Reduce truck rolls with efficient OSS inventory management

16 September 2020

Reduce truck rolls with efficient OSS inventory management

Truck rolls cost money, plain and simple. Many are unnecessary or are the result of inaccurate information that means faults and problems cannot be accurately traced – necessitating site visits. A single source of network inventory data is essential for containing costs and reducing truck rolls – and a prerequisite for any automation program.

What is the true cost of a truck roll in telecoms?

When things go wrong in your network, visiting a site in the field – or, as the industry puts it, making a ‘truck roll’ – is sometimes essential. Kit or components may need to be physically delivered and installed. Faulty equipment may need to be repaired or replaced in situ – all of which means that a technician may have to travel to a remote location and complete the required task.

However, truck rolls are expensive. Sending a technician to a site costs time and money. In fact, according to Technology & Services Industry Association (TSIA), a US-based group, the average cost for a truck roll is $1000 for each event.

Across a customer base of a few million users, this could really mount up – and cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars annually. And, with new kinds of devices to support IoT applications and advanced 5G use cases emerging all the time, there’s a risk that still more truck rolls will be required. So, with pressure on margins and intense market competition, it’s something that operators are keen to minimize or avoid altogether.

Reaching the last mile

Telecoms networks – whether mobile, fiber, DSL or legacy copper – are, by definition, highly distributed. The access network – the famous last mile – connects each building and customer to the main network. So, all operators have to be able to manage these deployed assets, which includes all centralized and distributed resources. With a national footprint, the number of such locations can be huge – thousands of base stations and cabinets, millions of customer addresses, and so on.

Of course, many faults can be rectified remotely. This can be achieved through the Network Operations Center (NOC), which is typically manned by engineering staff specialized in diagnosing errors. Many operators are investigating how to automate these processes, so that staff can be directed to tasks that generate value rather than maintenance activities.

NOC automation is coming

Automation will undoubtedly have a huge impact on network management, but the adoption of such processes is, currently, in its infancy. None-the-less, baby steps are being taken. Automation in this context depends on a clear definition of the actions that should result once a particular fault has been identified. In turn, this depends on assigning the alarms and indicators that are generated by network components to the action – or series of actions – that should result.

This isn’t just desirable for fault management and problem resolution. Automation is also essential for enhancing service activation and delivery processes, as we have noted in previous posts. But, whether automation is deployed to enhance fault management and resolution, or for operational and business processes, a key requirement that underpins any automation initiatives is efficient OSS inventory management – which means this is also essential for reducing the number of site visits. Why?

A single source of data

One of the issues with managing distributed networks is knowing where everything is. That doesn’t just apply to physical resources – a cable, a fiber, an antenna – but also to the logical resources that are required for a specific service. A resource such as a fiber may have a fault, but what services does that effect (100Gb? 50Gbs? SD-WAN?) and where is the fault to be found? Since a fiber may be pretty long, this is hugely important.

In fact, many faults could have multiple causes, affect multiple services and a number of customers – and, there may be other data associated with a particular client that’s relevant, such as a specific SLA contract. For operators in general – but FTTH, FTTC and mobile service providers in particular, this is hugely important.

So, marrying all of this data together is indispensable to the process of fixing things and ensuring that the correct remedial steps are taken. The more of this that can be done remotely, the less need (with the obvious exceptions of things like cuts to fiber connections) there will be to actually send someone to fix the problem via truck rolls.

Accurate network inventory data

Accurate network inventory, however, spanning all physical, virtual and logical assets – and their location – isn’t something enjoyed by all operators. With growing network complexity, growing costs and increasingly demanding customers, this is a significant oversight and huge problem to resolve. And, with even more pressure to reduce costs, the money wasted on unnecessary truck rolls is an obvious target for action.

All operators – without exception – need an accurate network inventory solution that consolidates data from different sources – and which can provide data to be used by other systems (for example, a CRM that shows precisely what SLA is in place for a specific customer affected by a new issue).

Such a solution that gives operators the ability to focus on problems and to correlate these with the resources impacted and their position is essential – as well as the ability to understand what other resources (and customers) may be affected by a problem as part of a cascade of dependencies.

Many truck rolls are, in today’s world, unnecessary. Increased levels of automation will eliminate many, but automation is equally dependent on the right data – a network inventory system that provides a single source of data is essential.

But, whether responses are automated or not, you still need to be able to access that single source of inventory data. So, irrespective of where you are in your automation journey, you need to ensure you have the inventory you need. It could lead to dramatic savings through a reduction in the number of truck rolls.