Taking the Mystery out of SAAS Implementation for Field Operations

Saas platforms offer a significant opportunity to increase productivity and profitability for wireless construction but also represent many unknowns for organizations looking to deploy them for the first time

By Rob Tymchyshyn



The thousand-dollar picture

The photo had to be somewhere. On the camera, or maybe a phone. The entire crew was huddled in the break room, combing through hundreds of pictures taken during a three-day antenna upgrade.

The Close out Package couldn't be completed without a clear image of the Alpha Sector RRH Serial Number, and the business owner couldn't get paid without it.

After three hours of jpeg diving in the digital abyss, it was becoming painfully clear the photo did not exist. Which meant only one thing, two crew members who were originally assigned to start a new project instead had to drive four hundred miles, check into a hotel, coordinate access to the previously completed work site, and climb the tower to take a solitary missing picture. To make matters worse, the carefully planned low margin project would now show a loss.

Across the wireless industry, the business of deploying crews to sites to construct towers and small cells is jam-packed with risks such as this that can delay projects and eat into margins. Missing tools and materials, incomplete site details, weather conditions, dependencies on third parties, and many other variables all combine to stack the odds against a successful deployment.

These challenges will only increase with the anticipated wave of small cell deployments, which contain the same milestones and critical dependencies as macro builds, but in a shorter time frame, which shrinks the margin of error required to get to profitability. CTIA's recently published annual wireless industry survey, "The State of Wireless 2018," projects that wireless carriers will need to deploy roughly 800,000 small cells by 2026, a 550 percent increase from the 86,000 that exist today.



SAAS to the rescue?

This emerging challenge to effectively manage an increasing volume of small, yet complex projects, can be supported with Enterprise software platforms specifically designed to bring alignment, standardization, and orchestrated workflows across an organization.

These platforms offer the potential for a significant increase in productivity, in contrast to the relying on legacy, spot solutions – such as excel, databases, basic timekeeping tools, accounting platforms, and digital cameras – that many organizations have deployed over time.

A growing number of these Enterprise Platforms are available in the Cloud and can be purchased on a monthly subscription model, often based on the number of users. These SAAS, or Software as a Service, platforms bring many advantages over conventional software offerings, including limited up-front investment, eliminating the need to maintain IT infrastructure, continuous upgrades with new features, integration with mobile devices, and access from anywhere via Web-based Portals.

However, many SAAS platforms have been designed to support standard functions generally required across multiple industries, such as CRM (Sales Pipeline management) and Accounting systems. Adapting these platforms to suit a company's industry-specific processes flows, user interfaces and data structures can be a costly, time consuming, and frustrating experience.



Going Vertical

The good news is there is a growing number of "Vertical" SAAS solutions, such as FieldCLIX, designed specifically to address the unique requirements associated with niche processes and industries, including managing field operations for wireless construction.

These Vertical SAAS platforms come with many "out of box" capabilities that can be deployed with minimal configuration, including crew scheduling and resource management; workflow management; mobility tools; budget tracking; timekeeping and payroll automation; document management; material and asset management; vendor and client invoice management; and reporting and analytics.

And let's not forget photo checklist management.

By leveraging these Vertical SAAS platforms as a starting point, it's possible to accelerate the implementation timeline, adoption curve, and path to benefits because the processes and features already align with the way your organization works.

Immediate benefits will include increased visibility into the operational status of projects, real-time visibility into job costing, and the ability to improve project margins. Standardized processes and improved alignment and collaboration capabilities will put your teams in the best possible position to succeed while managing an increased volume of work. In addition, tighter controls around financial processes to help manage Client and Vendor related cash flow.

The ability to track and report on operational and financial metrics at a much more detailed level sets the stage for measuring and improving performance across several key areas, including increased field productivity (20 to 30 percent), reduced repeat site visits (5 to 10 percent), accelerated cash collection by (10 to 20 percent), and reduced material and asset costs (10 to 20 percent).



