Recently I had the opportunity to work with several of our telecom customers in North America to address key operational challenges that were compromising business-critical 5G rollout initiatives. Optimizing rollout workflows is essential to the success of ambitious 5G plans where the need for speed and process visibility cannot be understated. In our customer projects we were able to totally transform vital processes to ensure these companies are now meeting schedule and budget targets. And along the way we learned a lot about how to quickly make a big impact with a fully integrated system approach that I want to share with others.
In many cases, existing process workflows within these organizations were siloed which produced cascading overheads at various stages in their project, bid and procurement processes. Their vision was to create a “one stop shop” for all stakeholders and invest in a workflow platform that can grow with them for the future. To achieve this, they selected IQGeo’s Workflow Manager product, and I was very pleased to work on these projects. I came to understand their business priorities and processes that begin with planning and continue through construction, operations, maintenance, and service.
In this blog, I’ve tried to explain what we mean by an integrated systems approach and the lessons that we learned. To do this, I have outlined six business critical capabilities in the IQGeo Workflow Manager software that allow us to integrate processes across the operational lifecycle and proved pivotal to 5G rollout success.
- Workflow automation
- Project initiation
- Bid solicitation
- Workflow approvals
- Purchase order automation
- Automated Reporting
1. Workflow automation
Generally, work at a site starts with engineering projects where structural analysts produce designs with detailed build specifications. These designs serve as blueprints for construction projects where assets are installed. The installation is then inspected for deficiencies and changes that are either corrected or recorded to support future maintenance. The diagram below illustrates this simple workflow in motion.
Fig 1.1 Workflow cycle
Typically, there is an overall workflow for the entire project which consists of a set of sub-workflows that address project specific activities from initiation to close-out. The illustration below shows an example of a project workflow with the bid process broken out as a separate sub-workflow.
Fig 1.2 Construction process workflows
The IQGeo Workflow Manager software is designed to model a wide array of workflow scenarios at operational and project levels. Every activity in the workflow is tracked for compliance and reporting that provides real-time access to process metrics. Fig 1.3 shows the IQGeo Workflow Manager dashboard that illustrates ongoing projects at different locations. Projects are launched in a tabbed interface that is driven by their workflows.
Fig 1.3: IQGeo Workflow Manager dashboard
Automating workflows is quintessential for achieving process efficiency and is the core DNA of Workflow Manager. Prior to the IQGeo deployment, most customers have been managing projects in excel, email, and multiple applications. Using these disconnected applications made it nearly impossible to manage and prepare for audits. They had information that was cluttered and disjointed. It’s a very different story now. At one customer site the IQGeo Workflow Manager software has successfully assisted with over 2,000 project builds in the first 2 years and is managing around 3,000 live projects at any given point in time. When audited, managers can now pull up the most current project information at the click of a button, saving them time and reducing the cost of audit overheads.
2. Project initiation
Project managers often spend a considerable chunk of time initiating new projects and this was certainly true for the customer teams that I worked with. These tasks include defining budgets, bid requirements, collecting site information, preparing lists of bidders etc. This process can take many hours, if not days, extending project tender timetables which delay construction, and “time to revenue”.
Fig 2.1 Smart templates
Using IQGeo’s Workflow Manager, their construction managers were able to tender a project in a matter of a few minutes. This dramatic time saving is achieved using “smart” templates as shown in Fig 2.1. Each smart template contains the blueprint to quickly build a project from scratch. For instance, a tower augmentation template could define pricing, deliverables, and contractor details. The software does the leg work of building a pre-configured project that can be further revised and readied for tender which greatly reduced their administration and time schedule.
Fig 2.2 Dynamic templates
Furthermore, this optimized templating process ensures that every project is built correctly without omissions or human error. And because their projects were not static, the templates are dynamic. They can be easily revised over time to accommodate the growing needs of the business as illustrated in Fig 2.2. In our customer project, the IQGeo Workflow Manager software demonstrated clear ROI by reducing costs, accelerating the project initiation phase, and avoiding the normally costly and repetitious project initiation overheads.
3. Bid solicitation
Bidding is often a long and cumbersome process that involves communication with multiple vendors to receive bids and provide the documentation to demonstrate that projects have been awarded fairly.
Fig 3.1 Bid management dashboard
The IQGeo Workflow Manager software provides a robust bidding framework that supports both direct and tender bids. Construction managers can send bid invites, receive quotes, compare, and share information all inside the software (Fig 3.1). Having a centralized bid process eliminates paper and email trails that are often lost or unaccountable. The software provides a seamless experience for all parties and fosters bid best practice and process transparency.
Fig 3.2 Clustering for bulk tenders
While managing and documenting a bid process is essential functionality, the IQGeo Workflow Manager software takes this to a whole new level by adding advanced clustering capabilities that facilitate bulk tendering (Fig 3.2). Sites can be grouped by geographic regions on a map and tendered all at once, providing an improved bidding experience and opening channels for pricing with rebates – a win-win situation for businesses! This geospatial capability provides a step-change in bid management for our customers, allowing them to control the bid process more efficiently while fostering a more competitive environment.
4. Approval workflow
It is important to have checks and balances at different stages in a workflow. You may want to send all additional costs incurred in a project for approvals or for projects that have variable costs beyond a specified threshold. Under other scenarios such as fixed cost projects, workflows can also be set to provide auto approval.
