August 19, 2021
The weakness in all these approaches is that they don’t match the profile of a modern fiber network or meet the needs of the operators. Consumers today expect high-quality broadband, constant uptime,
and rapid troubleshooting when things go awry. Providing this level of service is challenging enough at the best of times and virtually impossible without an appropriate level of operational maturity. This is especially true as network get exponentially more complex with each mile of new fiber, and advanced technology is introduced.
The key to managing this challenge lies in how fiber network managers document records and distribute that information across the organization to facilitate common workflows. Fiber operators today fall into one of three distinct maturity levels in IQGeo’s Fiber Operator Maturity Model:
The goal for any fiber optic network manager should be to reach Level 3 which helps to ensure optimal network performance at all times, regardless of network and operational complexity. But before diving into the specifics of the different maturity levels, it’s important to understand why fiber network management is so difficult in the first place.
Fiber optic network management is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. In plain terms, this law describes the tendency for the universe to move towards chaos rather than order. “Entropy” in this context represents the amount of disorder that exists in a given system.
Although entropy is a thermodynamic concept, the same principle holds true for virtually any system. To give an example, think about keeping a home clean. It only gets dirtier and messier unless someone intervenes and cleans on a regular basis. Fiber networks are the same way. The entropy of fiber network documentation only increases as time goes on without intervention.
A growing fiber network is always adding new subscribers, training technicians, dealing with outages, installing circuits, making splices, etc. Also, the fiber management “season” never ends. Operations don’t suddenly get easier or go on pause at any point throughout the year so there is no opportunity to catch up.
Plus, progress brings more entropy, not less, which is why fiber network managers must develop proactive network management strategies to counteract the inevitable tide of entropy.
The more entropy in a fiber network, the harder it becomes to optimize operations without a reliable system of record (SoR). Details start to fall through the cracks and workflow inefficiencies are compounded, creating operational issues that multiply with time.
For example, without an SoR, operators have less control and insight into crucial network details. As a result, field technicians are less productive, downtimes are longer, and companies spend more money than necessary to deliver services to subscribers. The result is frustrated field teams and unhappy customers.
Many operators also rush into the construction phase and begin fiber-rollout journeys with an “I hope nothing bad happens” management strategy. They rely on faith to keep subscribers satisfied and hope that the cost of adding new customers is less than anticipated revenues. Without an accurate view of the network, this approach may be their only option.
Consequently, these operators can’t commit to meaningful performance benchmarks in service level agreement (SLA) negotiations. They have little confidence or knowledge regarding the details of their networks, preventing them from meeting end-user expectations.
Furthermore, operators often postpone implementing third-party productivity tools or solutions. Yet, this is almost always a false economy. Failing to intervene and take action against entropy yields serious consequences that only escalate with time, compromising the performance and success of the business.
So, what is the most effective way to intervene and combat entropy?
One option is to hire dedicated resources to support fiber documentation. Fiber operators can assign employees to spend more time gathering network data and managing databases. However, there are several problems with this approach.
One, it doesn’t scale. Two, it leads to documentation inconsistencies, as there is no rules-basis for the work that gets done by individual team members. Three, it doesn’t solve the tribal knowledge problem - the reality that fiber documentation often “lives” only in the heads of individual employees who don’t have an effective way to transfer wisdom to a permanent database. Systemic tribal knowledge creates huge risk for fiber operators and is only becoming more relevant as the fiber workforce ages and staffing numbers decline.
The only real solution is to deploy a software-based SoR within a broader fiber management ecosystem that addresses the challenges of fiber documentation. An SoR can store and provide all the information needed to make informed decisions, as well as enable workers to collaborate remotely to keep fiber records organized using a systematic rules-based methodology.
Without an SoR, field technicians and office workers can’t effectively problem-solve today, much less plan for the future. They can’t trust in the integrity of network data and are forced to spend significant time and effort to manually sift through poorly formatted records. For these reasons, SoRs in isolation still leaves opportunity on the table.
Fiber operators need to implement specific workflows and automation around their SoRs to reach their full fiber management potential, aka Level 3 Maturity. Otherwise, they risk staying in Level 1 or Level 2, or even falling down a level, as entropy acts on the network.
Level 1 Maturity in OSPInsight’s Fiber Operator Maturity Model describes when operators have a functioning strategy, but their technology is not joined up.
In Level 1, field technicians can create visual representations of their networks, but they struggle to document information in an organized manner, which means it can be difficult to share efficiently and effectively with other parts of the organization. This often leads to major network as-built backlogs and miscommunication.
For instance, field technicians may be able to draw a small circuit, show what side of the road it is on, and indicate which buildings the network supports. But they might not have the ability to indicate in one shared location which fibers are available in a given cable, communicate splicing records to the field, or record certain tribal knowledge about specific network assets.
Operators eventually reach a point where they realize they need a better solution when as-built information gets lost and field crew efficiency erodes alongside declining customer satisfaction. It’s difficult to scale operations and align different departments - sales, marketing, operations, etc. - when there is no single source of truth that provides visibility into the state of the network.
Level 2 Maturity is achieved when operators graduate from static spreadsheets and geospatial tools to centralized SoR software that keeps everything in one place and enables office and field users to update records in real time.
Getting to Level 2 is crucial, particularly for growing companies, because field technicians need a way to capture information daily as they splice cables, onboard new customers, reroute services, and more. Fiber operators are also required to record, monitor, and fulfill strict SLA obligations for high-priority customers, such as hospitals, schools, and critical corporations.
These operational realities form the three pillars of effective network management:
The takeaway is that no matter how big or complex a network gets, operators should always be able to manage and share network data effectively. Organizations that reach Level 2 maturity have put the foundation in place to begin turning the tide of data entropy.
Operators in Level 3 have mobile-connected workforces that can input and update detailed field notes directly into a cloud-based SoR from anywhere in the world. Consequently, organizations in Level 3 have shorter feedback loops between the field and the office, and no data escapes the operator’s reach. People throughout the organization can trust that fiber records are up to date and accurate, dramatically improving enterprise-wide collaboration and business efficiency.
At Level 3, managers can implement data-driven fiber planning and design to maximize growth opportunities, as well as estimate how much it will cost to service new markets. Field technicians can also automate outage response efforts and set up real-time alarm monitoring. Sales and marketing can intelligently target new revenue opportunities. In addition, support teams can respond quickly with accurate network statuses.
Level 3 fiber organizations are proactive in their operational approach, giving them a significant advantage over those still stuck at Level 1 or 2. They can combat entropy and accelerate growth knowing they can trust their data and workflows. In today’s ever-evolving fiber landscape in which demand for high-speed broadband is only increasing, getting to Level 3 is an absolute necessity.