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Tag Archives: SaaS

Taking the Mystery out of SaaS Implementation for Field Operations

By Rob Tymchyshyn

SaaS platforms offer a significant opportunity to increase productivity and profitability for wireless construction — but they represent unknowns for organizations looking to deploy them for the first time.

The photo had to be somewhere. On the camera, or maybe on a phone. The entire crew was jammed into the break room, combing through hundreds of pictures taken during a three-day antenna upgrade.

The closeout package couldn’t be completed without a clear image of the Alpha Sector RRH serial number, and the business owner couldn’t get paid without it.

After three hours of jpeg diving in the digital abyss, it was becoming painfully clear the photo did not exist. Which meant only one thing: Two crew members who were originally assigned to start a new project instead had to drive 400 miles, check into a hotel, coordinate access to the previously completed work site and climb the tower to take the missing picture.

The carefully planned, low-margin project would now show a loss.

Across the wireless industry, the business of deploying crews to sites to construct towers and small cells is jam-packed with risks that can delay projects and eat into margins. Missing tools and materials, incomplete site details, weather conditions, dependencies on third parties and many other variables all combine to stack the odds against a successful deployment.
These challenges will increase dramatically with the anticipated wave of small cell deployments, which contain the same milestones and critical dependencies as macro builds, but in a shorter time, that shrinks the margin of error required to get to profitability. CTIA’s survey, “The State of Wireless 2018,” projects that wireless carriers will need to deploy roughly 800,000 small cells by 2026, a 550 percent increase over the 86,000 that exist today.

SaaS to the Rescue?

This emerging challenge to effectively manage an increasing volume of small, yet complex, projects can be supported with enterprise software platforms specifically designed to bring alignment, standardization and orchestrated workflows across an organization.

These platforms offer the potential for a significant increase in productivity, in contrast to relying on legacy, spot solutions — such as Excel, databases, basic timekeeping tools, accounting platforms and digital cameras — that many organizations have deployed over time.

A growing number of these enterprise platforms are available in the cloud and can be purchased on a monthly subscription model, often based on the number of users. These software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms bring many advantages over conventional software offerings, including limited up-front investment, eliminating the need to maintain IT infrastructure, continuous upgrades with new features, integration with mobile devices and access from anywhere via web-based portals.
However, many SaaS platforms have been designed to support standard functions generally required across multiple industries, such as customer resource management (CRM) or sales pipeline management and accounting systems. Adapting these platforms to suit a company’s industry-specific processes flows, user interfaces and data structures can be a costly, time-consuming and frustrating experience.

Going Vertical

The good news is there are a growing number of vertical SaaS solutions, such as FieldClix, designed specifically to address the unique requirements associated with niche processes and industries, including managing field operations for wireless construction.

These vertical SaaS platforms come with many out-of-box capabilities that can be deployed with minimal configuration, includingcrew scheduling and resource management, workflow management, mobility tools, budget tracking, timekeeping and payroll automation, document management, material and asset management, vendor and client invoice management and reporting and analytics.

And let’s not forget photo checklist management.

By making use of these vertical SaaS platforms as a starting point, it’s possible to accelerate the implementation timeline, adoption curve and path to benefits because the processes and features already align with the way your organization works.
Immediate benefits will include increased visibility into the operational status of projects, real-time visibility into job costing and the ability to improve project margins. Standardized processes and improved alignment and collaboration capabilities will put your teams in the best position to succeed while managing an increased volume of work. In addition, tighter controls for financial processes to help manage client- and vendor-related cash flow.

The ability to track and report on operational and financial metrics at a much more detailed level sets the stage for measuring and improving performance across several key areas, including increased field productivity (20 to 30 percent), reduced repeat site visits (5 to 10 percent), accelerated cash collection by (10 to 20 percent) and reduced material and asset costs (10 to 20 percent).

That All Sounds Great, However…

The good news is you’ve determined it’s time for a significant change to the way you operate your business. The tipping point could be a desire to expand into new markets, streamline and standardize operations or coming to terms with the fact that your finance platform can’t provide timely and accurate details on the financial health of your projects. Most likely, it’s all of the above, along with your long-held desire to get more control and a better view of your day-to-day operations.
However, your resources are stretched thin; the business is running at max capacity; and you’re pulling together the funds to upgrade part of your fleet. And there are so many unknowns that come with a software deployment at this scale. How long will it take? Will your employees see this as a distraction, just another imposition and beyond the already hectic daily workload?

