|Integrating network planning with fulfilment
|VP Solution Architecture
Francis Haysom is the Chief Solution Architect of Telcordia’s Strategy Organisation; he is responsible for defining the company’s strategic solutions and market direction. Dr Haysom has over 20 years’ experience in telecoms BSS and OSS software. Prior to Telcordia, he was Vice President of OSS Architecture at Cramer Systems. Dr Haysom was one of the original employees of Cramer and was responsible for the creation and development of its professional services organisation and its strategic deployment architecture. Francis Haysom received his PhD from the University of Bath and a B.Sc. in Engineering Science from the University of Exeter.
Planning, evolving and building out modern networks is a complex undertaking. At most communications service providers, the job is made even more difficult by the lack of integrated databases that can consolidate and present an integrated view of all the information needed to control the plan-to-provision process. Typically, the information about the activities that go into preparing a network for a new service are contained in separate, originally paper-based systems making it difficult for both management and operational teams to work efficiently.
We have all heard the old cliché: plan your work, work your plan. A corollary to this cliché could be – the more complex the work, the more a plan for it is required. Both axioms hold especially true for communication service providers (CSPs) that are formulating evolution plans and instituting best practices for their networks, addressing the core out to the edge. Because of the complexities involved in evolving a network and its long-term, cumulative impacts on the bottom line, CSPs are compelled to consider a plan-to-provision approach that addresses all the activities that go into preparing a network for a new service – planning, purchasing, deploying, and turning up physical and logical assets, including network equipment, servers, and content policy. A plan-to-provision lifecycle starts with market-driven planning and ends with the commissioning of a live network that allows for the rapid introduction of services that drive ARPU, reduce churn and increase profitability. Plan-to-provision is all about efficient capital utilization, maximizing the returns on the investments that CSPs make to offer revenue-producing services. ‘Maximizing’ investments means executing them with extraordinary efficiency, so they are chosen accurately, installed right the first time, and made profitable quickly. Somewhat surprisingly, plan-to-provision tends to rank lower down a CSP’s list of priorities when compared to something like the ‘order-to-cash’ process, which is measurable, brings revenue into a company, and is easy for senior management to understand. However, financial security rests on capital programs, and CSPs neglect the plan-to-provision process at their own peril. The reliability and efficiency of a network build informs – for better or worse – everything from marketing and sales to provisioning, repair, procurement, construction, finance, and the customer experience. Therefore, a lack of investment in, or attention to, the way that plan-to-provision is executed leaves CSPs seriously out of balance. Other processes may be regularly upgraded to become more automated and include best-practice operations, but too often, they end up sitting on top of a plan-to-provision process that is slow, siloed, and still based on paper records and countless point systems. Typical issues that affect CSPs that relate to plan-to-provision include: • network analytics hindered by poor information on rates of network usage; • capacity management suffering from poor visibility into existing thresholds; • network planning fragmented across regions and technologies; • network builds delayed by inefficient truck rolls; • network commissioning disrupted by rework; and • critical records ‘owned’ by one department that are not easily accessible to other in-house and field personnel. Sound familiar? One example of where these issues appear in planning and engineering is in fibre-to-the-home/curb/building/premises (FTTx) deployments, when CSPs are installing the physical access network. Right-sizing and efficient provisioning directly affect the customer experience, but lack of coordination in the commissioning stage leads to rework, and it can cost four to five times more to fix a problem at that point in the process. Looking more deeply at FTTx, a typical fibre deployment process involves several steps, and each one involves associated challenges without a sound plan-to-provision methodology: • Select target neighbourhood or buildings. Challenge: Target sites are not tied to the existing network or demographics. • Conduct site surveys and redline CAD printouts. Challenge: Due to inaccurate data, typically 25 field visits out of 500 daily are totally unnecessary. • Receive survey results and prepare engineering package. Challenge: This step includes labour-intensive designs on paper that lack consistency. Also, it requires manual reworking if not built to plan. • Perform drafting work in tactical CAD system. Challenge: interpreting engineer and field’s hand-drawn sketches. • Construct, place, and splice plant based on approved design. Challenge: False interpretation of intent fosters inconsistency and errors. • Record as-built plans with actual time and materials used. Challenge: This step relies on accurate recording by construction in field. • Marketing and provisioning; sell and install service. Challenge: There is no clear flow of information to operations. Without plan-to-provision, there is no assurance that all the changes that are made to the CAD designs, files, and paper records during construction get saved in the final records. For FTTx, it is critical that a plan-to-provision system performs three high-level functions: 1. Automate the planning and design of a fibre distribution network. Geo-spatial market planning can intelligently prioritize where to build out FTTx based on demographic information that identifies revenue ‘hot spots’ – for example, properties with a market value greater than $250,000 within one mile of a node. The system should use a best-practices approach to automate repetitive and labour-intensive design tasks, and ensure optimized, consistent network design. 