Roadblock: Who's In Charge?

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-01-27 Print this article Print

Roadblock: Who's In Charge?

The Obstacle

With information-processing and networking equipment converging at a quickening pace, deciding whether a technology should be handled by a computer department or a communications unit is a sticking point for many organizations.

Within the U.N., for example, there's long been a division between the "comms guys" and the "I.T. guys." Jason Mayordomo, information-technology chief for the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), decides what computer and local-area network technologies should be adopted across all U.N. peacekeeping missions. Rolf Sjoberg, the DPKO's communications chief, oversees phone and radio communications as well as satellite operations.

So who takes charge of voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology, where phone calls are routed as Internet data packets? And who should oversee wireless networking, where Internet packets are sent via radio?

And if one thinks a particular computer or communications technology offers a better solution to a particular problem, how does he convince his counterpart that it should be adopted by the entire operation?

The Response:

Combine the functions for particular projects: In Sierra Leone, the U.N. has asked Mayordomo to oversee both computers and communications. This provides him with an opportunity to get his hands dirty with the latest communications devices and experiment with new networking technologies.

Prove your point: Mayordomo believes Internet voice communication promises more efficient use of bandwidth, but he has yet to convince Sjoberg that it can match the voice quality of a traditional phone connection. One way for Mayordomo to make a case for his ideas is to deploy his own Internet voice equipment out in the field and record the results for presentation back to Sjoberg.

Break down divisions: Mayordomo encourages the information-technology staff to get training on basic radio fundamentals and learn how to climb transmission towers like their communications counterparts. Meanwhile, the comms guys are learning more about Internet protocols, a digital technology.

Don't be afraid to laugh: In Sierra Leone, Mayordomo and the mission's interim communications manager, John McKenzie, tease each other on the virtues of computer technology versus communications. As McKenzie puts it, "I.T. guys want to stay up all night playing with their toys. A comms guy just wants to put the equipment in, go down to the bar and have a beer."

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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