Four-pronged approach for digital infrastructure providers to align operational efficiency with commercial profitability
The telecom infrastructure industry is essential for the smooth functioning of all other industries, especially in today's world where the pandemic has increased the reliance on digital communication and connectivity. However, the industry faces numerous challenges in terms of service delivery, operational excellence, infrastructure management and maintenance, regulatory compliance, customer satisfaction, and cost management. In order to overcome these challenges and thrive in the future, tower companies and digital infrastructure providers must focus on holistic digital transformation and continuously seek out new ways to innovate and improve. This includes restructuring their operations, prioritizing operational management, and finding innovative approaches to reduce costs. Organizations that take the lead in addressing these challenges and adapting to changing circumstances will emerge as leaders in the long run.
To ensure operational excellence is at the centre of their DNA while also driving profitability, digital infrastructure providers can adopt the following four strategies:
- Implement Smart Tower Management practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness in deploying, maintaining, and operating towers.
- Use Digital Twin Technology to create virtual models of towers and their systems, which can be used for simulations and analysis to identify potential issues and optimize operations.
- Automate Workflows and processes to reduce the risk of errors and improve productivity.
- Deploy Data Analytics across tower operations to identify trends and patterns. Use this information to make informed decisions and continuously improve operations.
Smart Tower Management
One of the major challenges faced by tower companies is the decentralized nature of their operations, with towers dispersed across a wide geographical area and a labour-intensive maintenance process.
Smart tower or site management can help address this challenge by simplifying complex processes and standardizing current operations in terms of efficiency, customer onboarding, billing, service requests, and asset health monitoring.
Some of the ways in which smart tower management through centralized platforms can optimize various aspects of tower operations include:
Faster data insights
Centralized repositories of site and asset data can speed up visibility, and control of your portfolio. Not having to search through overloaded document folders or Excel files to locate critical information on your sites speeds up the decision-making and actions required to maintain a healthy portfolio.
Faster approval of new sites
Digitalization of processes and site data can provide 360-degree visualization of towers, which can be shared with vendors to facilitate faster site approvals. Collaborative tools with role-based access for towerco personnel, suppliers, vendors, and customers provide a single source of truth across all data, thus preventing miscommunication and data leakage.
Improved employee safety
IOT devices and intelligent sensors can monitor network equipment and infrastructure within the tower, as well as facilities and operations around the tower, reducing the need for human intervention and improving safety.
Efficient energy management
AI and Machine Learning tools can be used to monitor, analyse, and provide intelligence on power usage, helping tower companies make informed decisions about power sources and maximize returns on energy costs.
Ensuring site safety and security
Digital access control systems can monitor site access and control to maintain the security of tower premises and track the attendance of various personnel.
Digital twins, which combine technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, and big data, have the potential to transform the telecom sector. Digital twins offer a range of benefits, including monitoring sites, automating processes, improving network performance, and reducing customer complaints, saving time and resources.
Effective monitoring is crucial for the proper functioning of cell towers, but the growing complexity of expanding networks, increased operational expenses, and security concerns make it difficult to remotely monitor cell tower sites. Digital twins enable tower owners to remotely monitor and control their telecom assets, regardless of location. Sensors can gather data on factors such as temperature, proximity, motion, and position, and use AI/ML algorithms to analyse this data and integrate it into the digital twin of the tower. Operations and management teams can then address any issues by examining the digital twin of the tower.
Additionally, drone-based site data capture provides detailed and high-resolution visualization of all aspects of the tower and its corresponding assets. The 3D reality tower view provides access to a fully digitized version of the tower site, consisting of data such as location and asset attributes, site documentation, and even a historical view of changes and upgrades to the site. Users can visualize tower site in a realistic 360-degree view of the mast and zoom in to identify tower equipment such as antennas and feeder cables, structural faults, corrosion, obstructions, birds’ nests, and more.
Digital twins can also greatly assist telecom providers in network capacity planning and design. It can be difficult for operators to keep track of configuration changes and maintain an accurate list of network and passive elements as they expand, upgrade, and modify their infrastructure. However, the Internet of Things and machine learning capabilities of digital twins enable them to closely track existing infrastructure, speeding up the process of expansion, upgrade, and modification. Digital twins can also provide deeper analysis of usage patterns, network abnormalities, and fault forecasts, improving network planning and design.
Digital twins are beneficial for various user groups:
- Sales and commercial teams: to evaluate space usage and availability on the site.
- Legal and finance teams: to manage revenue assurance and assess profitability of the site.
- Operations teams: to assess the health of the site and take corrective or preventive actions.
