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 Building Better Communities - How Data Analytics Play a Key Role in The New Frontier of 5G Deployment and Beyond

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Freelance Writer and Editor Jeana Durst Media

Jeana Durst is a freelance writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. For over 10 years, she’s written for various consumer and trade magazines, including four years as executive editor of...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-12 - Data Analytics & Intelligence, click here for more

It’s a universal truth: When things change, we adapt, or get left behind.With the deployment of 5G ramping up, and with broadband access gaining more importance than ever before to our communities as more people work remotely, change is in full speed. Utility and communication companies have to evolve. John Sciarabba, CEO at Alden, believes that the way these companies approach data analytics and intelligence must undergo a seismic shift in order to rise to the occasion. “Data must be efficiently captured, quickly acted upon, and easily accessible by multiple stakeholders,” says Sciarabba. Having been in the industry since 1995, he presents a unique long view of the issues at hand. A true data-driven future is 100 percent achievable when companies shift their mindsets to focus on how and when to share data.  

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Working together is key to creating better communities—and a better world. A report from the Brookings Institute, Enabling Opportunities: 5G, the Internet of Things, and Communities of Color, speaks about the impact. “5G will be a determining factor in whether or not mobile-dependent users fully partake in the global digital economy, especially as smartphones, cell phones, and other wireless-enabled devices become the only gateway to the internet for certain populations,” explains author Nicol Turner Lee. The report emphasizes that for the communities that lack reliable broadband access, 5G can be a gateway to “increased economic opportunity through improved access to social services, such as health care, education, transportation, energy, and employment.”  

With so much hanging in the balance, utilities must understand the current conditions that are driving the need to evolve in order to realize why the industry must shift. Then they must look toward what steps can be taken to create a climate of data sharing that can create real value both within a company’s internal system and externally among various stakeholders.  

What’s Driving Change 

It’s a brave new world. Today’s climate is one that utilities and communication companies have never encountered. “With 5G and the fiber rollout that goes with it comes an unprecedented volume of work. There are many more requests to attach things to poles and other structures,” says Sciarabba. Simply put, the volume is much larger than it has been in the past.  

However, the increasing volume of work is not the only driver; the rate that 5G is being deployed is swift and fierce. Add to that the complex nature of the work that must be done, and you begin to see the enormity of the challenge. For instance, Sciarabba explains that “it’s not just hanging cable or wire on the pole. We now have these other types of assets, or nodes, that are out there.” With options for small cell attachments—as opposed to Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS)—gaining traction, deployments today often necessitate that field personnel learn new skills.    

Lastly, the number and makeup of stakeholders who are involved in 5G and broadband deployment look entirely different from in the past. There are companies that own the assets or structures as well as the entities who attach their equipment, and these parties must be in sync. Add to the mix the multiple engineering and service firms involved (sometimes engaging structure owners as they bid on 5G projects), and the number of stakeholders simply increases.  Also, non-industry players must now be consulted in many cases. Municipalities are involved, especially when neighborhood aesthetics are at play. Though all of these stakeholders have divergent immediate interests, they are united by one common goal: creating more connected communities equipped with the latest technology.  

The Path to the Future  

The changing business climate has already demanded a new approach, and now it’s up to each company to take steps to move the industry forward. The challenges are vast, yet solvable when stakeholders work together—no small order considering there is not yet a common language with which companies communicate information about critical infrastructure assets. Without a nationwide plan, the main objective of realizing the practical and economic benefits to the public with 5G deployment is being delayed by inefficient (or sometimes non-existent) collaboration and in extreme cases unnecessary drawn-out court battles that result in slower delivery of vital services to close the digital divide.   

What will be key for stakeholders to work together? Consider the following four important mindset shifts:  

  1. Recognize that the parties involved have the same objective. “Everyone wants to serve our communities and help them prosper. It’s easy to get stuck in one perspective and think only about the people who are creating the change that feels like friction. We need everybody working together to help these new services get deployed, which will benefit us as the public,” Sciarabba states.  
  2. Respect the constraints and goals beyond the main objective. For example, electric utilities must ensure that the plant stays safe and reliable, in terms of both new deployments and existing assets. Meanwhile, the communications companies are in a race for market share, so they have to move fast in order to compete. The different roles that each party plays must be respected by striking that balance to meet the goals that ultimately achieve the larger objective of making the community better.  
  3. Realize the need to be data driven. Walk into any business today, and you expect they  have the data required to make informed decisions and run their operation efficiently. It’s no different for utilities. It’s 2020, so we can measure and track anything. As a business, if you are not operating from data, then you are falling behind. Bottom line: Only when you have up-to-date data and can quickly act on it, can you decide how to best allocate resources to achieve your desired outcome.  
  4. Shift from a project mindset to process mindset. What exactly does this mean? Historically, staff has viewed each job as a project—with a start and an end. The thinking around any data collected and downstream work went only as far as project completion; however, with a process mindset, companies can approach their work in repeatable, consistent, and scalable ways that allow them to move a volume of work through to the objective — and better yet, to make that data available for future decision-making, either internally or externally.   

