Network evolution and transformation cannot solely rely on innovation. It will require pragmatism and common sense.
I've been fortunate to lead successful network evolution and network transformation efforts. However, I have also seen many projects fail due to their scope becoming too bold and ambitious with innovation, losing sight of the core problem they aimed to solve. The root cause of these project failures invariably traces back to a lack of pragmatism and common sense demonstrated early in the ideation process. The allure of radically reshaping our practices can be tempting, but it's not always necessary or financially best for businesses.
In my current role, I oversee multiple support groups within Verizon's Wireline Network Operations organization, focusing on installation and maintenance, construction, and 5G fixed wireless pro setup teams within ILEC. Embracing innovation and leveraging new technology is integral to my responsibilities. But what does this truly mean? Doesn't everyone strive to leverage innovation and technology? It's imperative to underscore that a significant part of my role is solving practical problems. This requires a more balanced approach.
I must admit that I occasionally find myself rolling my eyes when I encounter terms like "evolution," "transformation," and "innovation." These words are frequently overused, to the point where they lose their genuine significance.
Innovation can indeed be intricate and costly, but it doesn't have to be. When a reader dog-ears the corner of a book page before bedtime, that simple innovative act enhances the book's usability, making it easier to resume reading. I recall a visit to an elderly customer's home while a technician was completing a video service installation. She greeted me at the door with remote controls attached to her bathrobe using Velcro strips. The customer had innovated a solution to prevent misplacing her remotes. Humans are innately innovative, and there are numerous examples of everyday practical innovations.
Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, once shared his perspective on the human aspect of innovation, stating, "The problem is, dreaming is not enough. If you just live in the comfort zone of dreaming, nothing happens. Unicorns know how to balance the ability to dream with the ability to make things happen, with pragmatism, with the ability to make compromises and trade-offs, and with the understanding that those compromises and trade-offs are not something negative; they're just a step toward the dream."1
It's easy to become entirely immersed in the excitement and intricacies of innovation. Dreaming about the potential applications of new technology is simple, but translating those dreams into meaningful outcomes is far more challenging. For instance, a few years ago, analysts predicted significant growth in enterprise usage of Virtual Reality (VR). While there has been growth in training applications, enthusiasm waned due to substantial cost and scalability hurdles. VR failed to fully realize many of the exciting use cases initially envisioned. In retrospect, this exemplifies how a good idea can get lost in the pursuit of innovation, losing touch with practicality.
My team has collaborated with several companies on AR/VR projects, working with some of the brightest minds. In one early VR use case, we aimed to provide prospective employees with a sense of the job they were applying for. We wanted to reduce dropouts from our training programs due to unexpected fears like heights or confined spaces. We created VR experiences, partnering with vendors to design impressive fully synthetic environments such as entering a manhole in downtown Manhattan or climbing a pole on the side of a busy road. However, despite the innovation and technology invested, these experiences couldn't match the impact of live video from a camera on a technician's hardhat, a simple, practical solution that saved substantial production costs while delivering superior results.
“I must admit that I occasionally find myself rolling my eyes when I encounter terms like ‘evolution,’ ‘transformation,’ and ‘innovation.’ These words are frequently overused, to the point where they lose their genuine significance.”
Similarly, when winning rural broadband bids, we need to maintain a pragmatic approach to network evolution as well. We've been working diligently with cross-functional teams and vendor partners to develop new products and strategies for expanding fiber optic networks. However, it's essential for me to remain grounded with a pragmatic approach. We must challenge ourselves with common-sense questions. In some rural environments, adhering to conventional fiber deployment practices leads to overbuilding and wastage.
Network evolution and transformation projects often entail more intricate technical challenges than marking a page in a book or finding a lost remote control. Nevertheless, employing the same common-sense approach to complex issues enables teams to swiftly identify solutions and streamline troubleshooting. Some projects present solutions so complex and costly that they become nearly unattainable. Pragmatism guides our focus towards achievable solutions over theoretical ones that could exhaust resources and time unnecessarily.