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Business-Technologist Visions: Opportunity In Adversity

Companies will start to leverage Web services and wireless technologies this year, Acterna's Dave Bent says.

I don't remember a year like the one we had last year, and I'm looking back 20 years. The challenge in the telecom industry was to reduce costs at the same time revenue was plunging. Acterna's revenue was down 50% in the last year, and it's the same across all of telecom. But this has given Acterna a chance to go back to basics and rebuild. We wouldn't have worked as hard on that, and on other cost-reduction efforts, had we been in a growth mode.

We see opportunities to simplify our core business processes such as accounts receivable and order management. From an IT perspective, we've focused on reducing the number of vendors. For our voice, data, and video communications, we've gone from more than 10 suppliers worldwide to one and have achieved some significant cost savings. I keep thinking of what Ralph Szygenda is doing at General Motors: reducing the number of suppliers dramatically.

But it isn't all about cost-cutting. There will be plenty of great opportunities in the telecom sector. I see two areas of great opportunity for emerging technologies: Web services and wireless. They should have their coming-out parties this year. We'll start to see companies leveraging those technologies. Some are making a paradigm shift in the way they're getting the right information to the right people at the right time. For example, we've already seen how great wireless technologies have worked for car-rental agencies, where it's important for multiple remote customers or workers to get information on the road from a central office. There's going to be a leap. There's an opportunity out there.

I was skeptical about Web services, but when we see what IBM, Microsoft, and now Sun Microsystems are doing, that sector will see growth this year. Acterna has set up a new group called Workflow Solutions to handle Web services for our customers. For example, we're providing services that will allow a cable technician to run tests back to the office, but also to close out the test from the home and not have to call in to the office.

We'll also start to see things change this year from a global standpoint. One area where we're seeing significant growth is China. Half of Acterna's business in Asia now comes from China, and that country is prepared to take a significant leap forward in the global IT community.

Finally, from an overall economic perspective, 2003 will be a leveling-off year. Certainly, there won't be the rate of decline we saw last year. In fact, there will be an uptick in tech spending. Telecom will be at the trailing end of the spending, but it's coming.

Dave Bent is CIO and VP at Acterna LLC, a provider of test and management solutions for optical transport, access, and cable networks. He was InformationWeek's Chief of the Year in 1999.

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Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

Columns By Other Business Technology Leaders

Andrea Anania, executive VP and CIO at Cigna Corp. Dave Bent, CIO and VP at Acterna LLC
Scott Dinsdale, executive VP of Digital Strategy at the Motion Picture Association David Guzmán, senior VP and CIO of Owens & Minor
John Halamka, senior VP of I.S. at CareGroup Healthcare System Randy Mott, senior VP and CIO at Dell Computer
Ralph Syzgenda, group VP and CIO at General Motors Pedro Villalba, senior VP of I.T. and chief technology officer at HIP Health Plan of New York
Janet Wejman, senior VP and CIO of Continental Airlines

Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at

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