Mike LaJoie: At the Vanguard of Science and Technology Each year the NCTA Vanguard Awards recognize the achievements of leaders in the cable and telecommunications industry. This year’s Science and Technology Vanguard Award winner is Time Warner Cable evp/CTO Mike LaJoie. The following is drawn from an interview that first appeared in Communications Executive, a special edition of Communications Technology: Was telephony the biggest achievement for Time Warner Cable last year? From a technology rollout perspective, what we did in the last year is maybe the most aggressive achievement we’ve ever done. What were the top hurdles to overcome in rolling those services out? The most significant challenge that we faced was integrating to the PSTN. It was managing the interconnects, getting rate centers turned up, order flow management and provisioning-it was accomplishing all of that interconnection. That just doesn’t exist in normal, day-to- day cable business. Even with a high-speed data service like Road Runner, once you’re provisioned through our DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) server, you can access the entire public Internet. There’s not a lot of intense interaction and inter-working with other high-speed Internet access providers. With phone you have to develop the interconnect and get all of the provisioning right. Is Start Over the first of several new video technologies coming out of Time Warner Cable? Start Over really is a product that leverages a very significant set of technologies platform enhancements. It’s built off the work that we have done on video switching in VOD. It incorporates very aggressive and real-time encoding; and we made lots of technology changes for rapid ingest and content management. There are lots of extensions to the application layer and presentation layer in the set-top box, but Start Over is a product that uses all of that base-enabling technology. With the technology that we’ve implemented, there’s no clear limit to the kinds of different products that we can present to our customers. Do you find your technical teams collaborating more closely with marketing? The product work we do is guided by lots of customer research that’s done by our marketing group. We are constantly working with our customers, trying to understand the kinds of products that they would like to see. Start Over was rated number one out of a suite of product ideas that have been presented to focus groups over the past couple of years. Actually, the thing that really ranked as the most interesting product was the Mystro product, where we’d give customers the ability to time-shift all channels and then keep the content on the server for a couple of weeks. That really captured people’s imagination. Start Over is a product presentation of the most compelling aspects of Mystro that we could get rights for with our programmers. Are you spending more time with the customer from a technology standpoint? You’ve invested a lot in telephony installs, for instance. That’s fair. It does require a little more time in the home and more interaction with the customer. But really the perfect product is just something that makes the customer’s life better, without him having to learning something. When we got off rotary dial and went to the 10-key pad, it was a very simple thing for the people to learn how to use. Nobody understands that when you’re dialing a 10- key pad, what you’re really doing is programming a 5E switch. The perfect program is when the user interface is transparent. If we’ve really accomplished our goals, it shouldn’t require a whole lot of training or behavior modification from our customer. But is does require more set up time and a little more work to offer a much richer product set. Are you concerned about the increasing number of consumer electronics devices designed to run off your network? No, I’m not concerned. I think it’s wonderful. There used to be this notion of convergence. The theory was that all services were going to converge on either the TV set or the PC. That has proved to be wrong. What has happened instead is the proliferation of devices. Convergence has happened at the network layer. All kinds of new products are converging at the network layer, and we are learning to accommodate the connection and support of a broad array of terminal devices. And that to us is exciting. One of the tenets for the technology that we’ve introduced with Start Over is that it has to support as many "gozinata’s" and "gozouta’s" as possible. We want to be able to introduce content from any source and deliver that content in a secure way that’s easy for our customer to use in as many terminal devices as possible.