Detailed inventory checks of every piece of equipment installed on the tower can be conducted while ensuring that equipment on the mast matches the towerco customer’s contractual obligations. Asset audits can be initiated as workflows and executed by drone flights to capture and identify asset information. Site management tools can then cross-link every piece of customer equipment to the customer contract. When asset audits identify unlicensed equipment or equipment installed at the wrong location through the digital twin, operations and sales teams can quickly reconcile this information with the contractual obligations. They can then choose to get unlicensed equipment removed or initiate customer negotiation steps to ensure revenue assurance.
Digital twins simplify the order-to-cash process by providing a self-service mechanism to your customers to initiate orders. Customers can locate the sites they require based on their network planning goals, take a virtual 360-degree site tour, and then reserve space on the tower at the required heights. Site management tools can also generate structural analysis and space consumption reports to provide high-value passive infrastructure to a towerco’s customers.
Site inspections and quality assurance
Automating site inspections pre- and post-site deployment and integrating with drone-powered flights eliminate risks of climber safety. Periodic site inspections with an up-to-date digital twin are a low-cost alternative to expensive site visits to monitor faults, corrosion, and structural obstructions.
Managing telecom operations can be challenging but implementing a digital workflow approach streamlines the flow of tasks, documents, approvals, and information by following pre-defined business rules. Good workflow management helps eliminate chaos and reach goals faster. When workflows are built and managed effectively, the whole picture with each and every step will be depicted clearly with benefits such as the following:
Workflow management systems connect multiple entities – people, software, and work culture. A workflow system draws data from various functional groups, process areas, and even dispersed software tools and streamlines the information flow between these elements through pre-defined steps.
Data can be collected, reviewed, and optimized in a workflow management system and further used to make business decisions for faster approvals, with easier document and data tracking.
By defining SLAs (service level agreements) for every activity, milestone, or workflow step, workflow automation also improves productivity and forecasting. The forecasted date is continuously tracked against the actual completion date, thereby giving users as well as management teams visibility of the tasks completed on time and the ones which are delayed.
Workflow management systems also speed up processes by sending email notifications for key milestones or workflow tasks. Using notifications to escalate delays as well pre-empt actions from the relevant users ensures that workflow tasks are completed on time.
Elimination of redundant manual tasks
Workflow automation enables predefined business rules to trigger steps or activities based on conditions to automatically delegate tasks. For instance, automatic escalations can be sent to the relevant functional user group based on pre-requisite conditions such as pricing, budgets, or timelines. Additionally, workflows are configured with a pre-set condition of which action needs to be done by which user group. As a result, no manual intervention or allocation of work is needed. Instead, the workflow ensures work queues, milestones, and approvals are automatically channelled to the relevant user group.
Multiple tasks juggled easily
Work orders, customer requests, and planned tasks are neatly organized according to different processes in one platform instead of multiple project boards, chat tools, and emails. Workflow automation tools make it easy to switch between various tasks while relying on the same centralized database.
Increased trust, transparency, and control
The duties of each job role can be defined with clear goals. Workflow automation squeezes out shadow tasks. Everything happens out in the open, with more control over data accessibility than that of manual processes.
Tower companies can analyse data from tower operations to identify trends and patterns in order to make informed decisions and continuously improve operations in several ways.
Simplified and easy-to-understand tower operational metrics enable users and management teams alike achieve functional visibility, analyse vital KPIs, and track business trends across the portfolio. Additionally, well-designed reports offer drill-down capabilities that help users conduct root cause analysis, view granular data, and locate operational bottlenecks.
With modern reporting engines, data analytics is no longer an Excel-driven exercise. Knowledge-rich reports with pre-configured data-sets and filters that requires no client/server installation, vibrant dashboards, and the flexibility to access reports from anywhere through a browser have made it easy to project raw data into actionable business insights and produce measurable outcomes.
Be it native reporting modules within site management software tools or dedicated BI tools that ingest data from several tools that a towerco uses, the insights and knowledge generated through these data analytics rely on accurate data and digitalization of core processes every step of the way. Using smart tower management software, automating workflows, and collecting site data are all fundamental to be able to generate high-quality reports.
One way tower companies are adapting to drive down costs is by implementing new technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence to optimize operations and reduce human error. This can include using data analytics to improve resource utilization and scheduling, as well as using drones for inspections and maintenance. Above all, the focus is on adopting new digital technologies to improve customer experience and increase revenue. This can include implementing digital platforms for leasing and management of tower assets, as well as providing centralized portals that can be used by towerco staff, vendors, and customers alike to exchange information.
Overall, tower companies that are able to effectively adapt to these changes and embrace new technologies and business models will be better positioned for success in the future.