Fig 4.1 Workflow actions and approvals
The IQGeo Workflow Manager software, uses a combination of templates, roles, supervisors, and regional scopes to process approvals. This translates to approvals being received only for projects within your assigned region and authority. All approvals pending actions are alerted and grouped together inside a specialized actions view for easy access and quick response (Fig 4.1). Approval activities are managed with email notifications to responsible parties that keeps everyone in sync at all times, no matter where they are. All approval actions are also recorded in the system and can be easily accessed for project auditing purposes (Fig 4.2).
Fig 4.2 Approval action summary
The IQGeo Workflow Manager, ensures that projects transition through a structured workflow that eliminates manual errors, approval delays, and improves accountability within the business processes. Prior to the IQGeo software, the customer had very long approval cycles often lasting for weeks. At one customer site the average approval response time has now dropped to under 3 days, representing a dramatic efficiency gain for the entire organization.
5. Purchase order automation
Purchase Orders (PO) are issued after a project is awarded and for every additional cost that accrue throughout the tenure of a project. It is basically a manual data entry task of migrating SKUs, pricing, and a series of financial codes for issuing a purchase order. This has always been a tedious, time consuming and error prone process that can normally take days to complete. It gets even more complicated, when multiple projects are awarded to vendors for a bulk tendered project that may involve issuing multiple POs based on different owners. Often existing PO processes are paperwork and email heavy, difficult to monitor and track, and a huge burden on people’s time. Not anymore!
Fig 5.1 Streamlining the PO process
Thanks to IQGeo Workflow Manager’s automated purchase order creation module, it makes the flow of purchase orders to ERP systems, like SAP, a seamless encounter. The system is mapped to pull all relevant data such as budget codes, SKUs, vendor, and address details to build POs on the fly. Administrators can validate and make updates to PO items such as GR dates and supplemental information before submitting a PO request to SAP. The application provides flexibility to either submit a PO through a button or by downloading an SAP compatible file, to be uploaded manually (Fig 5.1). You can also download a copy of POs as a PDF for distribution. When a PO is issued by SAP, IQGeo’s Workflow Manager notifies the appropriate parties with a PO number and follows up with any subsequent PO releases.
This dramatically decreases PO processing and fulfillment time that can delay builds and associated services. This streamlined process enables better financial forecasting, and the PO automation capabilities provide huge cost savings, reduce human error, and improve visibility and traceability. Prior to using the IQGeo solution, one of our larger customers had some POs in backlog for as long as 3 months. It has been a true eye-opener to see the automated process in action. More than 5,000 POs were processed with an average response time of just 20 hours, ensuring projects move forward on schedule.
6. Automated reporting
Reporting is indispensable to any business and often one of the most time-consuming tasks. It is not uncommon for vendors to bill for their reporting work which increases project costs. Most deliverable reports come from standard business templates and is a recurring expense on similar projects. The IQGeo Workflow Manager software provides a reporting framework to build customized reports in a PDF format. Customers provide templates for reports and the IQGeo reporting framework can be customized to print rich PDFs.
Fig 6.1 Inspection reports
I have seen customers leveraging the IQGeo reporting framework to build extensive reports like inspection and maintenance activities (Fig 6.1). In the past vendors would bill their hours for producing such reports, but now these can be automatically generated in seconds. In addition to capitalizing on cost and time savings, this has led to better standardization, and improved control and compliance across projects which delivers a winning recipe for success! Many of our customers historically received different flavors of the same report. While there were “standard templates”, often it would be left to the vendors to adhere to the company formats. Vendors would not only collect data from site but also spend hours creating reports. This was unnecessarily repetitious when multiple sites had to be worked. Today, vendors only spend their valuable time reporting quality data in the IQGeo Platform, and they can rest assured the reports are ready anytime with a click of a button!
The drive for digital efficiency
The telecoms industry is in constant flux with ongoing projects that shape the future of each company. Typically, there are a wide range of engineering, construction, inspection, and maintenance projects planned or active at any point in time. It is essential for operators to efficiently manage, record and analyze projects to constantly improve productivity and minimize overheads. This has become even more important with companies carrying out 5G modernization plans across their networks. To control this process, operators need an integrated system capable of streamlining projects from inception to close out and capturing valuable process insights for continual improvement.
These requirements and challenges were exactly what I found with our customer deployments of the Workflow Manager software. It has been a truly transformational story for these customers. At one site there were over 6,000+ projects created, 22,000+ approvals and 8,000+ POs processed in the first 18 months. The scalability, performance, and robustness of the software has now been well tested and proven. It’s no wonder that the IQGeo Workflow Manager software has become the “one-stop-shop” for all these customer stakeholders.
Building a digital foundation for the future
It is extremely important for businesses to invest in future proof mobile technologies that are easy to use so they can gain widespread acceptance. The ability to pick up work on any device, anywhere at any time has become the new mantra. IQGeo has been a visionary in providing proven, robust mobile geospatial solutions to utility and telecom network operators for over a decade. As customers create a seamless online-offline transition they are ditching old paper maps, handwritten notes and legacy technologies that are impediments to productivity, collaboration, response time and adoption.
It’s a game changer for field users to go on-site to complete jobs and capture data all at once even at remote locations! The IQGeo software is empowering businesses to create a true digital twin that is simple, smart, fast, and mobile. Thanks to the IQGeo Workflow Manager software, operators now have the digital foundation they need to modernize and maintain their next-generation networks.
To see IQGeo Workflow Manager in action, request a free demo with our telecom industry experts.