Fresh data analytics tool slashes Openreach’s Ethernet delivery times

Openreach discusses its work with analytics partner Qlik, which is giving its teams new insights into Ethernet and enterprise fibre network service delivery data, and says it has seen significant service improvements in doing so

The UK’s national broadband network builder, Openreach, credits its use of Qlik’s Qlik Sense data analytics tool with helping to halve the time it takes to connect business customers to fibre broadband services, and an unprecedented turnaround in its net promoter score (NPS).

A frequent source of controversy and a frequent target of public and media ire, Openreach has been trying to turn its business around in the past couple of years, motivated at least in part by the Ofcom-mandated decision to force it to legally separate from its parent, BT.

As part of this, it engaged with Qlik in late 2016 within its Fibre Network Delivery (FND) business on a pilot basis to begin to understand better how a customer order moves through the system, and refine and improve its processes based on the data being generated.

The FND business focuses on delivering Ethernet circuits, and more recently fibre broadband, into large businesses and key services providers, such as hospitals, schools and mobile cell sites.

Although it does not directly touch the average consumer of a home broadband service, says Jason Teoh, FND head of business intelligence at Openreach, it is ultimately subject to the same basic pressures –  rising demand for effective service delivery and, crucially, ultrafast speeds and capacity, from end-users.

As head of business intelligence, Teoh’s remit and responsibility within Openreach essentially involves using the organisation’s data to track Ethernet customer orders through its systems, and creating visualisations, reports and tools for the operations teams to use.

The challenge

However, about two years ago, not everything was going quite according to plan at Openreach, says Teoh. “Back then, we had very poor lead times on Ethernet delivery. It was taking far too long to connect customers. On average, our lead times were 70 to 75 days, but it wasn’t unheard of for it to take longer and we had horror stories of some taking six to 12 months.”

For large orders to get bogged down and tied up in red tape is not uncommon for an organisation like Openreach. This is because delivering a large-scale Ethernet deployment is often a complex, bespoke civil engineering project, not at all like ordering a home broadband connection where the infrastructure is usually already in place.

For example, these orders will usually need to span multiple sites and will often require new fibre to be laid, which introduces more potential for delays when obtaining permissions for roadworks and wayleaves, if needed.

Identifying bottlenecks

“In late 2016, early 2017, we engaged with Qlik, which was brought to us by a third party consultancy that suggested it would be a great tool to visualise that order journey, identify bottlenecks in it, and tweak our processes,” says Teoh.

He put his Ethernet team to work using Qlik’s Sense product to visualise the number of orders working their way through FND’s system over a rolling 140-day period and see how the profile of those orders was changing – whether total volumes were increasing or decreasing, how many were being made and how many completed, for example.

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The team then used that data to highlight to the operations teams where they needed to focus on orders that had become stuck somewhere in the process.

Qlik says Sense’s proprietary “associative engine” feature and augmented intelligence capabilities help users to find insights in their data that traditional, query-based business intelligence (BI) tools would miss. Users can freely search and navigate across all the organisation’s data, pivoting their analysis if new ideas or insights surface.

By collating data from Openreach’s multiple systems and presenting it in this more user-friendly way, Teoh says the business now has a much clearer view of the nature of the orders it is working on, including information on how long each job has been waiting for completion, enabling managers to react more quickly when deciding their next steps.

Delivery times slashed

After the merger of Openreach’s Ethernet and Network units to form FND in April 2018, Teoh rolled out Qlik Sense more widely as part of a single analytics strategy. The product is now available to all 1,000 managers within the unit.

“By putting data into the hands of our operations team that they hadn’t had before, we highlighted parts of the process and made them aware of things they’d not seen before,” says Teoh. “Telling them these things is really eye-opening for them, and it’s driven a different focus in the operation, with people looking at different parts of the process and becoming more data-literate.

“Previously, people were scared of playing with data because, more often than not, the analytical tool of choice is Excel and people are scared of that. Having a nice, easy, visual tool changes how people look at, and approach, data.”

The results of this more data-literate approach speak for themselves. Over the past 18 to 24 months, delivery times for Ethernet orders have dropped from the previous average of 70-75 days to 30-35 days, and while Openreach has been hard at work across its IT stack as it strives to enhance its service delivery, Qlik can doubtless claim much credit, says Teoh.

Consumer-facing applications

Moving forward, says Teoh, there is also intent within the wider Openreach business to extend the use of Qlik Sense to other fibre-build programmes besides Ethernet.

“Our service delivery colleagues are looking to use it for service delivery for consumers,” he says. “In the longer term, we would like to figure out how to put data analytics into the hands of engineers.

“Because of the user-friendly nature of Qlik, its smartphone interface, there are potentially opportunities to not just have a data at a management level, but to let engineers use it to make decisions in the field.

“That fits with the new culture in Openreach, which is really around empowering our engineers.”

This stage of the project is in its early days, but Teoh already sees a number of potential applications for Openreach’s growing cohort of road warriors. For example, it might one day be possible for an engineer to: schedule their own day from a list of jobs based on priority and age; use their own initiative to pick different network routes and more effective ways to connect multiple customers at once; or collaborate with their colleagues in the field.

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