When will you start to see benefits?

These are all legitimate concerns, especially if your organization hasn’t been through a software deployment that requires participation across multiple departments. The paradox is that many of the current challenges and distractions — the day to day fires — can be mitigated through the enhanced planning, coordination, visibility and risk management that come with a field operations platform.

So how do you get to the other side of the chasm?

A Road Map for SaaS Deployment

The truth is, this much more than a software deployment program. The decision to move into a SaaS platform is a commitment to transform the organization. The software will not only enable the transformation but is a bold statement of intent to your organization that the old way of working is no longer sustainable.

And this transformation will not happen overnight. If managed correctly, it is a gradual process that brings continuous improvement over time without overwhelming the organization.

At FieldClix, we’ve been through this journey with our clients many times, and have developed the following checklist list of critical success factors to set the stage for a successful SaaS deployment and hopefully demystify the experience by providing a sense for what to expect as you make your way down the road:
·      Demonstrate commitment and engage your employees
·      Identify and empower the program manager
·      Stage the rollout in manageable bites
·      Set clear expectation for roles and measure compliance
·      Train close as possible to going live
·      Pilot and run parallel to your existing systems

Demonstrate commitment and engage your employees: It’s important that employees across the organization understand that leadership is fully aligned and committed, that that they understand what is expected of them.

Regular communications should take place during the implementation program, starting with an email, or preferably a town hall type event (in person or via phone) to lay out the timeline and goals for the implementation program, together with the expectations for everyone’s participation.

Offer an open-door policy to make it clear that you value their feedback. Many of the best ideas for enhancements and ways to successfully deploy the software will come from your employees. By engaging employees in the journey, their natural resistance will be replaced by enthusiasm for the new platform and help set the stage forthe program’s eventual success
Identify and empower the program manager: Your implementation project manager will play a critical role in planning and executing the project — herding cats, if you want to get technical. As part of the initial communications, make it clear that they are empowered to gather data and schedule everyone’s time for mission-critical activities, especially end-user training.
In some cases, this may be your software partner, who often brings experience managing organizations through implementation projects. They will also need the backing of company leadership to help navigate the organization and get timely access to the data and other insights required to set up and configure the software platform.

Stage the rollout in manageable bites: All businesses are the same, and all businesses are different. When you’re selling, you want to emphasize the latter: the quality of your team, your track record of delivering on time and the shiny new fleet and test gear. When it comes to software implementation, the safe bet is to align with industry-standard processes.

There will be an organization pull toward replicating the unique processes, estimating models and tracking spreadsheets that have evolved over the years. These are the processes you’ve established and that your team is comfortable with. Some users will show up with a wish list of exciting new features and processes. Others will see an opportunity to finally bring operational discipline by designing complex workflows to track activities down to a granular level.

Because of these different tendencies, there is a risk of generating a large volume of requirements deemed necessary to be configured before the SaaS platform can be deployed. In extreme cases, this analysis paralysis will add unnecessary complexity and delays to a timely deployment of the new platform.

Just jump into the pool. The water doesn’t change temperature, no matter how long you stare at it.

One of the keys to success along the transformation journey is getting to the start. Staging the deployment into small, manageable steps will get you past the starting line while also minimizing the deployment risks. Many assumptions about the need for certain features will fade away, and new ideas and paths forward will open up as the organization grows into the tool.
A gradual rollout can also help control the pace at which an organization is required to adapt to change while also managing their day-to-day responsibilities. Over time, as a deployment and training cadence is established, new features can be rolled out as seamlessly as a new Chris Rock special on Netflix.

Set clear expectation for roles and measure compliance: Remember the time you were forced to switch hotel rooms in the middle of a business trip? Even though the hotel offered an upgrade to a suite with a fruit basket and balcony overlooking the pool, it was still more of an aggravation. At least that’s how it felt.

People will embrace change, but not before resisting it. That’s just human nature.

