Four Ways To Develop Industry-Defining Software
There's no doubt that it's a great time to be in the telecom industry. Between 5G, rural broadband initiatives, gigabit internet speeds, and the FCC's new pole attachment rules, there are countless opportunities to make healthy margins while contributing to the push for better connectivity across the country.
Despite the billions of dollars being poured into broadband deployment and small cell networks, the pole attachments process often feels archaic and disjointed. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is a lack of information available about the process as a whole and how to safely attach to utility poles in a cost-effective manner.
One of the biggest challenges in the pole attachments process revolves around the use of technology. Much of the process has traditionally been done by a highly-experienced field technician equipped with a measuring stick, a wheel, and a clipboard; so most of the process today is still done offline.
Across the country, pole owners (like PPL and AEP) are raising the bar for data collection and application submittals as technology makes it easier to maintain clear records, collect accurate and defensible evidence of existing conditions, and perform make ready engineering that aligns with distribution standards.
There are a few notable players developing software for this industry (Osmose, SPIDA, ikeGPS, Alden, SSP Innovations), and we are honored to be among them. Here are our suggestions to develop tech solutions that redefine your industry:
1. Send your coders out in the field.
No matter how talented your developers are, it's tough to build a solution for a problem you don't understand. All of our developers and software engineers have spent long days and weeks out in the field, hacking through briars and poison ivy while making friends with ticks and angry dogs. When your software development team has gone through the pains of the industry, they can better prioritize which developments will have the biggest impact. Customer service goes a little differently, too, because your team can empathize with the challenges of the industry and understand timelines, bid structures, client expectations, and more.
2. Use it or lose it.
If your team isn't using the same solution as your customers, it's doomed from the start— software starts to die the second it becomes stagnant. Our Engineering Team uses Katapult Pro for every pole we process, so if the platform isn't working, we don't make a dime. Having an entire office that runs on the solution you're selling means that anyone can hop on a call to help a client to assist any step of the process.
Even if you think you can get away without an engineering services team, hire some folks anyway to run a small services segment that will be invested in testing, developing, and understanding the technology you're selling. Without an internal understanding of the real challenges of the industry, your solution will be passed over for something better understood and more actively maintained.
3. Share your baby with the world.
In an industry where everyone is fighting for the biggest margin, the natural response to developing something awesome is to play it close to the vest and use it as a competitive advantage. At the beginning of development, it's probably a pretty good idea not to weaponize your competition, but if your goal is to set the standard for an industry, you'll have to share your tool with the world. It's not easy, and documentation/training will suddenly become critical.
If your solution or your staff isn't in a position to support new users, it's probably a good sign that the software isn't ready to revolutionize the industry. Once it is, getting fresh eyes and different markets involved in the platform is a great idea because your clients encounter different situations and challenges that would otherwise be overlooked in your system. If it's going to shake up the industry, it can't have blind spots that come from only working in one or two regions of the country. By helping others make money with your solution, you extend your runway while also building a more comprehensive program.
4. Hire a blogger, then send them out in the field.
If you're not paying attention to SEO, you're in trouble. People google almost every question they have, so making sure that your company shows up in search results is of the utmost importance. Blogging on a regular basis is an excellent way to boost those keyword rankings, while also offering value to the industry. This isn't a groundbreaking concept (ikeGPS and Alden both have marketing experts writing regular blog posts), but the majority of the industry is behind the curve; missing out on easy opportunities to promote their solutions and industry expertise.
So you've hired a blogger and you're ready to start seeing a monumental uptick in new leads and industry partnerships, but it never happened. That's probably because your new blogger knows nothing about utility poles, make ready engineering, broadband deployment, joint use, asset management, RFPs, distribution design, or any other crucial aspect of the industry. You can't write effectively about something you don't know, and the best way to learn about something is to do it. Make sure your new marketing expert gets some time out in the field and processing pole data. By doing so, they'll become an expert at the real work your team is doing, along with your software solution and the industry as a whole.
Not in the business of OSP/distribution engineering? Take the above tips as a bit more metaphorical. Your developers shouldn't be isolated to the point that they can't empathize with your users, and your marketing team shouldn't be speculating on how to deliver value to your customers. Get your whole team involved with the real work and challenges of the industry, and you just might have a shot at becoming the standard.