Have you ever heard of the "This is Water" parable? David Foster Wallace, a famous North American novelist, delivered this simple story to a college graduating class in 2005. It goes something like this: There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the heck is water?” (link)
I love that parable and if I have a chance to use it, well, I am going to. I know what you are thinking, what does it have to do with the title of this blog post? I believe this excerpt is about awareness, or perhaps, a lack thereof. It's not a negative opinion, but one I think is very applicable to this topic. Spatial awareness when it comes to documentation and reporting activities around network assets is often employed whether one notices it or not! And so, in this post, I want to help raise that "awareness". How can a telecom operator leverage geography and spatial technologies to improve their documentation and reporting practices around network asset management and network analytics? So, let's dive in (pun intended) and learn more about water!
Documentation and reporting are not the most glamorous topics out there, no. In the world of telecommunications, it is, however, an important one. Documentation and reporting are the activities that create the information products telecom operators use to act. What does that mean more specifically? Well, in the world of a telecommunications operator, this activity refers to the high-quality documentation of assets (customers and network) and the analysis of these assets to help drive decisions. Operators have been doing this for a long while, documenting their assets and making decisions on them through some form of analysis. There is a core component to this activity that operators are leveraging, perhaps without even knowing. That core component is water. No, no, just kidding. It's Geography. Documentation and reporting of assets in the telecommunications space has, and always will, have an element of geography to it whether one recognizes it or not. In this post, I want to highlight the activities and challenges that operators have around asset management and network analytics, and how geography, particularly with an enterprise geographic information system, can help unlock the potential of this core component in making valuable business decisions. Let's look at some examples.
Documenting the network is something that all operators have been doing since the inception of their business. And whether one recognizes it or not, all asset management practices revolve around the understanding and documentation of the network as it lives in geographic space. Where is my wireline network? Where is my wireless network? Where does this port on this switch terminate? On what floor of this building does this cable go? The common theme here is, “where”. Operators have asset management practices in place that revolve around understanding where assets lives. This is not a new thing, no.
So, what is the challenge in doing this and doing this well? Since operators have been "doing this" for a long time, data silos have been created, perhaps unintentionally, through the definition of the organization. As an example, outside plant engineering teams have systems in place for "their" stuff and inside plant engineering teams have another system for "their" stuff. Not that this is always the case for every operator, but you can see the pattern and you can see how silos start to emerge. Sometimes, silos appear because of the technology being managed. For example, the wireless group manages their assets in one system while the wireline group manages their assets in another. In other scenarios, silos appear because of historical practice. Legacy systems become so entrenched in an organization because that was the system that was available at the onset of adoption. Moving away from this legacy system can be a considerable endeavour and so operators keep the status quo.
Regardless of the reasons behind the rift in asset management systems chosen by a telecom operator, at the end of the day, the over-arching challenge is that these systems, quite often legacy in nature, are not as feature-rich as they need to be AND this rift in systems segregates organizations with these data silos when, in fact, all assets or ISP/OSP, whether wired or wireless, should work together to bring to market a foundational communications network.
Siloed data represents duplication of effort, roadblocks to sharing, time lost to get answers, and lack in confidence in what needs to be a single source of truth that is "the network". Enter an enterprise geographic information system. An enterprise GIS is a perfect system for the aggregation of network assets. Why? Geography. Geography is the common denominator to asset management regardless of technology, regardless of organization, and regardless of legacy. So yes, while operators have been doing network asset management for a long time, the concept of where hasn't always been in the spotlight. In the 21st century of modern network management, geography is a core component of this activity and should be at the forefront of awareness when documenting the network.
Network analytics is another activity employed by telecom operators around the world. This activity refers to the analysis of metrics that are derived by the active telecom network to help make decisions for the future of the network and the overall business/customers that it supports. Line of sight analysis, bandwidth consumption analysis, wireless site utilization analysis, device failure prediction, etc., are but a few subcategories of activities in a long list of analyses that operators look at to help predict and forecast the future. Same deal is happening here. Operators have been doing this for a very long time. It's not a new concept. The strategies used to analyze these metrics often has an underlying aspect of geography. Is the operator aware of this? Are they considering this? Maybe. Maybe not.
What is the greater challenge in this world of analysis? Some operators are doing network analytics, and are doing it well, for sure. Are they actively isolating or incorporating geography into the analysis they are doing? That is up for debate, or if they are, they don't even realize it! However, for most telecom operators, the larger challenge is executing this analysis with the complete picture of the network from all sources across the OSS and BSS landscape. The challenge is that the metrics (pieces) to this larger puzzle are stored in silos across the organization. Pulling data together from various OSS and BSS systems to help analyze a particular network phenomenon for the purpose of planning and forecasting can be difficult due to the datasets being large and sometimes difficult to blend. And so, operators continue to do things as best they can, often without all the data needed and without incorporating or emphasizing the impact of location in the analysis.
Yes, you guessed it. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can help. How? No matter where your network information comes from on the OSS or BSS side of the house, the common denominator to most, if not all datasets, is geography. Geographic space is the ultimate primary key! Why is one wireless site consuming more electricity than others? Why is one optical node always at peak capacity between 16:00 and 17:00 in this neighbourhood? Service requests are increasing here. Do we know why? How do we address it? Is there a pattern to all the disconnects for the current operating year? Location is a parameter that fits into all these questions. Bringing network and customers together using geography can help drive analysis to answer those operational questions and to help plan for the future.
With the advancement of computing technologies such as cloud infrastructure and machine learning applications, the ability to analyze this telecommunication data at scale, with the latest in data science techniques, has never been more accessible than it is today. The opportunity for telecom operators to extract insights from the trove of OSS and BSS systems has never been easier and more insightful. With geography being one of those unique parameters that helps bring these information rich datasets together, incorporating an enterprise-wide geographic information system into an operator’s toolkit is a smart endeavor to embark on. If you didn't know much about geography and its role in network asset management and analytics, hopefully you have a sense of that reach now. Want to learn more? Check out this ArcGIS StoryMap entitled ArcGIS and Telecommunication Documentation and Reporting. Don't feel like reading? That's ok. The StoryMap has some interactive elements to it. So go ahead, skip the read, and dive in (wink, wink) to listen and play!