When projects go beyond the local level, having an organized plan and a solid chain of command help ensure timeliness, as one organization exemplifies.
by Patrick McLaughlin
In the information age of today, it is quite common for an end-userorganization to comprise multiple sites that may be geographically dispersed yet have to be able to communicate flawlessly with each other. In the case of Fortune 500-type organizations, the multiple-site setup is a virtual certainty.
These sprawling organizations face complex challenges if they try to manage their technology—including networking and cabling—from a single point, such as corporate headquarters. Consequently, these companies typically hire solution providers to managethe installation and maintenance of their technologyneeds across many sites. In turn, the solution providers typically hire subcontractors to handle differentaspects of the deployments. Often, those subcontractors sub out aspects of their work; and so it goes to the point where in a great many cases, the actual technicians on a jobsite are several degrees removed from the end-userorganization.
A term commonly used to describe the servicing of end-user organizations" geographically dispersed needs is the technology field rollout. "By definition, a tech-nology field rollout is a minimum of two individualsites requiring technology services implemented byon-site field technicians," says Dennis Mazaris, president of Concert Technologies (www.concerttech.com), which specializes in technology field rollouts. In the rollout field since 1995, Mazaris approaches his profession and his projects with a sense of organization that indicates managing these projects is a science rather than an art.
A structured approach
For example, he uses the terms "technology," "solution," and "system" to define and explain the dynamics of end-user needs and how they get met. Technology may be described as users" capability needs and may include voice, video, data, and security applications. As such, technology drives the need for a solution, which in simple terms is the response to the users" requirements. The system is the means by which that solution is delivered, including processes and methodologies. The system—the actualdelivery of solutions—is at the heart of the field rollout.
Furthermore, rollouts can be classified or categorized based on their complexity and duration. While all rollouts are similar in that they involve multiple sites, they vary in other characteristics. A Category 1 rollout takes one day or less and the work is typically confined to a specific area at the given site. A Category 2 rollout, meanwhile, takes between two and six days, and may involve work on an entire floor of a building. A Category 3 rollout, the most complex, is seven or more days in duration and often includes work performed throughout a building.
Despite this organized approach to managing rollouts, Mazaris cautions there are no universal answers to general questions about these projects. "The classification of the rollout—Category 1, 2, or 3—will affect how you tend to and manage them," he says. "It also is an indication of what to expect from them. For example, if the end user has a remote site, will the project at this site be a one-day job, or will a crew be there for weeks or months? What happens if a crew doesn"t make it to the remote site? Are we talking about a one-day job that was missed, or is it a new install of 400 cabling runs that just got put off schedule?"
As such, the elevator pitch that includes the terms "single point of contact," "installation contractors everywhere," and "software applications" often falls far short of addressing the complexities of a nationwide rollout.
"That pitch doesn"t fly when you"re managing hundreds of sites per week," Ma-zaris says. Some of Concert"s customers have credited the firm with having people in many geographic areas, he says, but the real value comes from three elements: the process management structure, internal resources, and relationships.
Concert"s process structure is described as centralized single-tier, in which a customer—typically, a solution provider—enlists a technology field rollout company. That company uses local field technicians at the rollout sites. Contrast that with the centralized multi-tier structure, in which there are several tiers of subcontractorsbetween the rollout company and thelocal field technicians.
Other structures include tech-for-hire, in which a project manager within the solution-provider company hires what is essentially temporary labor in the form of field technicians at local sites. In the internal employee process structure, the customer"s internal project manager oversees local technicians at some sites and hires a technology field rollout company for other sites. Additional, hybrid structures exist that mayinvolve internal project managers as well as tech-for-hires, and multi-tier structures that deploy different rollout companies in different geographical areas.
Mazaris has authored a whitepaper, Lower project costs and time: A guide to selecting the right fieldoption for your rollout, which details these structures and their practical implementations in the field.
Being responsible for projects carried out across the country, Concert Technologies is constantly dealing with regulations and codes at municipal, state, and fed-eral levels. The issues go beyond appropriate contractor licensing to include wage-determination scales and bonding issues. But in this election year, a quote from former Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O"Neill is prescient: All politics is local. In this case, all technology field rollouts are local also. That is where the element ofrelationships can make a tremendous difference as to whether a technology field rollout company succeeds or fails.
"You have to have relationships with local contractors and profiles on them to make sure they meet your standards," Mazarissays. He credits his previous work with the ETL Independent Verification Program (see sidebar), in part, with establishing working relationships withcontractors in locales nationwide. Those relationships enable Concert to send one local contractor, with which it has a relationship, onsite to ensure a project is progressing as expected.
Overall, there are few, if any, blanket answers or re-sponses in the realm of nationwide technology rollouts. As Concert Technologies" approach over the past 13 years indicates, the constancy of a solid process structure combined with internal management and relationships across the nation are enablers of success in this complex field.
PATRICK McLAUGHLIN is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.
Concert puts decades of experience to work
Long-time readers of Cabling Installation & Maintenance may recognize the name Dennis Mazaris, president of Concert Technologies. His name has appeared on the pages of this publication and on our web site over the course of several years.
Mazaris owned a structured-cabling company for approximately 10 years,after working for an interconnect and then a cabling contractor that had worked for the interconnect. In 1995, after a decade of cabling-company ownership, he saw an opportunity in the business ofextending telecommunications services for end-user organizations, primarily in the form of demarcation extensions on a nationwide basis. Concert Technologies was born. The next year, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 paved the way for growth in his business, and inaddition to extending demarcations, Concert began installing customer-premises equipment.
Despite the fact that technology rollouts encompass more than structured cabling, Mazaris credits his cabling background with enabling today"s success. "Owning a structured cabling company for 10 years was a good foundation," he says. "Anyone who does it knows it"s the best foundation you can have for installing technology."
He likens the function of a technology-rollout company to a delivery service such as FedEx or UPS, and then some. "Like a FedEx, we deliver what the customer needs—we bring it there," he says. "But we also set it up once we get it there."—P.M.