Enabling Better Location Intelligence Tools via QoE Insights

Enabling Better Location Intelligence Tools
via QoE Insights

One thing that has become crystal clear is that Service Providers are continually working to find better ways to provide tools to their field and maintenance technicians. Over the last couple of years the industry has seen solutions like Predictive Plant Maintenance take off because of efficiencies gained and percentages decreased in the meantime to recovery (“MTTR”) for noise related issues. While companies will continue digitizing business workflows for remote workers and will continue to adopt location intelligence-based tools, there’s still room for improvement. A good example of this is the evolution to utilizing QoE tools to give field technicians more visibility into network performance.

Within the last few months enabling QoE metrics to be tracked and posted on SmartPins has allowed the following benefits:

        • Awareness of drifting nodes – This means that field technicians and NOCs can both see when field equipment is drifting down, which could result in poor experience for customers or even outages if the drift drop low enough.
        • Location awareness – Giving these same technicians the ability to see the nodes visually on a map and the levels of QoE results in a “heat map” like view.
        • QoE checks – Equally important is that now field technicians can not only troubleshoot network issues, but they can test the QoE to validate issues are resolved. Said another way field technicians can trigger a QoE check anywhere in the field versus “assuming” things are fixed and waiting to see if more ticket come in.
        • Predictive analytics – Another option is to utilize the combination of historical data, recent trending data and/or planned event(s) data to predictive forecast which nodes will drift below a threshold result in a ticket before the issue has become a problem.

Simply said, new technologies are enabling service providers to “fix it before it becomes a customer affecting problem.” The results without real-time QoE were around a 20% improvement in efficiencies gained. With QoE added to the equation we don’t have numbers yet, but from talking to service providers that have done trials, the results are expected to show this will be a “game changer.”

In summary why continue to rely on delayed communications from NOCs and tools with limited awareness of location + QoE? There are solutions that have proven ROI in less than one year, and equally important empower field technicians to do better work and deliver faster results that ultimately result in more satisfied customers.

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Leveraging 2021 Tech Trends in the World of Municipalities

Leveraging 2021 Tech Trends
in the World of Municipalities

One of the most rewarding yet most challenging things when working in technology is sorting out “The Hype” versus “The Reality.” To elaborate as we near the end of 2021 and move into 2022 there will be a flurry of analyst reports about the latest technology trends in various industries. These are called things like “Top 10 technology trends…” Before we rush to read what’s going to change the world we live and work in 2022, let’s have some fun reviewing what’s happened in 2021.

The "They Got it Right List."

        • Hybrid workforces, more cloud applications, digital tools, and mobile connectivity continues to grow.
        • Government regulations will accelerate the digital transformation of Smart Cities and municipalities.
        • A large percentage (well over 50%) of cities will push high speed connectivity as a public utility.
        • Multiyear plans will be established for MUNIs to turn to digital environments.
        • $200B+ to be spent within 3 years on Smart City/municipalities with focus on utilities, telecom,
          and consultants.

The first bullet point can be cut and pasted every year for the foreseeable future so that’s simply the “safe pick.” The more interesting trend in 2021 has been governments like the United States have announced funding programs and regulations to ensure municipalities and Smart Cities leverage and evolve with technology. For instance, in Pennsylvania the state is giving citizens water credits for rainwater which requires the necessary technology for reporting and sharing the data. The other prediction which has become true is simply the increase in the amount of money being invested in new technologies for the upcoming few years.

So how will municipalities really leverage these trends and secure these funds? The reality is, a large percentage of MUNIs struggle to turn legacy processes (pen, paper + data entry) into a digital strategy and transformative technology deployment. This isn’t because they aren’t intelligent. It’s because there is so much information (and misinformation) and options to sort through to even begin framing a strategy.

What's Next?

So how can MUNIs leverage the next round of trends, align with government regulations and be strategic? The answer is really a combination of:

1. Keep learning, evaluating, and determining what trends are “real” within your MUNI organization. Knowing industry trends won’t turn you into a place of innovation overnight but can provide you with insights to think strategically.

2. Evaluate new digital technology trends where they can effectively impact your business. Back office systems used by office staff aren’t the same technologies that are required for field operations personnel…nor used by customers, etc. Understand who the technology is impacting and who is using it, and then help plan alignment across these groups.

3. Be strategic, but also tactical so you deliver results. Said another way, it’s important to be strategic when digitizing your business especially in areas like municipalities. Strategic direction is your north star and yearly industry trends will help. At the same time be tactical with short term planned deliverables as they will help create the foundation needed to get down the strategic road you wish.