That all sounds great, however…

The good news is you've determined it's time for a significant change to the way you operate your business. The tipping point could be a desire to expand into new markets, streamline and standardize operations, or coming to terms with the fact that your finance platform can't provide timely and accurate details on the financial health of your projects. Most likely, it's all of the above along with your long-held desire to get more control and visibility into your day to day operations.

However, your resources are stretched thin, the business is running at max capacity, and you're pulling together the funds to upgrade part of your fleet. And there are so many unknowns that come with a software deployment at this scale. How long will it take? Will your employees see this as a distraction; just another imposition and beyond the already hectic daily workload? When will you start to see benefits?

These are all legitimate concerns; especially if your organization hasn't been through a software deployment that requires participation across multiple departments. The paradox is that many of the current challenges and distractions – the day to day fires – can be mitigated through the enhanced planning, coordination, visibility and risk management that comes with a Field Operations platform.

So how do you get to the other side of the chasm?



A roadmap for Saas Deployment

The truth is this much more than a Software deployment program. The decision to move into a SAAS platform is a commitment to transform the organization. The software will not only enable the transformation but is a bold statement of intent to your organization that the old way of working is no longer sustainable.

And this transformation will not happen overnight. If managed correctly, it is a gradual process that brings continuous improvement over time without overwhelming the organization.



At FieldCLIX, we've been through this journey with our clients many times, and have developed the following checklist of Critical Success Factors to set the stage for a successful Saas deployment and hopefully demystify the experience by providing a sense for what to expect as you make your way down the road:

1. Demonstrate commitment and engage your employees

2. Identify and empower the program manager

3. Stage the rollout in manageable bites

4. Set clear expectation for roles, and measure compliance

5. Train close as possible to going live

6. Pilot & Run Parallel to your existing systems



Demonstrate commitment and engage your employees

It's important that employees across the organization understand that leadership is fully aligned and committed, as well as what is expected of them.

Regular communications should take place during the implementation program, starting with an email, or preferably a town hall type event (in person or via phone) to lay out the timeline and goals for the implementation program, as well as the expectations for everyone's participation.

Offer an "open door" policy make it clear that you value their feedback. Many of the best ideas for enhancements and ways to successfully deploy the software will come from your employees. By engaging employees in the journey, their natural resistance will be replaced by enthusiasm for the new platform and help set the stage for the program's eventual success



Identify and empower the program manager

Your implementation project manager will play a critical role in planning and executing the project: herding cats if you want to get technical. As part of the initial communications, make it clear that they are empowered to gather data and schedule everyone's time for mission-critical activities, especially end-user training.

In some cases, this may be your Software partner, who often brings experience managing organizations through implementation projects. They will also need the backing of company leadership to help navigate the organization and get timely access to the data and other insights required to set up and configure the software platform.



Stage the rollout in manageable bites

All businesses are the same, and all businesses are different. When you're selling you want to emphasize the latter: the quality of your team, your track record of delivering on time, the shiny new fleet and test gear. When it comes to software implementation, the safe bet is to align with industry-standard processes.

There will be an organization pull toward replicating the unique processes, estimating models, and tracking spreadsheets that have evolved over the years. These are the processes you've established and that your team is comfortable with. Some users will show up with a wishlist of exciting new features and processes. Others will see an opportunity to finally bring operational discipline by designing complex workflows to track activities down to a granular level.

Because of this, there is a risk of generating a large volume of requirements deemed necessary to be configured before the SAAS platform can be deployed. In extreme cases, this "analysis paralysis" will add unnecessary complexity and delays to a timely deployment of the new platform.

Just jump in the pool. The water doesn't change temperature, no matter how long you stare at it.

One of the keys to success along the transformation journey is getting to the start. Staging the deployment into small, manageable steps will get you past the starting line while also minimizing the deployment risks. Many assumptions about the need for certain features will fade away, and new ideas and paths forward will open up as the organization grows into the tool.

