Warmke-- a nontechnical titan in the cabling industry

In all his humility at being named one of the cabling industry`s most prominent people, Jay Warmke cites the often-paraphrased quotation by Groucho Marx and reinforced by Woody Allen: "I wouldn`t belong to a club that would have me as a member." Wisecracks Warmke, executive director of the 13,000-member bicsi telecommunications organization, "I have felt all along that the health of the cabling industry is extremely sound, but if I am now to be considered one of its most prominent individuals, I

Jul 1st, 1998

Ron Karjian

In all his humility at being named one of the cabling industry`s most prominent people, Jay Warmke cites the often-paraphrased quotation by Groucho Marx and reinforced by Woody Allen: "I wouldn`t belong to a club that would have me as a member." Wisecracks Warmke, executive director of the 13,000-member bicsi telecommunications organization, "I have felt all along that the health of the cabling industry is extremely sound, but if I am now to be considered one of its most prominent individuals, I may have to seriously reconsider my outlook for the industry."

Warmke joined bicsi as assistant executive director in 1987. Five years later, he dropped the word "assistant" and took over as executive director. "To say that the cabling industry has expanded in the past five years is an understatement," says Warmke. "Perhaps `exploded` is a better word." In many ways, he adds, bicsi`s growth has reflected this robust expansion--membership has grown 30% annually and revenues have doubled each year. In 1991, bicsi had 1800 members and an annual operating budget of $250,000. By year-end 1998, bicsi expects to have close to 15,000 members and an operating budget of more than $10.5 million.

Though Warmke makes no mention of it, much of that growth has been due, in part, to his own efforts and his ability to spread the cabling gospel and to help protect the interests of cabling installers, designers, contractors, manufacturers, and distributors. It`s much better to be united than divided, he believes. Undoubtedly, his education in journalism at Ohio University and in business administration at the University of South Florida has proved a potent combination in guiding bicsi`s unprecedented growth nationally and internationally. "Going global is in the early stages," says Warmke, adding that bicsi has established an office in Australia and plans to open offices in Europe and Brazil.

"Perhaps the most striking change in the cabling industry is the convergence of technologies and disciplines," notes Warmke. "Early on, we saw the coming together of the telephone guys and the computer guys. These two cultures have integrated fairly seamlessly over the past five years."

The next "people" integration within the industry was between designers and installers, says Warmke. "This is still in its early stages and not nearly as seamless. As the technologies become more complex, installers must have a good grasp of design to work around problems that they may face in the field. Conversely, designers must understand the complexities facing installers in order to design a practical, real-world design."

Much of the problem between designers and installers could be more personal than professional. "Most cabling designers were once installers and tend to look down upon them," notes Warmke. "It`s like someone who goes off to the big city, then makes fun of his `local yokel` friends who stay back home in the small town. On the other hand, the installers tend to look upon designers as overblown `desk jockeys` who are disconnected from the real world."

The integration of men and women in the industry, according to Warmke, is even farther off on the horizon. Despite this age of political correctness, when dogma at times overshadows accuracy and free expression, Warmke makes no bones about the industry`s being "dominated by a male workforce at every level. This is changing slowly--but very, very slowly."

More-sophisticated industry

From an economic standpoint, Warmke says, the cabling industry is being transformed from a commodities marketplace and instead is emphasizing product differentiation, implying that end-users` purchasing decisions are becoming more complex. This complexity, in turn, demands more-sophisticated marketing techniques from cabling-product manufacturers. "When Category 5 was approved for premises-cabling installations," he explains, "it seemed all products suddenly became Category 5-compliant--even before we knew what that meant. End-users assumed that one Category 5 product would perform on a par with any other Category 5 product. Now, manufacturers once again are trying to differentiate their products from the pack."

Along with marketing sophistication, product quality has increased dramatically over the past few years. "We also have seen the quality of low-voltage designs increase, as the rcdd program has gained in stature within the cabling industry," says Warmke. Yet, he emphasizes that even though product quality has improved, "the quality of installations overall is still quite low."

He believes that training programs such as bicsi`s Cabling Installation Training and Education Workshop will do for installers what the rcdd program has done for designers. Warmke considers the creation of the training and education program one of his most notable accomplishments at bicsi. The three-level program--apprentice, installer, and technician--is being integrated into technical schools and community colleges to educate aspiring young cabling technicians with "good, quality, generic, standardized training." These "cable grunts," as Warmke affectionately calls them, "are the people who had been previously neglected" when it came to any type of formalized training. "There`s still a long way to go," he says, "but hopefully in the coming years, we will see installation craftsmanship on a widespread basis reemerge within this profession."

The emergence of performance standards and their increased importance in the last five-plus years have been both a blessing and a curse for cabling installers, designers, and contractors, asserts Warmke. "The politics of standards-making has emerged as a fine art," he observes. "The result is that the standards process is sometimes manipulated to meet corporate rather than industry goals. If this results in a widespread `dumbing down` of the standards to make room for more products from vendors, then end-users will disown certain standards as quickly as they embrace them. After all, what good is a standards-compliant network that doesn`t work?"

Warmke started with a joke and now concludes with one: "Despite all these uninspired, uniformed projections by me into a muddy future, the smart money is on a future cabling market that will change in ways no one could possibly predict." But rest assured, Warmke will be there when it happens--fighting for the cause of the cabling industry takes up all his time. "As for the rest," he says, "I have no life . . . . I work in the cabling industry."

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