When deploying a new software platform, end-user compliance can have a significant effect on achieving the projected benefits. Your time-to-benefit can be accelerated through clearly defined business policies and expectations for individual roles:
·      Project managers will have access to enhanced operational tools — such as scheduling calendars, budgeting interfaces and streamlined material ordering — to help plan and manage risk, which means an investment in time up front pays off with improved crew deployments and less time spent firefighting.
·      Field crews will spend more time working from the mobile app, which can support timekeeping, insights into their schedules, work order details, expense management and photo checklists. The adoption process is typically painless as they are generally grateful to have access to the information and only need to be reminded to keep their phones accessible and charged.
·      The finance team will spend more time in the new platform, managing financial processes and generating executive dashboards and reports. This represents a shift from relying solely on the accounting platform to do their job. In some cases, they will be moving among applications, but the payoff is the ability to generate more insightful reports with less manual data manipulation and access to a much broader set of client data required to support efficient client invoicing and vendor payments.
·      IT’s role will change, with a focus on managing the creation of new users, configuring laptops and phones, and in some cases, keeping track of company-owned assets.

Most SaaS platforms will provide reports to help monitor compliance and identify those users who may need an extra nudge now and then to align with the new mode of operation. The ability to track operational metrics also creates an opportunity to give incentives and reward employees for positive results. Lastly, encouraging your early adopters to help pull others along into proper use of the platform will also help overall compliance.

Train as close as possible to going live: End-user training is one of the most critical activities in preparing for a successful software deployment. This is the first time many end-users will experience the new software, and it often is only opportunity to prepare them before you go live.

A good training program offers an overview of the new processes, software interfaces, expectations for compliance, and the ability to work directly in the new tool. To help with retention, train as close as possible to go live to get the program off to a healthy running start.

Pilot and run parallel to your existing systems: There’s only so much risk you can plan for in trying to orchestrate a seamless transition from one mode of operation to another. Going live in a new platform inevitably brings issues and challenges: a phone app was not installed, access for a key user was configured incorrectly. There will be more than a few forgotten passwords and other problems as employees become accustomed to using the new software.

The good news is that there is a proven two-step approach you can deploy to minimize these challenges and accelerate the adoption cycle.

Before going live, take a week to put the new platform configuration through the paces in a live, but low-risk area. As an example, for photo checklists, trial the capability on an existing project to iron out any wrinkles before rolling it out to the rest of the organization. For crew deployments, have one of your seasoned project managers schedule and deploy his crews for a few days to validate they receive the correct notifications and work orders.

In other cases, such as timekeeping, run your existing system in parallel with the new approach for one to two weeks. This approach provides a safety net that will allow your employees to adjust to the new processes and mitigate the risks of missing timecards. It’s important to track compliance daily and remind everyone when they skip a critical step, such as deploying a crew without a work order.

By the end of the parallel trial, end-user compliance in the new platform should be sufficiently robust to give you the confidence to turn off the legacy system.

A Final Word of Encouragement

Be patient, be persistent and be open to changes. The desired results will arrive, and in many cases, they will surprise you. There will be bumps in the road, but with a measured and structured approach, they can be minimized.
The good news is that you have just taken the first step in changing the way you operate your business and are on the path to increase visibility, operational discipline, scalability and improved profitability.
And no more missing photos.

Rob Tymchyshyn is CEO and cofounder of FieldClix, the provider of a field operations platform of the same name designed to help improve operational and financial discipline for complex field construction programs. His email address is rob.tymchyshyn@fieldclix.com.

Twenty Years on the SaaS Front Lines: What We Learned and Where We’re Going

By Gary D. Williamson

Effective software as a service (SaaS) not only brings stranded data into a single, mission-critical information hub. It also correlates the data with other SaaS providers, databases of record, financials, procurement, materials and other critical data sources.

In 2019, it is hard to imagine a global marketplace without the software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model. SaaS companies generated $80 billion in revenue in 2018, according to Gartner, and forecasts predict an 18.5 percent increase in 2019, pushing that total to nearly $95 billion.

From start-ups to enterprises, the telecom industry is locked into a massive digital transformation as the majority of on-premises resources move into the cloud. And the advantages of the subscription-based SaaS model are clear: increased financial certainty, improved speed to outcomes, vertical scalability and decreased operational and infrastructure costs, to name a few.
But it wasn’t always cloud this, cloud that. It would take several key technical and strategic breakthroughs for major enterprises to move past their mistrust of the cloud.

