Kevin Maes: You’ve been in this business for nearly 20 years. What’s different about the industry now than, say, 10 years ago?
Stacia Canaday: In 2010, telecoms generally perceived GIS as a heavy-duty desktop technology that you needed a college degree to use. GIS was relegated to a windowless basement office where they maybe printed out paper maps once a year. If they were lucky, they could convince field techs to relinquish their old paper maps from underneath the seat of their truck with a up-to-date set and that was how maps were shared across the organization.
Now, the industry is moving towards the idea of GIS as an ecosystem of targeted applications designed to help each employee make the right decision at the right time. Everyone within the organization uses a central map portal to author information about the business, share access securely to that spatial information, analyze or ask questions with the information, and ultimately act or make decisions based on what the information tells them. I think technology has finally caught up to the way telecoms wanted to work and collaborate all along. The advent of web services and growing adoption of cloud technologies makes a complete GIS more accessible to everyone in the telecom industry, from small outfits to the largest operators.
KM: It’s evident that there is a massive emphasis on training and education at Esri which we’ve really appreciated and benefited from here at Millennium Geospatial. Can you share examples of how and why it’s important to educate and empower users of Esri’s tools?
SC: I’m so glad you asked this question – I began my career at Esri in the Educational Services department, teaching GIS classes. So I definitely have thoughts on this topic! From my own personal experience both as an instructor and directly working with telecommunications companies, It’s clear proper training and ongoing staff development are critical to the success of projects and retention of employees. I can’t tell you how many times someone expressed something along the lines of, “I struggled for two weeks to figure out a workflow/task but within 20 minutes the instructor explained it to me.”
Here at Esri, we invest around 30% of our annual revenue back into product research & development, which is unusually large for a technology company. That means our products are constantly evolving and changing, based on what we hear from our customers. That near constant evolution and growth also means it’s even more important to stay up to date on best practices and new technology. Just like you wouldn’t let someone without training operate a trencher or splice fiber optic cable, you shouldn’t let people with no training manage one of your most precious assets: maps and spatial data.
A common barrier to investing in staff development is the feeling that, “What if I invest in staff training and then employees leave the organization?” To which I respond, “If the alternative is you don’t invest in their training and then they stay, then, yes, I think that’s a much smaller risk.” There’s been a handful of times a telecom company experiences downtime on a mission critical GIS application simply because users didn’t understand how to best set it up or manage it. A small annual investment in ongoing training pales in comparison to the costs incurred when your locate screening app or serviceability app is unavailable.
KM: Do you think 5G will have an impact on a company’s decision-making around getting fiber deeper into their networks?
SC: The amazing promise of 5G doesn’t mean fiber is dead, it’s quite the opposite. It means more fiber will be added to the transport network; fiber densification will occur for years to come and traditional carriers will increase the outsourcing of design and construction of these networks to keep up with their 5G wireless network buildout demand. Automated fiber route planning and design, along with project job tracking will be key to optimizing fiber routes and making sure designs are not happening on top of each other. Verizon’s One Fiber initiative is great example of a carrier rallying around their broadband transport network and stating that it doesn’t matter if they are building fiber for enterprise B2B services or small cells, they’ll be strategically designing and building fiber that supports all their broadband services. This approach eliminates stove-piped design and buildout from different teams across Verizon, and across their contractors.
So, with all the fiber planning, engineering, and construction that will occur to support 5G, what’s the one aspect that ties each stage of the design process together and can bring design firms, contractors, and carriers together? Location. Location is creating a common reference system. Maps are used today to plan fiber routes, redline in the field, perform engineering, submit permits, and provide construction prints. I am yet to meet a telecom organization who hasn’t tried to get maps to someone inside or outside the company. Although all these workflows are inherently geographic, output and work product often devolve to paper maps or spreadsheets. Sharing these flat files around creates confusion and chaos creating many uncertainties. Who created this design? When was it last updated? Do I have the authoritative version? Processes are delayed and permits are often lost due to the sheer amount of time it takes to decipher uncontrolled documentation and workflows.
Since location is the unifying factor in the design process, and everyday more designs are being created to support fiber densification, design firms and carriers are looking to a more complete enterprise approach to mapping. If each party involved in planning, design, permitting, construction, and operations used the same set of maps, a near real-time operational awareness can be achieved. Everyone with a stake in the project would know exactly the current status, challenges, and future plans, all within a context everyone understands: a map.
KM: What do you think the industry will look like in 5 years?
SC: Currently a handful of really forward-thinking telecommunications companies are incorporating spatial analysis and location intelligence into their enterprise big data and business intelligence workflows. I suspect that trend will become the norm over the next five years as more and more telecoms become woke (as the kids say) to the significant insight geography and location brings to their business. Since practically every aspect of a telecommunications company involves location, it’s surprisingly hard to think of a project or KPI that couldn’t be enhanced with the addition of spatial visualization or analysis.
The work Millennium Geospatial is doing around construction dashboards is relevant to this topic. Instead of relying on gut feelings or written construction updates, your team is visualizing actual construction progress on a map and using near real-time data to communicate what’s really going on. This just one example of a telecom workflow that is significantly enhanced because of data-driven insights. Another telecom company we work with is using space-time cubes to make predictions on customer behavior on their network or likelihood of asset failure.
I sense the industry is on the precipice of leveraging powerful scientific analysis tools within their own business data in order to make a big difference on the bottom line.
Stacia joined Esri over 18 years ago and currently serves as a Sales Manager responsible for business development within the telecommunications & cable industries in the US. Stacia leads a team of account managers & executives who partner with their customers to truly understand their businesses and apply the Science of Where to address challenges and leverage opportunities.