Earlier this year, Sitetracker’s research division completed a survey for its 2020 Telecom Infrastructure Provider Outlook, and then, the game changed. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19, which is caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus, was a global pandemic.
“After the pandemic was declared, one of my first thoughts was about how this was going to affect our industry,” said Brett Chester, vice president of marketing at Sitetracker. Chester wanted to see if the opinions had changed since the first survey, so he did a second poll of the group of full turnkey service providers, fiber networks, A&E, site acquisition, permitting, small cell providers, DAS providers, tower owners, carriers, and satellite companies.
In the first survey, 79 percent of recipients said they expected an increase in work volume. That number only went down to 68 percent, in the second opinion poll.
“That slight decrease really wasn’t anything dramatic,” Chester said. “Currently, I think our industry is exceptionally buoyed by the opportunity to provide the backbone for the country to continue to operate in the wake of the pandemic.
“If project load is going to increase as a result of COVID-19, companies may not be able to execute because there aren’t enough boots on the ground. The only way they can do that is through operational efficiency,” he added.
When querying whether companies could scale to quickly handle a major contract, the original survey found that 49 percent would be “very confident,” if they could hire more personnel. But the big question now involves today’s dispersed companies’ abilities to hire and adequately train new people.
“Now they are in a situation where they are all working remotely from their peers,” Chester said. “I don’t know if they are as ready to communicate electronically as they think. The second part is the amazingly large skills shortage. If companies are hiring people that they can’t train properly, there is going to be a hiccup their ability to execute.”
That is where online project management software, such as Sitetracker, becomes a skills equalizer for companies that are expanding at a rapid rate, aiding whole teams to execute their wireless site development and maintenance projects.
“You can’t brief someone on how to do their job by writing instructions on the back of an envelope anymore,” Chester said. “You need to be clear and concise in order to ensure that projects are executed efficiently and effectively.”
The majority of respondents communicate the progress of a telecom project via some type of spreadsheet (38 percent), followed by a specialized analytics tool, the customers’ system or manually, which all tied for second at 16 percent. With only 6 percent reporting the use of information technology, there appears to be a big market opening for online project management using software as a service.
“For instance, if you have live data coming in from the field to feed your reports, instead of it dealing with delays via multiple spreadsheets and people, the paradigm of your efficiency changes dramatically,” Chester said.
According to the survey, 63 percent of projects require re-work, and 30 percent are not completed on time, which can be a sign of inefficiency. “One can only assume that those numbers will increase as workloads grow and worker shortage is still prevalent,” Chester said.
Online projection management software can be cornerstone of a disaster recovery or business continuity plans in situations such as today, when the spreading coronavirus infection has forced many employees to work from home to achieve social distancing while maintaining operations.
“Being cloud-based means, you can use Sitetracker from anywhere,” Chester said. “You have a live update from your field teams through their mobile phones that go straight into the platform itself. Everyone is on the same page, even if they aren’t in the same room.”
Portland, Maine-based Tilson Technology Management, which provides network deployment and information system professional services, reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic by having its staff of 400 performs engineering, permitting and design while working from home. The company is a Sitetracker customer; therefore, each employee is able to manage projects from home.
“None of our IT is in the office; it is all in the cloud,” said CEO Joshua Broder. “We have a sophisticated, cloud-based platform, so everything we do can be accessed from home. We have an IT consulting team that pushed us into the cloud early on. That has allowed us to work remotely in a seamless matter, working through Microsoft Teams. We were prepared before this all happened. Our IT consulting team is now helping our clients to work remotely.”