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View From the Board: A dangerous trend

It is time to put some pressure on the testing manufacturers
to provide us with "worst case" specifications.

As appeared in: Cabling Systems, February 2002
By David Mantle




LAMENT TO AN END USER

Gigs of bits and hundreds of Hertz

the soundest of systems must provide,

Vendor claims and installer fame

are but a few of the issues I must divide.

All claim compliance with sites certified,

Is this all true or just magnified?

NEXT, ELFEXT, skew and ACR

Make my head spin but are these not the true bars?

Gigabits, megahertz, warranties extraordinaire!!

Through all this smoke and mirrors can someone help me truly compare?

Thus confused beyond my limits, constraints of time that can bear no more,

I run for comfort and release and hide behind the pricing door.

Does this decision reflect the first need?

Did I stay true, the defining issues heed?

What more could one ask while keeping the comfort zone?

Though in truth I do fear the near network performance moan?



With language arts obviously not my forte, the above attempt at poetry seeks to encourage our industry to consider an emerging and dangerous trend -- a trend that each segment of our industry is sadly contributing to. It is far too easy today to lose clarity on the issues that determine "true value" in an end user's structured cabling system.

Everyone in the industry is claiming standards compliance, everyone is claiming an effective certification program and everyone is claiming a solid bullet-proof warranty. Unless an end user, directly or through a consultant, is willing to scratch below the surface and truly and knowledgeably compare the specific claims, one could argue that we are looking at a commodity business.

Nothing could be farther from the truth today. Commodities, by nature, have few variables other than price. Unfortunately many projects are simply establishing standards compliance as the minimal technical performance criteria and then proceeding to effectively set up a commodity tender process in which pricing becomes the deciding factor.

The old purchasing adage "you get what you pay for" assuredly rings true right through this entire approach.

ART OR SCIENCE?

Product (standards) compliance for some is more an art form than a science, and there are very valid reasons why one patch cord sells for $3.50, while another sells for $6.50. However, many purposely avoid such discussion in their desire to create a "supposed", albeit false, level playing field.

Likewise, installation practices alone can take a first-class product and turn it into a mediocre one in an instant. Think what this practise does to products that are minimally compliant to begin with? When contractors are driven by the knowledge that price is a foremost consideration, be assured that shortcuts will occur. It is only a matter of where and how many.

Not worried? Think you have the warranty to fall back upon? Read the legal fine print -- when you can actually obtain a warranty agreement. I think you will be surprised.

The truth is that by nature, the entire structured cabling industry is full of variables. Hence, the definition and assessment of "value versus price" is the central essence of any cabling decision.

NOT CREATED EQUAL

All products in our industry today are not created equal; there is a difference in their performance and in the costs associated with that performance. Likewise, all certification programs are not the same; some can be secured in as few as two hours, while others can require up to two weeks and are independently recognized for their content. And warranties are very different -- not only in what is guaranteed, but also in how they are guaranteed (legally) and in who owns the legal exposure. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware. (Or, even clearer: "You get what you pay for.")

Without question, these are tough issues for any customer to contend with. However, the central challenge to an end user today is to truly define their needs -- present and future.

STRATEGIC ASSET

Information movement and management is clearly a strategic asset in all companies today, and this in turn elevates the crucial nature of cabling infrastructure. It is often here that our friends in the consulting industry provide their greatest service and value. They can offer guidance and insight with respect to cabling decisions that will hold their value throughout performance and time. In structured cabling, value will always outperform price.

The continued evolution of our industry does not mean we are destined to die a commodity death. Our heritage of innovation and technological leadership continues to allow our customers to continue to do amazing things with information. Structured cabling is value based -- do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.


David Mantle is General Manager of the Siemon Company Canada in Markham, ON and a member of Cabling Systems' Editorial Advisory Board.

Article is Copyright © 2002 Business Information Group.


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