The future of telco construction technologies Q&A with ConSol Product Owner Patricia McIlwraith

Patricia McIlwraith, ConSol Product Owner at Yarris, discusses how telco construction businesses can leverage technology to improve performance.

The telco construction industry is extremely competitive, and businesses must use every tool at their disposal to maintain and grow market share. But what technologies can help them deliver the best results?

We spoke to Patricia McIlwraith, ConSol Product Owner at Yarris, to learn more about developments in the sector and the systems that businesses use to optimise operational performance.

What are currently the biggest drivers for the telco construction market?

I believe the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout has been the primary driver behind market changes in the telco construction space over the last few years. It is a very large, very consuming enterprise and I don’t think they have got it quite right yet.

There is a lot of public and political focus on getting the NBN completed in a timely, cost-effective manner. Billions of dollars have already been spent and it is still a work in progress. Meanwhile, companies are vying with each other to get a share of this very large market.

Where we fit into this is that we allow all those who are involved in the NBN project to manage the work that the rollout will require through our ConSol product. Our primary customer to date has been Telstra, who have about 50 per cent of the market share in the telco workspace in Australia.

How can Yarris help telcos?

We have been working with telcos, including Telstra and all their suppliers, for more than 10 years. We understand the telco industry very well. We understand what a work order is, how to get it out there and how to manage it efficiently and effectively.

What we provide is a solution that enables customers to engage a skilled workforce to undertake a series of tasks, which – when undertaken together – will complete a project. ConSol allows the definition of those projects to be handled, including the identification of all the tasks and the scoping of costs.

The system gives transparency to both immediate and long-term tasks across all stakeholders who are involved in accessing the projects. Our customers need quick ways of defining work and they want to achieve more with less – all the time.

Customers want to be able to monitor work in progress, and they want to be able to engage the best people for the right jobs. Ultimately, they need quality but at the best price, and they want to ensure their end client is satisfied.

ConSol is a tool that our customers use to engage their suppliers. Meanwhile, the suppliers are at the other end of the equation and they are waiting for jobs to come in. These suppliers often don’t have very large margins on projects, so they are keen to get as much work and handle it as efficiently as possible to allow them to get more work.

ConSol is flexible, transparent, reliable and cost-effective in this very competitive market. And it’s got Yarris behind it; we have a team of passionate and involved people who are trying to solve the problem with them.

What do your customers like most about ConSol?

We have asked this question of a few customers. Service Stream said ConSol provides a structured end-to-end process with adequate gate security throughout the order lifecycle.

In other words, prior to implementing ConSol, they were running a very large business on disparate spreadsheets, which involved different groups of people managing different components of the business. They had no clear understanding of the processes that they had to go through to get to the next stage.

ConSol is a very logical staged application; you have to proceed through these stages to get the work done. Service Stream said they really appreciated the way ConSol structured the workflow for them.

Furthermore, they’ve appreciated the claims processing, as they don’t feel any other system does it as effectively as we do. Claims processing is the supplier’s request for payments. ConSol handles the interim lifecycle of a work order, but we don’t just manage the definition and engagement process, we also handle the management of costs for suppliers really well.

Service Stream also said our data is something they rely on quite heavily now in order to help them manage their business processes. The company has been a customer of ours for five or six years, and we have built up a fairly robust history of transactions that they can use to guide future decisions. They rely on the integrity of the information we collect on their behalf to make many of their day-to-day business decisions.

You mentioned Telstra has been your primary customer. What have they said about ConSol?

We have been working with Telstra a very long time. They appreciate our responsiveness and the integrity of the data within ConSol. We integrate with their SAP accounting system and we do so quickly and efficiently. We are embedded in that process; we are tried and proven.

In fact, when they upgraded last year to the latest version of SAP, we were one of the few vendors they engaged that were able to handle the transition in a way that was almost problem free. This was an 18-month project, so it was long and involved, and very risky from Telstra’s perspective because it involved their whole accounting system.

Telstra also continue to run their costs through us because they know it works. We manage their end-to-end work order process for them – from the initial design of orders through to the construct process. We are the trusted experts. So they have purchased this system for us to manage their work orders and when they have problems with the process – and I’m not talking about the technical process or what the application does – but we work together to resolve their business issues.

Meanwhile, cost-cutting has been a major driver for large telco businesses. Over the last four to five years, Telstra has been cost-cutting quite aggressively. One of those cost-cutting drives was moving most of their upfront order creation processes to India in an offshoring exercise. We have made that very very simple for them because ConSol allows orders to be templated, which means processes within the application can be automated. So for this less-skilled workforce to be able to take on a very large number of orders and manage them effectively, we have made that pretty pain free for them.

What new functionality are you planning for ConSol?

The primary focus for 2017 is mobile. We are looking to get ConSol onto Android and get it out there more. Early next year, we are also trying to establish a marketplace for services for our suppliers. This will give them more opportunities to utilise the networking that ConSol can provide.

In parallel, we run a continuous improvement development program, where we are constantly dealing with the smaller issues that our customers discuss with us. We release updates every few months with small refinements, such as screen changes, buttons movements and adding more definitions onscreen. As mentioned, this is driven largely from our customer feedback.

We have a roadmap of large changes that we would also love to do. We are looking at an interactive, tailorable operations dashboard that integrates user-configurable surveys and checklists. We have surveys and checklists, but they need to be defined first. One of the key drivers for ConSol is to make our customers autonomous. We want to allow them to create the things they need to create without relying on another change request and a change to the system that takes time and money. Where we can, we have built flexibility into ConSol itself for them to make their own changes.

Project management is an important part of our application, so we want to make that more robust by building a more effective order dependencies structure within our project and order structure. We are working on automated scheduling, which is the allocation of work to our suppliers. We have a lot of information about our suppliers: skills, capacities and where work is occurring. We would like to automate the allocation of that work with the ability for the customer to override it. So again, it is about streamlining the order creation process.

What kinds of APIs can be shared with ConSol?

We have a growing library of APIs. Establishing ourselves as part of an integrated hub of information is one of the key drivers for Yarris on ConSol. We would like to be able to communicate with other systems and to do that effectively, so APIs is the way for us to go.

Our library of APIs currently has been defined by our own needs. So we use our own APIs to transfer information to and from ConSol mobile. Because of that, the focus to date has been primarily on order information for orders and all the collateral to support orders that the mobile device needs. We have APIs to allow that transfer of information.

These will become a higher priority as we develop more extensive integration into our customers’ systems. We want to develop APIs around project views, claims, invoices and contracts that transfer the exchange of information through the APIs in real-time and allow the more effective management of all data.

Ultimately, ConSol streamlines processes, which reduces the need for people to sit at a keyboard, particularly our suppliers. We want them to be able to do the things they do best, which is to be out in the field digging pits and laying cables, and anything that reduces the amount of keyboard input for them is where we continue to place our focus. ConSol is tried and true and it is mission-critical for those areas of a business that utilise it.