Render Networks’ deployment management application provides a simple SaaS interface to some powerful software that can help improve productivity in infrastructure network delivery projects.
Introduced by a mutual friend now working at associated Australian company Biarri (“We help Shape our World with Powerful Maths and Simple Software”), I had a video-chat today with MD Dan Flemming and fellow co-founder and director of innovation Joe Forbes of Render Networks.
The company is applying its knowledge of commercial maths and operations research to scheduling, work allocation and project management challenges in the construction phase of fibre-optic networks (Dan was formerly at Alcatel-Lucent and then Australia’s NBN Co, National Broadband Network).
However, the advanced mathematics, scheduling and geo-spatial analysis applications are managed in the cloud; in line with the Biarri strapline, Joe told me end-users of this Software-as-a-Service get a simple, intuitive user interface. This helps them deliver greater productivity in designing and constructing complex new infrastructure programmes; Render Networks was recently selected by TE Connectivity as its core solution for turnkey delivery of broadband networks (see news release; while its initial focus is on rolling out fibre-optic networks, the methodology and toolset could easily be applied to other, highly repetitive linear distribution projects such as electricity, gas, water, etc).
When faced with the challenges of delivering at scale, Dan explained how he had been frustrated by the conventional delivery of major telecommunication networks, which he saw as unnecessarily time-consuming and labour-intensive, partly due to the traditional delivery models, and the often low-tech, adversarial and inflexible attitudes of contractor organisations (and clients too). Render Networks helps streamline the process, he said, and, “being evangelistic,” demands more progressive approaches from the supply chain (we talked briefly about Constructing Excellence, intelligent infrastructure clients, lean procurement [see 2012 UK government report] and ‘alliancing’ best practice [report PDF]).
First, the Biarri technology accelerates the intricacies of the initial conceptual stages of the fibre-optic network design (FOND). The conceptual design can then be related geo-spatially to the proposed locations for validation purposes, and, once field-validated and optimised, the overall project scope can be broken down into increasingly granular work packages, using Render.
Reactive productivity optimisation
The beauty of the Render Networks platform is that it then provides flexible and responsive real-time allocation of work and change management. “If I could sum it up in a sentence,” Dan said, “this is a new project management approach that is geo-spatially aware and maximises productivity everyday.”
He used the example of fibre-optic ‘splices’ – tasks commonly allocated to contractor teams out in the field. Through the SaaS application (readily accessed on smartphones and tablets), teams are sent details of each ‘splice’, and they then report their progress on completing the task. Information is presented in recognisable Google Map-style views, with details also displayed in spreadsheet and Gantt chart views. As tasks are completed and signed-off, the as-built data is then captured for future asset management.
Project managers use Render Networks to monitor and actively manage the task allocations, specifying work options relevant to each team’s location and reacting to how efficiently they work. For example, if a team has 10 ‘splices’ to do in three days but completes them all in two, it can be given suitable additional work nearby, ensuring committed resources continue to be deployed, thus increasing the contractor’s revenues. Dan highlighted how the system provides project managers with real-time reporting and benchmarking on team efficiency, helping them reward the most productive contractor teams by giving them further work.
Having spent some time recently researching how some progressive UK infrastructure clients (eg: Anglian Water) have adopted long-term alliancing approaches to build relationships with their supply chains, incentivising them to deliver year-on-year performance improvements, Dan Flemming’s frustrations with traditional approaches taken by contractors and EPCs was immediately familiar to me. As I have written recently, technology alone will not resolve such issues, new approaches to procurement and reward based on delivering value need to be adopted.
Applications such as Render Networks appear to offer a ‘win/win’ for clients and their supply chain partners (well, at least the efficient ones!), particularly over long-lasting delivery projects involving potentially millions of repeated but geographically dispersed tasks. Network designs are optimised and then broken down into logical discrete work packages and task sequences, reducing time consumed in moving from location to location. After initial allocations of work, real-time progress monitoring and change management can help project managers flexibly deploy efficient teams to additional locations. To me, it embodies the lean thinking characteristic in many manufacturing organisations (indeed, Joe Forbes likened it to production scheduling in manufacturing) which is also being adopted by some progressive construction clients (eg: Highways England) and their supply chains.