This Industry Spotlight was written by Melissa Morgan, Head of Product Marketing at Sitetracker

Reviewing potential sites for selection, sourcing equipment from supply chain bottlenecks, internal and contractor work management, permitting management and so much more – deploying a single 5G site presents a formidable management. Now try it with thousands of sites across vast geographic areas as 5G rolls out at a torrid rate.

Spreadsheets, simple project management tools, and legacy systems are not up to the challenge of deploying 5G sites at speed and scale. Fortunately, a new generation of software is: deployment operations management solutions.

These cloud-based systems combine project, site and resource management capabilities across millions of distributed locations and offer dedicated features such as project templates, sophisticated dashboards and reports, a contractor portal, forms and offline mobile apps for field technicians . They standardize highly repeatable workflows when localizing for specific jurisdictions and sites based on permit needs, priorities, required materials, and other factors.

These solutions are equipped with enough features that it can be difficult to distinguish what is crucial from what is useful. Here’s a quick guide to five of the most must-have features when it comes to 5G deployment.

1. Templization and standardization
Each 5G upgrade or installation has its own unique requirements based on location, jurisdiction, contractor availability, fiber connectivity, and other factors. But the job also has its edgy aspects where standardizing repeatable processes and workflows along industry-wide and organization-specific best practices reduces redundancy, avoids errors, and accelerates the pace of work.

The templates in the deployment operations management solutions provide site and technology specific standardization (among many examples, providing separate best practice templates for small cells versus standard tower builds). This accelerates the pace of work, shortens working hours and allows field technicians and project managers to focus their energies on the variable, and therefore more risky in terms of time and money, aspects of a given project.

In a context of skilled labor shortages, the ability of these systems to accelerate the pace of projects through such efficiencies, as well as place scarce resources in the right place at the right time, is increasingly vital. Another benefit of job-related templating is that the standardized modeling processes incorporate industry and organizational knowledge into automated workflows that empower less experienced staff and allow project managers to get more projects done in less time than previous tools. The result is a de facto multiplier effect on work, and the rapid empowerment of staff also favors their retention.

2. Fiber management
One of the benefits of implementation operations management solutions is that they can handle many different types of projects in the telecom ecosystem. There is no wireless without wireline backhaul, and now fiber fronthaul is also likely to be the future for dense 5G small cell network. Not only are you managing different milestones and equipment, but you’re introducing different contractors into the mix and managing permits.

The best deployment operations management solutions provide templates and other capabilities designed to integrate fiber planning, installation, and testing into the 5G project workflow at individual sites and across the entire buildout.

3. Complete visibility
Being cloud-based, implementation operations management solutions enable users, from field technicians to top management, to access the data they are authorized to view in real time. This includes spreadsheet-like trackers for dealing with a high volume of data at once, and contractor portals that extend project visibility beyond your company’s four walls. This visibility can translate into enhanced supplier and contractor networks that improve collaboration and efficiency, further accelerating implementations.

These secure platforms manage applicants, approvals and site designs, and match implementation resources to job sites to ensure equipment is where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. Centralize authorization workflows from submission to final approval. Maps, timetables, notes, digital twin information, and all other documents related to a 5G deployment reside in the system and are available with a few keystrokes, instead of being scattered across various systems and contractors’ laptops. This, in turn, makes a big difference when it’s time to close.

4. Financial and document management
Deploying 5G at speed and scale while keeping costs under control and preserving margins requires efficient management of high-volume resources and costs. Having a centralized approach to project cost management and forecasting integrated with ERP systems can help ensure that data is always accurate and highly visible in real time.

These systems also securely collect, store and generate documents and images associated with 5G sites in the cloud, enabling faster shutdown and shorter time-to-revenue. Security is a major consideration here. Whether it’s the macro tower along a rural interstate, the invisible site on a suburban church tower, or the small cell on a downtown utility pole, every 5G network site is a piece of critical communications infrastructure. The tools used to manage data, markup and archive documents, and integrate with ERP should reflect the sensitive nature of the infrastructure they support.

Usability matters here. These systems meet users where they work and make their work easier. They enable quick and seamless document generation directly from the project, including all relevant images and information. Furthermore, even the most secure system becomes a liability if users bypass it because it’s a hassle to use or maintain. The best implementation operations management solutions deliver the same kind of performance you expect from the networks they help maintain.

5. Machine learning and artificial intelligence
Implementing cloud-based operations management systems accumulate data over time, opening the door to machine learning and advanced analytics in ways that legacy systems can’t match. They can help predict project milestones and overall completion times based on analyzes of input from project managers, contractors, jurisdictions and market conditions. Analytics provide insights through customized reports and dashboards, further improving project cycle times and field performance.

A simple example is applying AI to the historical length of permit times of various municipalities, counties or other jurisdictions and automatically adjusting project timelines accordingly. AI can also help managers prioritize overall project sequences (that is, which 5G site to deploy when) based on projected completion times, which can improve cash flow.

In the bigger picture, machine learning capabilities should be a key consideration. Without AI and advanced analytics, you’re missing out on a key rapidly evolving advantage of cloud-based systems and a golden opportunity to make your business run better and stand out from the competition.

New challenges, new solutions
Implementing operations management solutions are essential to capitalize on the vast opportunities and overcome the many challenges as the telecom industry races to keep pace with 5G demand. The power of these systems comes from having a data model in the cloud that gives you a clear view of your business. Having a holistic system to manage sites, assets, fieldwork and collaboration, finance, and other functions provides clearer visibility into operations, more efficient deployments, and a faster path to business growth than was possible with yesterday’s tools.

Melissa Morgan is Head of Product Marketing at Sitetracker. ​​​

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Categories: Cloud Computing · Industry perspective · Software

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