I often talk to technology leaders that indicate their departments are looked at as purely a cost center and it is very difficult to compete for internal funding for so many important tribal projects. I like to ask them to change the paradigm and develop offerings that off set the costs and actually begin to generate revenue. Turning an information technology (IT) group or department into a profit center can be done.
Today there is significant convergence between computers and telephones, our smartphones are computers and our desktop computers sometimes our telephone, or interact with our telephone. It’s important to embrace this transition and in tribal government and businesses take advantage of the cost savings and efficiencies this can create. Technology leaders should be taking advantage of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and cloud services to reduce the hardware and infrastructure costs to buy and maintain these systems. Predictable monthly operating expenses can replace large and lumpy (sometimes a surprise when something breaks) capital expenditures in some cases.
An example of this is transitioning from a large expenditure every 5 years for a Private Brand Exchange (PBX) system, sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars with proprietary phone handsets to a pay as you go model with Hosted PBX services from a reliable provider. This usually will be less expensive and provide more flexibility in the features and functions and allow a person to be retrained and repurposed for other modern-day telephony uses. For example a PBX technician to be trained to support Internet and the tribes plans to become their own telecom provider. At minimum, a tribe can enable all aspects of the government, businesses and members by distributing Internet via their own broadband system, whether by wireless or fiber infrastructure.
I am constantly talking to tribal leaders who tell me the large telecom companies have not provided adequate or reasonably priced service to their Reservation and/or to their members. The biggest step a tribe or nation can take in self determination is to become a telecom company themselves. It allows the tribe to save money and produce revenue ultimately turning a traditional cost center part of operations into a profit center. Furthermore, these savings and revenues can be leveraged to diversify the tribe’s economy and create jobs for its members.
An investment in telecom, the modern day utility, like water or electricity did in the 20th century can positively impact all areas of a tribe’s functions.
This editorial was written for and published in the Tribal Business Journal, January 2018 issue.