How to Eliminate Data and Insights Deficits —
This is a pivotal moment for broadband initiatives in the US and around the world. Taking steps now to pay down your documentation debt and achieve full visibility of your network assets puts you in a position to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead.
Taking on business debt of any kind is a balancing act.
For instance, taking on financial debt can create a much-needed runway of cash to grow a business. Without a plan to pay it down, however, that debt can transform from a short-term savior into an interest-accruing albatross from under which it can be increasingly difficult — and expensive — to dig out.
That said, financial debt is just one kind of debt that can impact businesses for better or worse. In software, we use the phrase technical debt to describe accumulated code issues that are acceptable because they speed up production. In fiber optic network infrastructure operations, we use the term documentation debt to describe a similar practice.
Just What Is Documentation Debt?
Documentation debt describes the concept of neglecting documentation needs in the short term to achieve some sort of benefit — typically to save labor, time, or money. A change made in the field that goes unreported, or a piece of critical network information scribbled down and forgotten in a dusty file cabinet — they all add up over time. Like the other forms of debt, if it’s not dealt with, it compounds with interest and becomes more difficult to remediate as time goes on.
That "interest" can be a byproduct of the normal course of business: the company scales and grows more complex; equipment, bandwidth or cables go unaccounted for because they’re not visible and must be located by field crews at a significant expense; or an acquisition or expansion is slowed down or halted by the lack of reliable data about the existing network. It can also lead to the equivalent of flying blind — you can’t manage assets you can’t see.
Left untended, the interest accumulated on your network’s documentation debt can leave your organization with deficits in data and insight needed for key decision-making. I’ve seen businesses grapple with documentation debt and the impact it can have. And often small, ongoing changes to a network’s originally documented plan are the biggest culprit in documentation debt. Feeding as-built data back to a design engineer tasked with network design mapping is complex and it’s easy to lose track of if not tightly controlled.
One fiber operator told me of the massive, expensive challenges they faced when inheriting another company’s network documentation debt. After acquiring the network, the integration team discovered that the only documentation available was geometry traced on a map, with some notes. The team was basically left to determine what actual assets were modeled by that geometry.
This was made even more challenging by the fact that they had no intelligence regarding the equipment, circuits, or splicing, involved in lighting the network.
The result? A tedious, frustrating process that slowed down key workflows in expansion as the company mapped existing assets. It also negatively impacted their customers, who experienced longer-than-necessary downtimes during outages.
In other words, skipped documentation that seems low stakes in the short term can snowball into a much bigger, more time-consuming, and more costly, job than it would have been to address it in the moment.
We’ve all experienced this for good reason. It is a healthy organizational response to want to bring a project to completion or a product to market, with internal process, assets, and mapping, dealt with at some vague point in the future when there will be time to catch up and get things in order.
How Much Is Too Much?
It can be difficult to evaluate how much documentation is missing from your existing network map until assets are located and examined. Your network documentation might be robust, with only a few problem areas that need addressing. Or maybe your network documentation is incomplete, but the prospect of devoting time, labor, and budget to repay that debt, is daunting. No matter what condition your network documentation is in, paying down your documentation debt sooner rather than later helps your business in the long term.
In this moment when connectivity for all is a national priority, funding is available for a complete inventory of your network assets. And let’s be honest: knowing how your network assets are connected and how they interact is almost as valuable as the network itself.
So, how do you fix your documentation debt challenges and be in a prime position to grow your business? Start with fiber management software. Network assets and inventory are increasingly complex sets of data. The right software platform can help you eliminate human error and reduce workflow bottlenecks. Even communication challenges are all easily addressed with the right software platform.
When you’re ready to adopt a solution that takes the documentation burden off of your business’s shoulders, it’s a good idea to look for a platform that is designed for productivity and collaboration to fundamentally transform your ongoing operations.
What to Look for in Fiber Management Software
1. Self-Service Data: There are several fiber management solutions on the market, but most require specialized engineering knowledge to use the software to its full potential. Instead, look for a solution that makes digitizing the network as frictionless as possible, and subsequently makes getting reports and data out of the system simple for any member of your team, from your CEO, sales and field crews, to your engineers.
2. Ease of Use: That same specialized knowledge is often needed to operate some GIS fiber-mapping software platforms at the most basic level. Evaluate the user experience to ensure that everyone in your organization has access to your most critical asset: your network map. Be sure it offers a streamlined, modern-user experience with data intelligence that’s enjoyable to use.
3. Real-Time Updates: Fiber moves fast. You need a solution that can keep up with the pace of your teams, such as software platforms that offer real-time data updates across your documentation as your team members implement changes. This can speed up your productivity and business intelligence, and prevent documentation debt from accumulating.
4. Integrations and Connectors: Businesses run on software platforms, therefore your fiber management software should be able to "talk" to your OSS and BSS systems. And if you are actively in fiber deployment mode, it should talk to your construction management system to ensure that customer-driven data does not get lost.
5. Browser-Based Environment: Make sure your fiber management system is cloud-native and easy to access from any location. Fiber management software has historically been administered from an in-house server that requires maintenance from an IT department. Crucially, using that software would mean having to be in the office to be on a computer connected to that server. In post-COVID-19-pandemic life, remote work is the order of the day.
Investing in fiber management software helps you digitize your network and tackle the challenge of eliminating your documentation debt. The right solution also delivers Internet infrastructure intelligence that helps you stay debt-free so you can maximize the success of every opportunity.
Follow VETRO FiberMap on Twitter @vetrofibermap.