For utilities considering becoming rural broadband service providers, it’s vital to get guidance on business operations as well as network management.
Many rural electric co-ops and utilities are considering becoming a broadband internet service provider (ISP) because of the perceived synergies with their existing business of electricity delivery. And while some synergies exist, they’re not always straightforward, especially when it comes to the operations aspect. But it’s essential to understand that successful broadband roll-out means being able to operate every aspect of the business from day one.
The fact is, there’s no shortage of information on how to build a broadband network; yet, for guidance on successfully operating as a fiber-based broadband ISP business, utilities are often on their own. At Fujitsu, our approach is different. We enable utilities to succeed as ISPs by serving not just network design engineering and build needs but also by guiding fledgling utility-operated ISPs in standing up the whole business.
Broadband operations are most often seen from a network management perspective, but that is only half the equation. The other half of the operations equation is the business operations of an ISP. Thus, in addition to the network-specific aspects, getting a broadband business operations-ready means paying attention to all the factors associated with providing broadband services to customers. This means getting the workforce ready; putting operating policies into effect; setting up and integrating business systems for billing, accounting, and other functions; implementing IT systems and support; building a web/digital presence; and satisfying regulatory and compliance obligations to name a few.
What Does it Mean to be Operations-Ready?
Being operations-ready means understanding three key realities:
- Broadband is complex.
- Services events will happen.
- Assessing, correcting and transcending the complexites and events is time sensitive.
Broadband is Complex
Most design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) network vendors do not directly address supporting the complexity of the broadband business operations, focusing primarily on the network operations only. The business operations, however, are equally important—and this is often where new ISPs stumble and fail.
The business operations are tied to technologies beyond the network, a complex web of integrated services and functions all necessary to providing a quality customer experience as shown in Figure 1. The OSS/BSS for instance is the heart of the operations function. It requires integration to other technologies and support to provide not just internet-based services, but the service experience customers want. Supporting the systems complexity and ensuring smooth operations require staffing, skills, tools, and policies. A network vendor who is not able or unwilling to provide integration services and prop up a new ISP with existing policies, tools and staffing requirements as part of a total solution should be questioned.
Service Events are Inevitable – Are You Prepared?
In any broadband network, service-affecting events will inevitably occur; it’s a matter of when, not if. You may be surprised to hear that only about 30% of service-affecting events are network-related. The other 70% are linked to integrated systems, power, and business-related, rather than network-related aspects. Many causes of service disruption are never fully known—but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare to handle them.
A key step in preparing to handle events is developing a more complete understanding of your vendor partner’s capabilities and services. In other words, can that partner provide guidance on the complexity of operational concerns that may lead to service events if these complex concerns are not understood and addressed? To get a full picture of the vendor’s capabilities, ask yourself and your DBOM vendor these questions—and if these topics have not come up for discussion, make it an immediate priority to tackle them:
- Can they provide guidance on funding sources?
- Can they integrate systems via APIs?
- Have they discussed the security wrapper for your systems?
- Have they addressed supporting international call rating for VoIP services?
- Have they positioned a domain management strategy for your websites?
- What is their plan for handling a bot attack on any of your websites?
- Have they advised you on outage procedures, reviewed staffing job descriptions, training, financial and federal compliance requirements for operating an ISP?
Ability to Assess, Correct and Transcend Events
Typically, DBOM vendors do not discuss the items above, and if not, they are not positioning you for success. Success in the broadband space is defined by your ability to satisfy the customer on all points of interaction with the ISP. Satisfaction is based on a highly available network to be sure, but it is particularly sensitive when things go awry with or beyond the network. Your ability to Assess, Correct and Transcend (ACT) operating issues will directly translate to happy customers. That is what it means to be operations ready!
As the old saying goes, “everything’s great, until it isn’t.” When things go sideways, you need to assess, correct and transcend service-disrupting events quickly and efficiently. What exactly does this look like?
- Assess: Identify the source of the service failure.
- Correct: Work the problem to resolution and restore services.
- Transcend: Events are forestalled or resolved quickly to limit services downtime, and resolutions are fed into updated policies/procedures for future anticipated use.
An event could be degraded network quality or an outage, or a customer-service problem like billing and credit card payments. Such issues erode revenue and customer satisfaction and resolving them is time-sensitive. To minimize revenue losses, increased expenses, and customer churn, you’ve got to address them swiftly and thoroughly. This means putting a plan in place before taking your broadband network live. Let’s take a closer look.
Options for Implementing an Operations-Ready Approach
Generally speaking, you’ve got two basic options for implementing an operations-ready approach to your ISP’s business.
The first option is to piecemeal the operational technologies. In this case, your local staff would be responsible for all the operational elements of the business (e.g., network, customers, integrations, marketing, compliance, and billing) and they would coordinate with vendors providing each of the support systems or functions. While this option enables you to keep all operational control in-house, it poses a couple of challenges. If this is your first broadband project, there will be a steep learning curve as your internal team gets up to speed on the unique challenges of broadband and the fiber ecosystem. Also, the ability to transcend issues will require your team to build a living knowledge base from which they can draw as they face new problems in the future. The most challenging aspect of an internally staffed model is time. As noted earlier, the moment issues arise, the clock begins ticking. Every hour that passes without a resolution exacts a high cost in terms of lost revenue, increased expenses, and potential churn; without a guidebook on the first day, time is not your friend.
The second option is to partner with a turnkey solution provider who is fluent in the requirements of operating a broadband ISP. Finding a partner whose expertise extends beyond your specific scope of work helps ensure you have the support you need to navigate the challenges, complexity, and issues that arise. The right partner can bring the technology, operational expertise, procedural knowledge, and recovery knowledge to bear from day one.
Operations-Ready from Day 1
Fujitsu knows that the learning curve is steep and complex and understands the desire to maintain a level of control over your operations. That is why our unique turnkey DBOM approach focuses on co-creation and is designed to have your operations-ready from the start. We customize and integrate procedures and staff to leverage your existing utility operations and systems where appropriate, and when you’re ready, we hand you the keys so you can drive your own success. And, we remain with you every step of the journey for advice and support. This is the Fujitsu DBOM Transfer Model; its goal is to get your ISP operations-ready, with happy customers and revenue flowing in.