With nearly 20 years of frontline experience as an SaaS company providing information management and project deployment solutions for the telecom industry, OneVizion has had a front-row seat for the evolution of SaaS.

The following information details our experiences and lessons learned as they relate to major milestones in the development of SaaS, from its painful birth to the watershed moments that sparked innovation and progress. Then, we move on to the future of SaaS.

Remembering the Bad Ol’ Days

Just before the turn of the century, the burgeoning SaaS model faced two major problems: a lack of trust from established enterprises and technology that trailed behind the rate of innovation.

For executives considering this unproven model, the thought of handing over the keys to their data, security and IP to be managed in the cloud — outside of IT’s protective firewalls — was considered preposterous and taboo. And in the early days, we were told so in more than one boardroom meeting, with IT departments leading the pushback.

Ever so slowly, attitudes began to change as some enterprises began to experiment with application service providers (ASPs), an important precursor to the SaaS model.

These ASPs were typically used for targeted, non-mission-critical tasks on the periphery of a business. But change has to start somewhere. In many ways, the limited use cases for the ASP model helped open the door for more widespread SaaS acceptance.

Customers were more inclined to give ASPs a shot because they still owned and managed their specific database without bringing any other data into the mix.

But this single-tenant, hosted architecture meant that scalability was limited without incurring massive expenses, similar to the limitations of on-premises solutions.

So, although ASPs did much to help remove the stigma on cloud-based service delivery, they didn’t do enough to answer the technical needs of an industry experiencing massive levels of innovation. As the wireless industry exploded, storage space and processing power were at a premium. Emerging applications required more space than ever before, and all of those new cell sites came with terabytes of documentation and photos that needed to be meticulously tracked.

Imagine this: You’re a telecom services provider in the early 2000s, and word comes down from your carrier that you need to add a new task to an application used at 30,000 sites associated with your national build. To do this means opening up several thousand spreadsheets to add two new columns (forecast and actual) to represent the task. The entire rebaselining process could take several weeks (if things were to go smoothly).

In the interest of staying on the safe, tried-but-true path, enterprises accepted the status quo — and the lengthy timelines and financial uncertainty that came with it. It would take some bold thought leadership and some revolutionary technology to ultimately break the mold.

SaaS Hits Its Stride

Attitudes began to shift in the early 2000s with the emergence of cloud-based applications, most notably customer relationship management (CRM) applications. These companies made use of a solid, prescriptive business model, one that was repeatable and that used a shared infrastructure while keeping customers’ data separated (the now-embraced multitenant model).

With a focus on CRM and sales management functions, they managed to survive many of the IT objections by simply being positioned so far in front of that team and their concerns. Their subscription model provided well-understood and acceptable price points, and this perfect storm of factors sparked massive growth.

As these and other applications, such as travel and expense management tools, softened perceptions against the cloud, our country saw an unprecedented surge in mobile capabilities, broadband access, internet security, advanced browsers, robust application programming interfaces (APIs) and other technology breakthroughs that also helped changed the industry’s mindset and drove record sales in the SaaS segment.

At OneVizion, we already had the utmost confidence in the SaaS delivery model from a business and strategy perspective. But projects still needed time to architect the database, computing  components and storage components. The missing factors were speed and scalability.

This changed with the maturity of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2012 and the development of cloud databases robust enough to run large enterprise applications supporting functions like national program management. This watershed moment allowed us to host our application through Amazon’s technology infrastructure and take full advantage of their processing, storage and security capabilities.

The result? Exponential reductions in the time needed to spin up new instances from days to minutes and the money needed to store terabytes of data created by wireless and broadband deployment projects across the country. Monthly costs per terabyte fell dramatically, as did costs for web and application servers, database servers and similar services.

That same re-baselining issue we described earlier? Now customers can easily scale up database capacity in minutes for as long as necessary before scaling back down — no more costly physical server orders for a temporary need.  No more opening thousands of spreadsheets to implement new columns. Just add the task and the application adds the rest.

AWS gave us scalability, flexibility, security and redundancy. Ever had a server crash knock out critical operations for hours, if not days? On the slim chance that a hosting region in AWS goes down, taking one of our client’s instances with it, then we’re back up in 15 minutes in another region.

