Artificial Intelligence, one of the hottest leading-edge technologies, can teach a camera to spot a cheetah, help a doctor make a diagnosis or allow a car to be driven autonomously. One new platform can now make companies with field service operations, such as telecom services, become more efficient, according to David Simmons, director of innovation and technology for telecommunications at Black & Veatch.
“We are using intelligent automation to be able to learn as we are performing scopes of work for our clients, whether it involves self-performing or subcontracting that work out,” Simmons told AGL eDigest. “Learning how to best connect that scope of work with the best resource depends on automatically accessing a number of factors, such as location, performance, skills and safety.”
The Intelligent Service Automation and Control (ISAC) platform provided by Zinier takes those overall variables into account in real time as work orders pass through it. This aligns the resources with the right work at the right time. By deepening real-time visibility into the field, ISAC anticipates service disruptions through AI-driven recommendations, allowing improved operational efficiencies by automating manual front-office, back-office and field-office tasks.
“AI analyzes the data as a human would, but without the emotion or biases of a human,” Simmons said. “We look at it as an opportunity for our subcontract partners to get consistent work with near-real-time payment, because we close out our work orders so effectively and efficiently. We want to leverage the technology to be their preferred partner. We want to make it easy for the subcontractors to work with us.”
For example, if a crew is deployed to a site and it is missing a part, it can report that back in real time to the Zinier platform, which automatically checks inventory. The component is either dispatched to the site or the crew is diverted to work at a site nearby, while the part is back ordered.
“The whole idea is to keep the subcontractor out from behind the wheel of the truck and working at the site,” Simmons said. “That’s what we all want. We need to be efficient, so the crews are not sitting around waiting. They could spend a week working on the two sites, instead of waiting an extended period of time waiting for the part at the first site and not getting paid promptly for either.”
The services firm is able to keep historic diagnostic data for all telco equipment, ensuring the appropriately skilled technician shows up for each maintenance job. The ISAC platform performs predictive analytics to send technicians to perform maintenance before problems occur.
“We want to make sure the crews have all the components they need to successfully perform their jobs, including the engineering artifacts (drawings, structural analysis), and that they have all the permits in place, the right materials, as well as the necessary documentation to validate the work performance. It should all available in one spot,” Simmons said. “Then you throw in location-based services to be able to evaluation their proximity with the location of the work that we have scheduled at their disposal.”
Figuring out what site is most optimal for the crew to go next relies on a set of data elements used within the platform.
“This is going to prevent folks from having to search for the information, calling back and forth, to do their job,” Simmons said. “Information on how to get the work done is at everyone fingertips.”
AI: the Right Tech, the Right Time
With carriers pressured to deploy higher data speeds over faster, cheaper networks, it is the telecom services companies’ jobs to facilitate the transition to next-generation 5G wireless communications technology.
“We feel like our partners in the field [tower/fiber crews] are at such a disadvantage compared to the people in the office, “Simmons said. “We have to close that gap. They are the critical lynchpin into 5G and the next generation of telecom. In the context, there is so much opportunity from a work perspective that we could do 50 percent more work, which means we could become more efficient with the current workforce and hire additional workers.”
AI is necessary for building out small cells, where the profit margin per site is slim. In the near term, the industry is no longer installing tens of thousands of sites at a macro level annually, but instead is looking at installing hundreds of thousand sites from a small cell perspective.
“The paradigm in which the work is done for small cells has to change, Simmons said. “Technology has to be at the forefront of that change. We can’t do that efficiently and effectively if it doesn’t scale.”
Black & Veatch launched its first round of deployments using the AI tool last month with a team that is performing fiber splicing. In 2020, the firm intends to partner with its subcontractors in macrocells, small cells and fiber to optimize collaboration on the Zinier platform.
“We have to make the transformation,” Simmons said. “With our partnership with Zinier and with the technology we are confident we make a significant, positive improvement throughout the supply chain.”