia through either set-top boxes, PC’s or any combination the customer may want.
The Rogers’ way is therefore to provide Canada with an integrated national digital wideband network, wired and wireless, that will play a major role in propelling the country into a leading international position for the 21st century.