AWS truly changed the way we do business and how we interact with customers. We can easily stand up a customer in one-tenth of the time it took 10 years ago, providing them with affordable data storage and collaborative, consistent workflows that cut operational and technical costs dramatically.

Looking Toward the Future of SaaS

Despite the great and ongoing leap in the technology supporting the SaaS model, there are still problems and risks associated with it in the here and now.

For companies like OneVizion that are positioned as comprehensive information centers that link together your mission-critical business units, the need for rapid and easy integrations is paramount. Many enterprises now make use of multiple SaaS providers; thus, communications and connections among these providers on behalf of the enterprise must be straightforward and simple.

Fortunately, most of these technical issues are being addressed at a rapid rate with robust APIs, JavaScript object notation (JSON) connectors and other means of connecting disparate technologies. Furthermore, emerging technologies like artificial and machine intelligence will continue to provide new SaaS challenges and opportunities at a steady clip.

Ultimately, the biggest problem facing our industry in 2019 is not just a question of technology, but the synthesis of that technology with the expertise and strategic thinking needed to point that tech in the right direction. What good does a powerful tool like AWS do if you are unable to parse through its hundreds of tools and services? With our guidance, clients receive the full benefits of the cloud infrastructure at a fraction of the cost.

We are positioned to handle problems that do not exist today. This is represented by our SaaS model, which is built around one important question “What does done look like?”

For many, hearing “you never know what done looks like” is a hard pill to swallow. We view done as an acceptance of the fact that you don’t know how big, fast and complex things are going to get. It is impossible to know all the parameters until the work begins, so we designed a system that allows you to expand your information architecture to capture emerging parameters and industry shifts.

Everyone can solve the simple problems now. But the complex ones usually devolve into a mess of meetings, emotion and scattered spreadsheets.

OneVizion is helping by not just bringing all of your stranded data into a single, mission-critical information hub — it’s also taking an enterprise’s data and correlating it with other SaaS providers, databases of record, financials, procurement, materials and other critical data sources.

So, as you examine how SaaS can help your organization thrive in the age of digital transformation, it is important to understand two things about a potential vendor: How will their tech stack improve your quality of life, and how deep is the expertise behind it?

Gary D. Williamson is vice president of telecommunications innovation at OneVizion. Visit www.onevizion.com.

Improved Project Management Key to Small Cell Rollout

By J. Sharpe Smith, Senior Editor

If your company could perform work faster without losing track of details, it would make you more money, right? Efficiency leads to profit.

A panel at AGL Local Summit in Atlanta, Nov. 8, will examine the importance of efficient project management to meet today’s the tight deadlines and even tighter budgets that suppliers face with performing work for wireless carriers on towers and even more so with small cells being rolled out across the nation.

“Software as a service (SaaS) can help you automate, replicate and manage build-outs for small cells, macro towers and rooftop sites,” said Giuseppe Incitti, Sitetracker CEO, said. “SaaS hasn’t become a $181 billion industry for doing nothing.”

ZenFi Networks, a communications infrastructure company serving the New York and New Jersey metro region, announced today that it will use a software-based project management platform by Sitetracker to manage internal and external teams designing, building, and maintaining small cell and fiber assets.

Having recently merged with Cross River Fiber, ZenFi Networks now has 700 route miles of fiber-optic network, 119 on-net buildings, 47 colocation facilities and nearly 6,000 outdoor wireless locations under contract. Keeping track of all those facilities plus an accelerating workload of building more infrastructure was an imperative.

“We chose Sitetracker to help drive alignment across our operations by gathering data and updates from the field as projects progress,” ZenFi president and chief operating officer, Vincenzo Clemente, said. “The ability to track and report project and site data in real time greatly enhances our capabilities.”

ZenFi Networks is committed to meeting the demand for next generation network access by building, owning, and maintaining a world-class fiber optic network, distributed colocation, and wireless siting solutions for enterprise, carrier and wireless operators.

Cameron Galbraith, Sitetracker, will be a speaker on the AGL Atlanta Summit panel, along with Sonya Roshek, B+T Group; and Rob Tymchyshyn, FieldCLIX.