Lessons learned, ROI and future trends in data management

TowerXchange speaks to Tarantula to leverage their long-standing expertise

Adhiraj Bisht

Read this article to learn:

  • Recent developments from the Tarantula team
  • Lessons learned from multiple implementations and rollouts
  • How to demonstrate ROI in a short time frame
  • Trends coming to the fore in data management
  • Tarantula's views on digital twins

TowerXchange: TowerXchange has known Tarantula for a number of years now and whilst we have spoken regularly, it has been a long time since we interviewed you in the journal. For our readers can you quickly reintroduce the company and also share a little bit about how your offering has evolved in the past couple of years

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: Tarantula provides purpose-built enterprise software to tower companies and infrastructure operators to help them monetise their telecom sites, manage the order to cash value chain, and drive profitability. Founded in 1997, we started with the deployment of one of the largest site-sharing portals for mobile network operators in the UK. Since then, we have been delivering tower portfolio management solutions for telecom infrastructure providers in multiple geographies for more than two decades. In 2017, we were acquired by Constellation Software Inc. based in Canada and are now part of Lumine Group, which is the communications and media portfolio within the company. Being part of a large portfolio of vertical market software companies, as well as collaborating with our sister companies in the communications and media domain, has enabled us to leverage best practice methodologies as well as scale our operations in newer markets.

Tarantula is at the forefront of solving problems and highlighting efficiencies for towercos and MNOs. Our flagship product, Red Cube, is used by leading towercos to manage their site deployments, maximise colocation opportunities, achieve operational efficiency, and minimise operational costs. Our workflow-driven platform empowers our customers to roll out digital transformation programs across their organisation while providing a central repository of the key data points around their site portfolio. Our goal is to provide intrinsic value to our customers – we don’t just provide a purpose-built software solution for telecom site management; we offer business consulting expertise that underpins our philosophy of ‘software for life’.

In the past couple of years, we have been enhancing our product offering with new features, modules, and add-ons. Our product development roadmap is heavily influenced by our customers and their IT teams who provide suggestions for new features and request support for new capabilities as their business evolves. We developed the IFRS-16 add-on to enhance our lease module and provide compliance with new financial accounting standards. Similarly, we developed the PII logging add-on to support our customers in their GDPR compliance. We also delivered a mobile-based app for approvals, that enables senior management teams to provide approvals on key site activities from their mobile device. Last but not least, we have created our transmission module to track fiber rollout, which is essential for accelerated 5G deployment. As we look towards the next 2 years, we will be building the foundation for the next generation of our product. Our aim is to develop a fully cloud-native product built on micro-services and open APIs, with containerization options for faster deployment.

TowerXchange: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Tarantula? How has the tower industry and solution providers like Tarantula coped with the demands of an almost-virtual, isolated world?

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: Similar to all other industries, the pandemic has impacted the tower industry. However, unlike other verticals such as transport and hospitality, the tower industry has primarily seen a surge in demand for telecom infrastructure, leading to a push towards rapid digitalisation of key business processes and data. We have been well-positioned to support this requirement from our customers, through rapid deployment of our solution using our Quick Launch approach. Moreover, we have adapted to the new way of working by changing our usual deployment methodology to a fully remote engagement. In the past year, we onboarded three new customers including the largest telecom infrastructure operator in the ANZ region, all through online workshops for gap analysis, user acceptance, functional requirement gathering, and final deployment to production. All these remote interactions were underpinned by robust project management, a granular project plan including key deployment milestones, and detailed documentation throughout the process. With these strategies, we are well-equipped to handle deployments across the farthest corners of the globe. We have also renewed contracts with three of our largest customers which reinforces the long-term value that Tarantula delivers.

TowerXchange: One of the most common requests towercos express to TowerXchange (when it comes to the topic of data platforms and systems) is for lessons learned from the sector; what would companies have done differently when specifying and implementing a system that could have made the process smoother? Tarantula has been involved in a large number of system designs and integrations, can you perhaps share some of your experience and wisdom on where challenges have been faced, what caused these and how they could have been avoided? What has Tarantula learned over the years?

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: The most critical factor to keep in mind is that every organisation is different. Whether it is a multi-country organisation with disparate business processes and data, a carve-out from a mobile network operator, or a new entrant to the telecom infra industry, every towerco has its own unique needs and as such, needs to be treated differently. Before deploying our solution, our implementation team does a full analysis of the company’s growth strategy, existing business processes, digitalisation goals, and the IT systems landscape. We then leverage our best-practice business process templates to fit against the customer’s way of doing business. Our process consultants work with our customers to review, define, and optimise business processes to achieve standardisation, productivity, and economies of scale. Our product experts help to simplify complex and redundant IT landscapes, identify the gaps, and recommend appropriate tools.

In our experience, we find it more efficient to take on a phased approach when implementing new systems to achieve maximum user adoption. While a big bang transition to replace legacy tools and switch to entirely new tools may seem logical, this approach causes the most friction and resistance to change. We find that deploying product modules and migrating legacy data in phases makes it easier for end users to transition to newer ways of working. Secondly, we recommend that setting up integrations with other third-party tools in the systems landscape should be done after the system is in production to ensure minimal impact. Thirdly, we have seen that many organisations that have operations in multiple markets struggle to achieve total standardisation across all business units. This is where having a global product and process owner who drives change but also takes into account regional localisation requirements is crucial for success. Lastly, planning and execution of ‘change management’ within the customer’s organisation is critical to ensure successful adoption of the new system and switching off legacy systems/trackers. Some of our customers plan for change management well in advance and do this in a phased and measurable manner since our system sits across multiple functions, and they are most successful with deriving lasting value from their investment.