A gradual rollout can also help control the pace at which an organization is required to adapt to change while also managing their day to day responsibilities. Over time, as a deployment and training cadence is established, new features can be rolled out as seamlessly as a new Chris Rock special on Netflix.



Set clear expectation for roles and measure compliance

Remember the time you were forced to switch hotel rooms in the middle of a business trip? Even though they offered an upgrade to a suite with a fruit basket and balcony overlooking the pool, it was still more of an aggravation. At least that's how it felt.

People will embrace change, but not before resisting it. That's just human nature.

When deploying a new software platform, end-user compliance can have a significant effect on achieving the projected benefits. Your time-to-benefit can be accelerated through clearly defined business policies and expectations for individual roles.

Project Managers will have access to enhanced operational tools – such as scheduling calendars, budgeting interfaces, and streamlined material ordering – to help plan and manage risk, which means an investment in time up front pays off with improved crew deployments and less time spent firefighting.

Field Crews will spend more time working from the mobile app, which can support timekeeping, insights into their schedules, work order details, expense management, and photo checklists. The adoption process is typically painless as they are generally grateful to have access to the information and only need to be reminded to keep their phones accessible and charged.

The Finance team will spend more time in the new platform, managing financial processes, and generating executive dashboards and reports. This represents a shift from relying solely on the accounting platform to do their job; in some cases, they will be moving between applications, but the payoff is the ability to generate more insightful reports with less manual data manipulation and access to a much broader set of client data required to support efficient Client invoicing and Vendor payments.

IT's role will change, with a focus on managing the creation of new users, configuring laptops and phones, and in some cases, keeping track of company-owned assets.

Most SAAS platforms will provide reports to help monitor compliance and identify those users who may need an extra nudge now and then to align with the new mode of operation. The ability to track operational metrics also creates an opportunity to give incentives and reward employees for positive results. Lastly, encouraging your early adopters to help pull others along into proper use of the platform will also help overall compliance.



Train close as possible to going live

End-user Training is one of the most critical activities in preparing for a successful software deployment. This is the first time many end-users will experience the new software and often the only opportunity to prepare them before you go live.

A good training program will offer an overview of the new processes, software interfaces, expectations for compliance, and the ability to work directly in the new tool. To help with retention, train as close as possible to go live to get the program off to a healthy running start.



Pilot & Run Parallel to your existing systems

There's only so much risk you can plan for in trying to orchestrate a seamless transition from one mode of operation to another. Going live in a new platform inevitably brings issues and challenges. A phone app was not installed, access for a key user was configured incorrectly, there will be more than a few forgotten passwords and other issues as employees get accustomed to using the new software.

The good news is there's a proven two-step approach you can deploy to minimize these challenges and accelerate the adoption cycle.

Before going live, take a week to put the new platform configuration through the paces in a live, but low-risk area. As an example, for Photo Checklists, trial the capability on an existing project to iron out any wrinkles before rolling it out to the rest of the organization. For crew deployments, have one of your more seasoned project managers schedule and deploy their crews for a few days to validate they receive the correct notifications and work orders.

In other cases, such as timekeeping, run your existing system in parallel with the new approach for one to two weeks. This approach provides a safety net that will allow your employees to adjust to the new processes and mitigate the risks of missing timecards. It's important to track compliance daily and remind everyone when they skip a critical step, such as deploying a crew without a work order.

By the end of the parallel trial, end-user compliance in the new platform should be sufficiently robust to give you the confidence to turn off the legacy system.



A final word of encouragement

Be patient, be persistent, be open to changes. The desired results will arrive and in many cases, will surprise you. There will be bumps in the road, but with a measured and structured approach, they can be minimized.

The good news is you've just taken the first step in changing the way you operate your business and are on the path to increase visibility, operational discipline, scalability, and improved profitability.

And no more missing photos…