2. Bridge physical and logical inventory views. Network designers need to accurately produce inventories of fibre assets and relate them to all of the services that they support. Engineering systems for physical inventory data and provisioning systems were originally manual paper processes so each system maintains a different view into the same network. These need to be coordinated by sharing data about ongoing work status and needs. Given these circumstances, there are too many unknowns in the field. Operations must wait to start provisioning until construction crews are on the ground and send information back to the home office so engineering can update their records and share the updated, as-built, information. This traditional methodology is rife with opportunities for error, out-of-synch conditions, and labour-intensive, tedious, ongoing correction work. All of this leads to provisioning errors, service delays, stranding of capital assets, and unnecessary expense. Why not, then, just create one system that does it all? Unfortunately, no one system today can support carrier-class capabilities for both geospatially-oriented physical engineering design and network and service provisioning. Each domain is complex, with requirements that support very different needs. Network designers need ways to exchange and update information more easily and systems that provide common views of the same information, such as an ‘integrated inventory’ that supports both domains with discrete, but complementary, engineering and provisioning systems that, together, create a holistic view and enable unified management of the physical and logical network. Referring to the graphic, CSPs require a federated repository of all FTTx locations, equipment, circuits, assignments, services, and customers, and fibre that needs to be inventoried and related to all services. The relationship between layers is essential. With an integrated inventory approach, CSPs can address these critical requirements with a crystal clear view of the layers, bottom up in the way they are built, and top down in the way they are provisioned and maintained, thereby saving time, money and resources along the way. 3. ‘No-touch’ assignments of circuits and services. Automation is a key function in plan-to-provision. CSPs should use one framework for all technologies (FTTx, GPON, VDSL, etc.), all service types, and all ordering scenarios. In the case of FTTx, this framework should offer automated placement of ONTs (optical network terminals) and RGs (residential gateways), as well as automatic assignment of serving terminals, fibre cross-connects, and access and service paths. For example, when a passive optical network (PON) is planned to provide a residential community with high-speed voice, video, and data over broadband fibre, the operator wants to consistently design the most efficient network and enable rapid service provisioning. The concept of integrated inventory uses local engineering rules to automate placement of outside plant cable and equipment on a map. It automates migration of network details into the provisioning system for complete data flow through from engineering to service fulfilment; this can even be extended to include activation. Engineering can also jump from the engineering system into the provisioning data to monitor use of expensive optical termination equipment at the serving office and plan ahead for network additions. Utility companies in Denmark, for example, are competitively deploying mass-market FTTx to cover two million homes over the next five to seven years at a cost of approximately two billion Euros. By automating FTTH network design and connection creation through an integrated-inventory approach, one of those companies has saved 80 per cent of its planning time. Essential speed of planning and documenting the GIS data also was realized. Plan-to-provision experience with CSPs around the world confirm the benefits of next-generation plan-to-provision systems including: • discovery of assets not listed on paper and reduced capital outlay with a 20-per cent reduction in capital budget for new network builds; • reduced time for planning and engineering thanks to modelling and work processing tools that reduce planning cycles by 25 to 40 per cent; • construction savings, including up to 75 percent fewer pre-site surveys; • faster time-to-market with an average 40 per cent reduction in fulfilment time; and • efficient field operations and time-to-repair, including 30 per cent less time for new equipment installations and a 25-per cent reduction in dispatches for both initial service orders and multiple dispatch incidents. When plan-to-provision is done right, it ensures optimal use of capital assets, efficient planning and engineering, and surprising downstream productivity. From planning to provisioning and beyond, a CSP that works from a single view of a network – rather than competing views – can foster consistent thinking about the physical network and its logical representation, eliminate the need to enter the same data into different systems, achieve true flow through, and finally enables optimal order-to-service and trouble-to-resolve processes.