 

TowerXchange: Defining ROI can be a tricky process when making the decision to invest in a new system. Can you share some of the areas where you have seen clients achieving the some of the most immediate and tangible results?

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: We have achieved maximum ROI with customers that closely align with out-of-the-box functionality and deploy our solution in phases. This allows them to leverage our best-practice processes and deploy functionality in short spans of time. This also allows for better adoption and acceptance by end users. Typically, we encourage our customers to automate the order management workflows first, which includes projects, assets, leases, and billing. This provides the largest ROI, as per the examples below:

– ROI within 1 – 2 years, by arresting revenue leakage through accurate tracking of site, asset lease data and processes
– Reduction in site deployment time by two-thirds by identifying and removing all bottlenecks and significantly improving ‘speed to market’ for new rollout projects
– Reduction in invoice processing time by 60% through billing automation and streamlining of invoicing processes
20% incremental revenue by avoiding late renewals/expiry of leases and contracts

Our towerco consulting expertise comes into play in the initial phase of implementation itself. We work closely with our customers to not only understand their requirements, but also benchmark those against our global experience and provide our recommendations with clear rationale. Our relentless focus on monetising towers has honed our understanding of this space and our ability to execute complex deployments for our customers, and we apply these learnings to every new and ongoing customer implementation. This industry expertise has also led us to:

– Deliver transformation programs that deliver USD 3 – 5M of overall value

With a purpose-built product for the tower industry, we have a rich and highly pertinent product roadmap that is shaped by our customer’s inputs as well as by developments in the industry. We encourage our customers to provide long-term visibility on their requirements so that they can derive ongoing value from our ‘new feature releases’ or product advancement initiatives.

– This translates to tens of thousands of dollars in savings per year through customisations.

 

TowerXchange: What trends do you see coming to the fore in the industry in driving better automation and management of site data?

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: We see that most organisations are now moving away from Excel spreadsheets or individually maintained manual trackers and want to take advantage of the benefits of a centralised digital system to manage their site data from acquisition to termination, along with asset and contract data. However, this is only the first step in achieving complete automation across towerco operations. The next step towards driving true automation will require integration of all systems, digitalisation of all processes, and ensuring user adoption across the organization. We see this trend growing in popularity as organisations link all business operations to a single source of truth.

The other trend that is enhancing automation is big data and machine learning to drive analytics and predictive actions. However, this is only possible after towercos start deploying digital systems and building up historical data. As your digital site data grows through a centralised system, you start building more data points for the machine to start learning trends, create forward-facing projections, and move into proactive actions rather reactive ones.

We are seeing a growing demand for purpose-built solutions and vendors/partners with domain specialisation. Customers and prospects are increasingly expecting us to challenge them, steer them and know their business just as well as they do. A number of infrastructure owners have tried and failed at adopting horizontal ‘semi-solutions’ and extending those across multiple businesses/verticals, however, these solutions have not been able to keep up with changing business requirements across these verticals and as a result, have translated to either being used only partially or being highly customised or rigid, and thus are earmarked for replacement over time.

 

TowerXchange: Digital twins are gaining a lot of limelight at present – how does Tarantula see this integrating into asset management platforms? What discussions are you having with clients and digital twin providers about this? At present it appears that there are often two separate data lakes but can this be more seamlessly integrated? Does Tarantula have an appetite to develop their own digital twin offering?

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: We are proud to say that our product creates the first level of a digital twin for a tower. Not only does our platform contain all site and asset data that is intrinsically linked with contracts and customer requests, but it also provides a graphical visualisation of the tower itself in a 3D view for the mast as well as the site compound. On top of that, all site photos and videos are attached to the site itself and available from the platform with a few clicks of the mouse.

To build on top of this capability, we are now partnering with drone companies that can provide the drone flight data during the lifecycle of the site. As a result, we will be able to get away from the typical siloed data lakes created by standard drone capture applications and our site management system. You can trigger site inspections and audits on a tower through our product, which will then be fulfilled by the drone platform. The drone system then builds its reference data model based on our site data and runs its inspection or audit flights. The asset information that we carry will be used by the drone system to enhance their machine learning and auto recognition of assets. When a drone flight is complete, the received data will flow back into our system to provide an updated view of the digital twin. Moreover, we will be able to leverage the graphic rendering capabilities of such drone tools to offer a fully updated digital twin of a tower at all times.

 

TowerXchange: Towercos continue to diversify the types of assets and services that they offer, with areas such as DAS well established and others, such as edge computing perhaps still in the exploratory phase. How ready is Tarantula to support towercos on this journey? What experience do you have to date in supporting companies in managing these adjacent assets and services? How do towercos need to be thinking about future proofing systems for when their businesses evolve.

Adhiraj Bisht, VP Sales, Tarantula: This is exactly why vertical solutions and domain expertise is so important and valuable to our towerco customers.

Our strategy at Tarantula is to grow and evolve in alignment with our customers. As towercos diversify into newer product offerings such as DAS, data centres, fibre backhaul, and more, we are evolving our product to support these adjacent assets and services. Our product experts stay connected with industry trends to ensure that we are building product capabilities to support new asset types and services.

Just last year, we onboarded a customer that is a neutral host provider of in-building solutions. We adapted our rollout module to support these new types of assets with ease via our highly configurable platform. Whether it is a macro tower, an in-building solution, a small cell site, or a DAS deployment, our product supports all site and asset types through our extendable data model. For towercos and infracos that are rolling out fibre for their customers, we have also developed our transmission module to order and provision fiber backhaul.

Our recommendation to towercos that are evolving from being pure play towercos to newer capabilities is to retain the primary business model, look for configurable and vertical IT systems, and collaborate with their systems vendors to influence their product roadmaps. This way, system vendors will be able to know exactly what capabilities to build and towercos will be able to leverage these capabilities on demand.

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