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ISE Columnist Tom Maguire, Network Transformation

Technical Debt Remediation

May 1, 2019
In our last column, we raised the concept of Technical Debt and how it negatively impacts the operations of companies and wreaks havoc with NT efforts. For those of you […]

In our last column, we raised the concept of Technical Debt and how it negatively impacts the operations of companies and wreaks havoc with NT efforts.

For those of you who haven’t followed this column closely, Technical Debt is a concept dating back to one of IBM researchers Manny Lehman’s and László Bélády 8 laws — the law of "Increasing Complexity" — from the mid-70s.

Messrs. Lehman and Bélády certainly knew what they were talking about. They believed that as IT systems evolve, things become more complex unless work is done to maintain or reduce the complexity of the systems. In simple terms, they said that if you don’t take the time to address issues, they will eventually cause you grief down the road.

I see this as IT version of the snowball effect — unless you stop the progress of the snowball, it’s going to get bigger.

In real-world terms; when I was a copper tech I encountered problems every day related to "Increasing Complexity", but I did not realize it. Back then, we simply thought of these issues as individual "records problems" that were caused by someone sitting in an office somewhere. In an attempt to rationalize things (and calm me down) my boss often promised that the new system of maintaining OSP information would make things better. That system (anyone remember the Loop Facility Assignment Control System or LFACS) really did nothing more than move the problems from paper to a mechanized system. Thus, the snowball kept on rolling. (And LFACS wasn’t unique in this regard.)

Thankfully, since my days of climbing poles, there have been a number of continuing advances in the operating and business support systems used by the telcos.  However, issues do remain. So, the question is how to deal with those efficiently, especially in a NT world?

In the good old days (and when they had the time and resources), companies would pull together teams of people from different groups to scour their various databases and conduct cable inventories on a pair-by-pair basis, keeping track of their work with spreadsheets. (The DAVAR program comes to mind). Many of these programs worked; however they were extremely labor-intensive and potentially fraught with manual errors.  Therefore, they were definitely not scalable to an entire wire center. (I say this because companies tend to operate in a much leaner manner these days than in the past. They have fewer people with greater responsibilities so time and resources are in very short supply.)

This is where companies like Dexter Systems come into play. Dexter is a unique organization in that they have very deep roots in telecom. Yet, they can be significantly more agile and inventive than traditional IT teams that are usually focused on developing the next, future OSS/BSS. This agility enables them to alter their approach to an issue quickly, which helps to improve processing times and reduce the demand for resources.

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So what does this mean to NT?  Actually quite a bit.

The folks at Dexter observed a few things over their years in the industry. For example, they learned that even a minuscule fallout from a billion service orders is still a very big number.

They realized that there could never be enough spreadsheets or subject matter experts to handle all the necessary work in an efficient, cost effective manner. The team also recognized that companies don’t have customer-serving personnel (representatives, field and CO resources) simply sitting around to handle the required validation work.

Dexter’s CEO, Bill Doyle, once told me that "there has to be a smart and safe (in terms of customer service) way of paying off the Technical Debt associated with NT…and I think properly designed automated processes are the most cost-efficient option."

Bill and his team set out to create a NT verification system that takes steps to minimize human intervention. Their system scours every applicable database (i.e., the aforementioned records systems and anything else that can help), looking to best identify candidates for migrations.  As part of this effort, they also identify discrepancies that must be manually verified by people. The system will generate applicable work orders to address its output, sending it to the proper department for manual review. All of this work is tracked and maintained in a project database that is capable of generating any number of structured reports that can keep the process moving.

This type of approach not only helps to clarify records and identify what needs to be migrated, it also reduces the resources necessary to process all of the information, thus reducing associated costs — and who doesn’t love reduced costs? (This is the "smart" part of their program.)

The "safe" part is designed to protect customers from any potential hiccups resulting from the reconciliation. If the team encounters a record that appears to warrant termination, the system will first suspend the service or lines in question before permanently disconnecting them.  If a customer calls in response to the suspension, the company can restore their service in minutes — no harm, no foul. 

As an added bonus, if a suspended-service customer calls and their service was not found in the billing system (shockingly there are unbilled services out there), the company can quickly update their account to restore their service…and start billing accurately.

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Once the suspended services reach a pre-determined point in time without any calls or inquiries, they can be safely terminated or disconnected permanently.  As a failsafe, the system can keep an audit trail of all its transactions as well as any information necessary to rebuild things if required.

Using automation in the right manner and employing a belts and suspenders approach can greatly improve the efficiency of a company’s NT program while minimizing service disruptions.  The key is that the best NT transformation does not soley rely on machines. It must have smart, experienced people developing these things and managing the process to avoid dropping customers between the database cracks.

In our next column, we’ll look a little deeper at other ways that companies can improve the management of their NT process without sacrificing their focus on things like 5G. Until then, enjoy the spring.

About the Author

Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire was the recent SVP of National Operations Support for Verizon. He has more than 36 years of experience in wireline operations, legal/regulatory, and finance. For more information, please email [email protected].