All too often, telecom folks are like the late US comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, who built his career on the catchphrase: "I don't get no respect." Users (and higher-ups) expect the infrastructure to simply work, while drooling over the flashy new apps, which they think of as "strategic assets." Communications? That's just the wires that keep the bits flowing.

If your firm thinks this way, you've got challenges. One of the most significant developments I've noted in recent years is that companies that consistently view their communications services as a strategic asset tend to be leaders in their industries. Better communications services mean faster, more reliable, and richer interactions among employees, business partners and customers.

These aren't just buzzwords. Faster communications means shorter sales cycles and better customer service. More reliable connectivity means more efficient business processes and the ability to use cutting-edge technology. For example, if your users can reliably count on WAN connectivity, datacentre consolidation and remote desktop virtualisation make sense; if you're experiencing outages every other day, users will demand that servers be placed locally. Finally, more bandwidth opens the door to the use of richer communications mechanisms, such as telepresence and collaboration.

Given all that, why doesn't every organisation consider communications to be a strategic asset, right up there with killer apps and the secret formula for the company's world-famous barbecue sauce?

A couple of reasons. First, WAN communications isn't strategic for every organisation. Companies that are geographically compact, and interact infrequently with remote parties, probably won't benefit from a state-of-the-art WAN or world-class contact centre. But if customers, partners, or employees are distributed geographically - the WAN should be considered a strategic asset.

Second, and more importantly, many organisations are accustomed to thinking of "WAN services" as being equivalent to "phone services" - and "phone services" as being a commodity. Big mistake. It's true that plain old telephone service (POTS) has been a commodity for years, but VoIP offers feature-functionality that POTS does not (many of the early adopters I work with count VoIP as one of their strategic assets).

More broadly, communications services encompass far more than voice (whether TDM or VoIP). Hosted and managed services, presence capabilities, Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPNS, and conferencing and collaboration all represent strategic WAN services. And very-high-capacity WAN links can enable new business modalities that are impossible when bandwidth is considered a scarce, expensive resource. Telepresence, telemedicine, and distance learning are all examples.

If you're with me so far, you may be wondering how to get senior execs to view your WAN as an asset. It isn't easy, but you can start by getting them to agree that shorter sales cycles, better customer service and richer interaction are desirable. You could go on to stress the documented correlation between viewing your WAN as a strategic asset and industry leadership. And you could always show them this column. If all else fails, just remember you'll always have the deepest respect of at least one person - me.