SCTE's Dzuban Stirs Business Into The Mix

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Mark Dzuban, the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' newly installed president and CEO, wants cable engineering professionals to think as much about business strategy as they do about RF spectrum analysis.

Dzuban, whose 40-year career has included posts at Cedar Point Communications and AT&T, believes SCTE has an opportunity to equip "change agents" who will build next-generation broadband networks -- with a business focus.

In one of his first interviews since starting Feb. 2, Dzuban spoke last week with Multichannel News technology editor Todd Spangler. (A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of Multichannel News.)

MCN: What interested you about this opportunity?

MD: I've always enjoyed organizations that give you the opportunity to break new ground. I kind of like the new frontiers. I believe this is an important point in time to get SCTE on a track that will be responsible for creating the next generation of networks.

MCN: What does SCTE do well, and what does it need to improve?
MD:
If I look at where we are, and I look at it as a mission, SCTE has the opportunity to organize this ship and get to the next level of supporting much more complex networks than we've ever supported in the past.
Traditionally, we've been supporting HFC [hybrid fiber-coaxial] networks. My vision now is to turn toward more complex technologies, and to emphasize technology with a business acumen -- to be very smart about how we spend capital and build next-generation networks.
In the technology and engineering sector, we make judgments on equipment and deploy that. There are things we can focus on, in terms of providing tools or products, to help improve technology selection and deployments and the operations component of the network -- "engineering economics," if you want to call it that.

MCN: What programs would result from that focus?
MD:
It would manifest itself in a couple of new areas. One would be forums that allow us some broad thinking. As an example, rejuvenating ET [SCTE's Conference on Emerging Technologies] to be an event to provide the forward-thinking on where we're vulnerable.
We don't build a platform and operate it for 30 years. We're always looking at change. Part of our objective it to be change agents and be ahead of the ball instead of behind the ball. We're also looking at instituting best practices for operations, providing Excel spreadsheets on selecting products and capabilities.

MCN: Would this include product testing or benchmarking?
MD:
Absolutely not. That's not our scope. It's developing the skills of the teams. This would give the MSOs who do that [testing] more insight and smarter decision-making.

MCN: What are your specific goals for this year?
MD:
Under the title of "the business of engineering," you can have a vision and you can share that but you can't execute that until you break it into actual work. We're doing that now. To make it clear, this is a business. The revenue pays the paychecks for the folks in our institutions. My intent is to boil the vision down to very specific steps we need to take and execute them at SCTE.
I'm putting together a three-year-plus plan to support very complex solutions. It's like consuming the whale but over a long period of time.

MCN: How effective has the cable industry been at recruiting younger technology talent?
MD:
There's always the notion that nothing's perfect, that you can always do better. We're always looking at where we can tap better thinking, out-of-the-box thinking. So one part of the execution is to focus on the SCTE Foundation to continue the grants programs to promote the kind of innovative skills the industry needs. It's not hypothetical. The Foundation is one part of how we're getting that done, and it will soon take another leap to put more action behind its mission.

MCN: What effect will the economic downturn have on membership, or attendance at SCTE events?
MD:
I think to every downside, there's an upside. This economic downturn is a broad stroke, although I do believe the cable industry to be minimally affected. It has a good position with the triple play.
One part of this is, the whole telecommunications industry -- not just cable -- is going to be spending less capital dollars, so we may have actually more time to create a much more aggressive, competitive think tank at SCTE and the tools to support these networks. I actually look at it as an opportunity to get ahead of the ball. Capital spending may delay the pace of the rollout but not the selection or initial planning.

MCN: How is combining ET and Cable-Tec Expo with other industry events going to affect those SCTE conferences? Good, bad or neutral?
MD:
In all fairness, it's a transition year. Relative to ET, we're partnering with NCTA. I wouldn't say it's a bad thing at all. We'll have the ET program. With Expo, that's probably going to be relatively traditional but, again, adding the components about what we're going to do next.
I'm optimistic about restoring the Emerging Technologies event to the way it was years ago. I represented AT&T years ago to the cable industry at ET. It's an opportunity to drive the vision, and ET would therefore be the forward-looking event it used to be. There's the perception that it's not as aggressive as it could be.

MCN: What's a misconception you think people have about SCTE?
MD:
There are some folks who would like it to be more engineering-focused, some who would like it to be more future-focused. This SCTE, from my perspective, has been very good at supporting traditional cable technology.
We're at a very important point in the development of our networks. I look at my election to this position as representing the elders and the founders to say, "Hey, we've done a lot of good work to this point. Now let's take on a new view of technologies and skills that may not have been part of the SCTE."
For example, I spoke to Dick [Green, CEO of CableLabs] at their conference in Denver [in early February] and we went over, "Here's what the analytical folks do and do very well, and here's the mission for SCTE." I want to be a good partner. I'm not sure what happened before. But under my organization we'll be very close, make sure we're in lock step, and we'll be the execution of the thinking out of CableLabs.

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