To embrace these lens shifts, there is no room for an “us versus them” mentality. While many companies readily accept this idea, they simply have no blueprint to begin making headway. That’s why educating stakeholders to shift to a process mindset is critical. It is not enough to capture more data; processes must be developed that allow everyone to take action. When utility and communications companies can readily share meaningful data to drive real progress toward shared objectives, they are positioned to not only meet the demands of 5G but also for the future. “5G is just the beginning – what comes next are more assets that use that 5G network to provide new services, along with more assets being deployed, more structures being utilized, and more types of structures involved,” Sciarabba says. In short, any place the IoT allows for a sensor to measure data is in play. This could include everything from traffic sensors to security hardware and cameras.   

To put it another way, companies that learn to evolve will be rewarded with new business and the capacity to manage it by implementing scalable processes. As Sciarabba explains, “if we go into it with a project mindset, we are never going to catch up because this is just going to continue to evolve.”  

Providing Real Value 

To meet the latest demands, it’s evident that processes must be sped up, safely and efficiently. Even with this fact established, there’s a question that lingers. What is the real worth to each company’s business? To answer that question, let’s examine what foundations must be laid to realize true value.  

First, the data that’s shared has to be accurate and meaningful. After all, any new process is only as good as the data that is collected to inform it. There are precision measurement products new to the utility space that combine hardware, technology, and software to create powerful data collection solutions that can pinpoint measurements with unparalleled accuracy. When utilities have the right data, assessments can be made in the office that are faster and more efficient than going to the field to get more data. Having access to accurate data is essential, but real progress demands that you can use it to take action. With software that helps with the data organization and analysis, company experts can free up their most valuable resource: time.  

In this way, data-driven decision making provides the most viable avenue to optimizing time needed for the 5G rollout without sacrificing data integrity. With so many stakeholders relying on data sharing to move the work forward, in order to really move the needle, companies have to share their data with their partners. Sciarabba likens this scenario to “social media meets asset management in the utility space.” As with Facebook, some asset management software solutions allow users to efficiently share information with multiple parties while also allowing them to customize who has access. Stakeholders need to share data in a system that not only has the right controls but also provides a process that enables the use of that data to achieve the objective.  

So, what is standing in the way? The biggest deterrent for sharing information on this scale is that utility companies have never done it before. But relying on the status quo is no reason to back off the challenge. “With the right tools in place, they don’t have to fight the technology, so it’s only about a matter of deciding what the new business process looks like,” Sciarabba says, adding, “You want your experts using their expertise as much as possible, not running down data—that’s what the technology is there for, to do the legwork.” Plus, data sharing is how you can demonstrate to stakeholders—whether that’s company teams, shareholders, regulators or partners in industry— that you are achieving the objectives.  

When businesses shift to sharing the necessary data required to take action, their experts can then focus on what new business processes look like. When you can remove the obstacles for companies to change, they can focus on core objectives and being the best in their business—a big step for individual business success, and an even bigger one for the communities they serve.  What can that future look like? Sciarabba sees it this way: “If we can do more with resources we have, do higher-value work with resources we have, eliminate the friction with everyone involved, then, at the end of the day, we get to the future faster, 5G faster, and smarter power and smarter cities faster.”    


Sources: https://www.brookings.edu/research/enabling-opportunities-5g-the-internet-of-things-and-communities-of-color/ 

John Sciarabba, CEO, founded Alden in 1995. He received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Clarkson University and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to Alden, John worked for Bellcore and Kodak, where he was responsible for emerging video technology and services and project management. He serves on the board of PMMC, a revenue cycle software solution for hospitals and health systems. This range of experiences gives him a unique long view of the challenges faced by the utility and communications industries.

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Thank Jeana for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 2, 2020

When businesses shift to sharing the necessary data required to take action, their experts can then focus on what new business processes look like. When you can remove the obstacles for companies to change, they can focus on core objectives and being the best in their business—a big step for individual business success, and an even bigger one for the communities they serve.

Great sentiment, thanks for sharing! One of the biggest hurdles still seems to be the inertia of 'we've always done things this way' and not adopting the new ways. Hopefully that will continue to get chipped away at!

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