Looking forward to seeing what analysts say about MUNIs in 2022, and good luck!

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How Service Providers Are Using GIS Technologies for Safety Precautions

How Service Providers Are using GIS Technologies
for Safety Precautions

Service Providers across North America are continually challenged with ensuring the safety of their field (and maintenance) technicians, but often they don’t have the modern technology tools to do so. The common hurdle today is they often lack the ability to digitally mark the exact location of the person or persons, and/or event, and then effectively communicate that to the field teams. Why? Because legacy systems were not designed to extend to the field teams. Nor are they aware of a remote worker’s location and geographical boundaries for an event in real-time. At the same time, new technology solutions are emerging now that are getting the attention of the Tier 1s. Let’s focus on three scenarios to see how things are rapidly changing.

field safety

Field Safety

Field safety is when a field technician is working remote and an unforeseen event occurs, requiring them to notify HQ and their other remote workers. With new digital technologies field technicians can mark a “Violence in Area Pin” on a GIS map from their mobile device. From there the same tech can make comments (e.g., riot, tornado, etc.) and notify a supervisor as part of the Pin creation. Equally important is supervisors can leverage these same tools to mark specific geographic areas for an event area, and when that has been defined, the system can trigger a message to field technicians to get out of the area. Something like, “EXIT THE AREA”. Lastly, with more functionally rich GIS platforms, a supervisor can pull up the location of field operations personnel, set a timer for the event (e.g., expire in 12 hours) and trigger additional notifications as necessary.

Personal Safety

The most common personal safety scenario is when a maintenance technician is working on a pole and identifies a primary is broken or that there’s a live wire. This can be deadly. In this scenario, service providers have historically lacked the ability to digitally mark the location for HQ in real-time back. With GIS technologies specifically designed for Telco there are more advanced options, which include but are not limited to creating “BROKEN PRIMARY BRACKET” GIS Pins with instructions for the field techs. The instructions are typically as simple as:

1) “Call immediate supervisor.”
2) “Call the utility company.”

GIS technologies now also allow the field techs to take a picture, log the pole number, pole owner and other important information, which is why location intelligence technologies have become so popular.

Solo Worker Safety

Field service and maintenance technicians often work by themselves, which may be a risk in itself. What if a field technician needs to work in the bucket? Who is going to check in on them? How will their supervisor know if they’re working up in a bucket and when they’re finished without real-time on-demand location intelligence? Like the other two scenarios there are GIS technologies that allow a field technician to provide an exact location on a map, update their supervisor in real-time, set reminders to periodically check-in and much more, all from one mobile app.

In a world where safety regulations appear to be increasing and a reasonable portion of the workforce is out in the field there are on-demand location intelligence solutions to such challenges. While pen and paper or phone calls have been used historically, they are limited. This has resulted in a trend to modernize these processes with digital workflows founded on location intelligence.

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Why It’s Time For Service Providers to Digitalize Field Operations

Why It's Time for Service Providers
to Digitalize Field Operations

Whether COVID-19 or the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), it’s clear the broadband industry is almost singularly focused on expansion. Having said that, the question is whether Service Providers are truly ready to efficiently expand their network footprints and grow their subscriber bases. Either of these drivers could easily be viewed as a disruption (or opportunity), but conversely driving a new paradigm for the industry.

Let’s face it, communication and efficiency improvements are needed to capitalize on this opportunity. Both internally and externally. The increase in demand is also driving the need and support of third-party contractors who most likely sit outside of any current digital solution. Real-time communication and location awareness can help Service Providers expedite build outs, drive timely marketing deployments, and decrease the time to revenue for new subscribers.

Digitize Field Operations

Real-Time Communication

Too much is still being done on paper. From site survey, build out, installation and cut over, Service Providers need a digital solution. Waiting for survey information from the field is costly and time consuming. Not knowing when work is completed and ready for the next step in the process compounds the problem. Digitizing workflows can improve the timeliness and accuracy of the data. Real-time information exchange can transform the process, drive efficiency, increase time to revenue, and lower overall costs.

Contractor Management

The need for expansion coupled with the time sensitive nature drives the need to add third party support. Existing tools (except paper) generally cannot extend to include third party contractors. Having a critical extension of the team outside of any current process creates inefficiency and risk.

Location Awareness

As data is being collected or work completed, being able to, visualize it all on a map, on one screen helps evolve the process. Getting everyone from the field, including contractors, all the way to the back office on to the same page is critical. Visualizing where surveys are being done, work being completed, drops that need to be buried, etc. on any screen should be an imperative.

