Chorus chooses SaaS tool for cabinet ‘sausage factory’

Tool to manage lifecycle of network cabinet installation project

Telecom’s network company, Chorus, has a huge task ahead of it: deploying and installing 3,600 network cabinets all around the country, over four years, to shorten our local loops and boost national broadband speeds.

To meet that target it has to build, dispatch and install five cabinets a day, each day, every day, just in time.

IDC telecommunications analyst Rosalie Nelson has described the effort as unprecedented in its scope. For that reason, it is not a project Chorus is undertaking on its own: the company only has around 180 employees. A host of contractors, partners, consultants and others are involved, from obtaining resource consents to commissioning the cabinets.

Chorus was building and deploying cabinets before the major cabinetisation project got under way. However, this was done as batch manufacturing. To meet the demands of the new project — and ramp up from 90 cabinets a year to 1200 — this had to be converted to flow manufacturing, where cabinets are produced, dispatched and installed in quick sequence.

All of the dispersed stakeholders and contractors to the project need to be provided with up-to-date information and reporting and Chorus needs to be able to track progress closely — in real-time, in fact. To support that job, it selected a software as a service (SaaS) management tool called iToolsOnline.

Leading the Chorus effort, as project sponsor, is fibre-to-the-node (FttN) programme manager Ed Beattie and project manager Colin MacDonald.

MacDonald says what was needed was not so much a project management tool, but a tool to manage the lifecycle of the project and the relationships with service providers.

Beattie says there are a lot of inputs into the project, a lot of suppliers to it and each of these has milestones to meet. Each supplier needs access to and the ability to generate up-to-date information in the system.

“If something happened this afternoon, we’d know about it this afternoon,” he says.

iToolsOnline not only tracks activity, but stores critical project documents that need to be accessed, such as build and design documents for cabinets and resource consents.

Beattie says quite a few tools were looked at during the selection. A key criteria was simplicity, so the tools would be easy to teach, intuitive and, given the access requirements, web-based. Cost was also a factor.

MacDonald says Chorus spent a long time looking at its options. Site visits were made to one other local user, Auckland City Council, and other user references, at Air New Zealand and Fonterra, considered.

The selection represents Chorus’ first move into SaaS.

Beattie says the system produces detailed, but not complex, reports. Given the high profile of the fibre-to-the-node project, and the requirement to report to Telecom CEO Paul Reynolds, that was essential.

MacDonald adds that the system provides a powerful management dashboard for snapshot project overviews. This includes traffic-light warnings to help manage risk areas.

The iToolsOnline system appears likely to live on at Chorus well beyond the end of the FttN project. The company is now integrating its other network building activities into the SaaS tool.

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