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Transforming Telco Network and Field Services in the age of COVID-19

Nicolas Clinckx
June 11, 2020

Several weeks ago, telco operators around the world took the proactive step of limiting network and field services to critical interventions as a way of preserving the health and safety of their employees and customers. While this was certainly the responsible course to take, many operators now find themselves facing a significant backlog of customer issues, as well as delays in major infrastructure programs such as fiber or 5G deployments.

Unfortunately for telcos, responding to COVID-19 will not be a restart, so much as a re-plan. With the pandemic disrupting every aspect of the business—from workforce and equipment availability, to supply chain operations, to forecasting —these organizations must now reexamine their business priorities within the context of the pandemic. Further, this global health emergency inspired an overnight transformation in the way people live and work, prompting forward-looking telcos to consider how this event will change the nature of their business—and what that means for network and field services.

Short-term response: Accelerating recovery efforts to manage the field services backlog

As stay-at-home or social distancing orders stretch into a third month in some parts of the world, many businesses and their employees are eager to resume work. For most, they return with the understanding that they will need to make up for lost time, redoubling efforts to address the delays created by COVID-19 and minimize the impact on quality of service and customer satisfaction.

But before telco organizations can accelerate deployment, installation or maintenance efforts, they must first adapt their field operation plans and processes within this new reality—recasting timelines, budgets, schedules and forecasts to more precisely allocate resources, including people, equipment or spare parts.

With the unprecedented nature of this situation, organizations must rely on data-driven tools, advanced analytics and predictive modeling to update their planning mechanisms at the appropriate level of granularity, be it by zone, activity, vendor or day. To do so, organizations need to combine organizational data with external sources, such as public health and infection rates, unemployment data, travel restrictions, or social network activity pertaining to customer satisfactions issues or poor experience. This will help the organization determine when and where to restart efforts based on need, risk and impact.

Given that many operators will rely on contractors to support these efforts, part of the relaunch strategy should also include the effective management of third parties. For example, companies can create digital cockpits to track day-to-day progress and monitor internal and external achievements. Tracking activity in this way is absolutely crucial not only to ensuring that new project timelines and goals are met, but also allowing the business to adjust plans based on further disruption related to the market, the supply chain or even a resurgence of the virus.

Supplier and subcontractor performance dashboard

Long-term response: Addressing the structural changes posed by COVID-19

While the world has not yet recovered from COVID-19, it is clear that this event will change the way people live and work. For telcos, this will spur deep structural changes related to the transformation of network usage for both end users and B2B clients, as well as higher expectations for network availability and enhanced performance. Looking to the long term, operators will need to accelerate digital transformation efforts to support new consumption patterns and meet expectations of availability, speed and resiliency.

One of the most effective tactics to accelerate efforts without increasing the workforce is by bolstering remote operations through data-driven intelligent automation applications. Most commonly, remote capabilities include diagnostics tools for customers, which allow them to self-serve for common or relatively straight-forward issues; they can also be used to provide remote support for technicians through chatbots or augmented reality applications.

The benefits of these digital solutions are two-fold. First, they address customer needs, preserving the workforce for more complex tasks. Second, they improve the speed, efficiency and accuracy of technicians when they are in the field, offering step-by-step guidance as they complete jobs. For example, Vodafone Ziggo leverages intelligent visual assistance technology to serve clients remotely and has been shown to lower dispatch rate by 25 percent. In the field, technicians can use computer vision to scan complex equipment and access a computer-generated course of action for repairs or other service needs.

Augmented/Virtual Reality & 3D models to support technician interventions

At their most mature, remote capabilities can intervene in critical situations or even fix problems that do not require technical intervention. For example, with the growing use of smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is possible for operators to monitor advanced network parameters. Using remote capabilities, the operator could then manage critical parameters in an automated way to improve the overall health of the network or prevent a failure. While remote access will never fully replace technicians, these services are one way to reduce the amount of human intervention, increase the lead time for the field services team and enhance the first-time fix rate.

Similarly, operators can leverage data-driven technologies to better monitor the network, understand how risks may manifest, provide root cause analysis and prioritize efforts based on anticipated customer impact. For example, predictive maintenance capabilities, which rely on a combination of data-driven applications and sensors, as well as computer vision, drones or other technology solutions, can identify assets that are in need of replacement or repair.

Next steps: Creating the transformation agenda within the context of COVID-19

As with any digital transformation agenda, the one inspired by COVID cannot be a matter of embracing technology for technology’s sake. Rather, it should be performance-centric, with organizations evaluating use cases based on how they will affect the business—be it through improving the speed, increasing the first-time fix rate or other key performance indicator, boosting efficiency, or optimizing the customer experience.

For telco organizations operating at this crucial juncture, Capgemini Invent offers the necessary technology and sector experience and expertise to create an effective response and recovery strategy. For more information about how operators can create and deliver innovative digital experiences, at speed and scale, please view our latest offer, Inventive Telecoms or contact Nicolas Clinckx, Head of Telco-Media-Technology for France, Capgemini Invent.