Automation

Paper is very ineffective and transposing that information into the planning/drafting GIS system takes time and is error prone. A better solution is to ls leverage digital solution APIs to automate the information flow and direct integrations to reduce both time and errors.

Time to revenue does not mean spend more. High efficiency does not mean add more. Completely digitizing your build out process across all organizations will drive the efficiency and time to revenue, not to mention greater customer satisfaction because Service Providers can communicate better with new potential customers.

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4 Ways The Pandemic Changed Municipal Operations For The Better – Forever

The job of municipal employees is to keep their community running, which is not easy under normal circumstances, never mind in the midst of a pandemic.

While many private sector employees were required to work from home for much of the past year, municipal employees did not have that option. Technicians needed to replace water meters and transfer them. Road maintenance had to be done. Assets required maintenance. Storm cleanup was necessary. Work orders had to be completed.

After a summer of optimism that Covid-19 might be in our rear view mirror, new variant data indicates trend lines that are again concerning for this fall and winter. While it’s been a challenging journey, there is a silver lining. The pandemic has changed municipal operations for the better – forever. Here are 4 ways it has done that.

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Adoption of Cloud Technology

In the past, many municipal technology investments in software were installed on premise for a number of reasons, including security fears. Today, cloud technology is no more or less secure than on premise installations. The ability to solve problems and fulfill needs faster – coupled with limited budgetary and technology resources – has driven the successful adoption of cloud technologies across municipalities of all sizes.

Digitization

New municipal team members have relied on technology to manage their personal lives since they were born. All they need to survive is their phone. These digital natives have influenced tenured municipal team members to shift from using forms, writing on pieces of paper and index cards, sending emails, and using radios to assigning work through a solution like Nrby.  Now, paper workflow is digitized; eliminating mistakes, rework, and the need to go to headquarters in the morning to receive daily assignments and again in the evening to hand in paperwork.

Automated Communication

In the past, a utility billing team member would need the field team members to come back to the office and hand in a form or a sheet of paper with notes after doing a meter transfer or replacement. Today, data is captured on a mobile device and transitioned in real-time, providing everyone on the team with real-time access to the status of tasks, projects, repairs, maintenance, installations and much more.

Knowledge Management

Many municipalities still need to go through files, boxes, and storage rooms to gain access to information and past data, but the number of municipalities doing things this way started to shrink during the pandemic. To comply with the requirements of future generations of community business owners and residents, it’s expected that municipalities can search and find information electronically and in real-time. When information is captured digitally it is available with a simple search that doesn’t require hours to accomplish. And, as senior employees retire, their knowledge is captured and documented, enabling these employees to leave the job and help transition new employees more efficiently.

While the pandemic has been a time of transition for many municipalities, the long-term benefits are significant, and will change how we leverage technology in the field and office for the better – forever.

Poll Results: Are You Ready for F2F Events?

The COVID-19 pandemic is being talked about at every turn. When will it “end”? When can things get back to normal? Or, what will the new normal be? Another question that our team, our customers, and our partners have been asking (as I’m sure many companies are also asking) lately is; “When will it be safe to get back to attending face-to-face events again?”

Recently, we created and posted a poll to our LinkedIn account. With our own team discussing and weighing opportunities of heading out to in-person events this year, we decided we wanted to find out how others felt about it. We were hoping to get a sense of whether or not allocating resources towards f2f events would be worthwhile for us. Would people still feel the need to be cautious, stay home, and stick to virtual events for the foreseeable future? Or would they feel that traveling to attend large events would be an okay thing to do as long as they’re done in a safe manner? 

Well, here is what our 2021 f2f events poll results found:

  • 60% of poll participants are ready to get back to f2f events now.
  • 20% said they aren’t ready just yet, but maybe will be in a few months.
  • 13% answered that they most likely wouldn’t feel ready until sometime in 2022.
  • And lastly, 8% responded that they wouldn’t be ready to get back to f2f events for a long time.

60% of participants answering that they are ready to get back to in-person events was a higher percentage than we expected. 

While 60% is a stronger number than expected if it means attendance is off by 40% that is always a big consideration when determining how best to use resources.  What are your thoughts?  Are you ready to get back out to network in person at events?  And, when do you feel like we will be back at 100% ready as business professionals to start attending F2F events? 

Visit our new poll asking these questions and let us know or add your comments here.

Maybe we will see you at an upcoming event later this year!