ITS-Blog: Project planning software in FTTx Network Planning
In this blog post series we share our knowledge, thoughts or work on current projects in FTTx.
Our new FTTx project planning software application, ITS-NetProgress™, has after years of development reached its first deployment version. In this blog we would like to elaborate on the use of software for FTTx project planning and the differences between standard practice and ITSimplicity’s dedicated tools.
Software requirements in FTTx project planning
FTTx/FTTH projects often involve large budgets with thousands, if not millions, of endpoint connections and millions of metres in cable. To ensure planning is performed appropriately, software can be of great help. We will briefly mention what we view as some of the requirements of such software.
Good planning involves efficient use of project resources towards the project goal. Efficiency can be achieved by planning realistically, having tasks take place in the right order and on-time, but also by avoiding mistakes. Mistakes due to typo’s, wrong use of product codes, duplicates, etc. can lead to a great loss of time and resources. Careful registration is thus vital to safeguard project integrity. A central database is also advisable, so all data can be safely stored. The state of a project should be clear at any time, and easily reportable to management, corporate board or other stakeholders when needed. Software should take these requirements into account.
There is also the more social aspect in planning. FTTx projects are often too large in size to be planned by a single person. This means collaboration and version control are important aspects that should not be overlooked when selecting software tools. The many different types of cultures, geographies and policies around the world means each FTTx project is different. There are thousands of versions of cable for example. Software should be flexible to accommodate for this.
Software requirements for FTTx project planning and the compliance of different software to these requirements (in our view). Taking into account a good proficiency with Excel®.
Many companies involved in FTTx network planning use Microsoft Excel®. This is common corporate software and often many employees know how to work with it. It is also easy to customize as cells can have custom content and calculation logic. Microsoft Excel® is however not a dedicated tool and companies need to write extensive sheets and calculation logic themselves.
Besides having to write the calculation logic yourself, there are several other issues with using Excel sheets for the planning of FTTx projects. Firstly, shielding information while sharing files for collaboration is difficult and version control requires strictness to avoid discrepancies. There is no easy practical way to set limits on when a project component is allowed to enter a new phase. Secondly, Excel® is prone to typos. While it is possible to set a policy on allowed categories and fixed names this is much more tedious compared to a database system with fixed fields. When there is a typo or wrong calculation, these can be hard to find in Excel®. In sheets with thousands of entries and links to other sheets, this quickly becomes very difficult and a lot of work. A dedicated software solution has fixed rules for calculations, making problem solving much quicker, and required fields that must be filled in before a save is allowed. Thirdly, such applications in Excel do not scale well. Large projects are in our experience almost impossible to handle with Excel as overview of the project is lost.
All of these reasons make working with Excel® risky when planning FTTH projects. For a one-time small project (less than 500 fibre termination units), Excel® may still be a decent option, as handling this amount of data is doable, and learning a dedicated new tool may not be worth it.
ITS-NetProject™ is ITSimplicity’s dedicated, Windows-based, FTTx project planning software. It uses a locally or remotely hosted MySQL™-database server. As a dedicated tool it allows a work-flow often used in FTTx project planning, that has been applied extensively for worldwide projects by Nokia, NKF, Draka and Prysmian. Fixed calculation logic and required fields increase project integrity. It also supports user login and detailed management of project jobs, project units and materials. The building bricks of the project as used in different project phases can all be registered, from material ordering to store management and contracting work. There is also an extensive report generator with over 50 types of reports, which is customizable to fit company format (logo, text size, font etc.) or create company specific report. ITS-NetProject™ is a sizeable and specialized application, as such it does require training to use effectively.
ITS-NetProgress™ is our newest software programme, designed specifically for FTTx project planning. As it is web-based, no installation on-site is required. Other advantages include global updates and compatibility with mobile devices. As well as added functionality over ITS-NetProject™.
This software is built upon the foundation of NetProject™ but designed with further customisation and collaboration in mind as well as giving users a better project overview. Users log-in with their own username to the company account and only have access to projects assigned to that username by the account manager. Even specific rights (roles) of users can be assigned, for example: view only, or allowed entrance to only specific parts of the project. This allows for multiple project controllers to work simultaneously in the same environment, with progress on the project viewable in the dashboard. Another use is that of more direct collaboration with contractors. Users can be given access with restricted ‘contractor’ rights. These users will only see parts of the project related to that contractor and will only be able to report on progress of that contractor on those parts. Other users can then accept or refuse these progress reports. On acceptance, progress is added to the different reports and dashboards.
The software also includes alerts & notifications when there are potential discrepancies in project definitions. For progress reporting ITS-NetProgress™ offers a reporting tool, overview dashboard, Gantt chart and progress map functionality. Similar to ITS-NetProject™, this software requires training, which we plan to make available online in instructional videos.
We hope this blog shed some light on FTTx project planning, what we as ITSimplicity have to offer, and how this is different from non-specialized tools. For more information visit our software website: ftthsoftware.com; or our project planning website: ftthplanning.com.