There is a rising trend amongst tower companies across the African continent to outsource their service management portfolio. The question that begs answering however is why? Why would a business look to outsource such a key component of its organisation and what business sense does it make to do so?

According to Charles Osburn, CEO at Quintica a specialist systems integration and service management company that currently manages over 3,500 towers from its Service Management Centres (SMC) in Accra, Kampala and Nairobi, the rationale behind outsourcing this ‘mission critical’ component is partly due to a need to keep consistency and secondly as a result of relying on experts where skills at the companies themselves don’t exist.

Osburn says that companies that outsource components, processes and services of their Network Operations Centres (NOC) do so, so that they can tap into the expertise and skills of organisations that specialise in service delivery and service management in this area. This said they also do it so that they can take advantage of new technologies on a continual basis, and that they can maintain and achieve their own KPI¹s by relying on a partner who¹s goal it is to keep on top of these.

The reality its that there are a number of risks facing towerco¹s, risks that will threaten their service delivery and hamper the key component of many of their KPI¹s with the mobile operators they service ­ that being availability of their services. Some of these risks include, but are not limited to:

•         Fuel leakage
•         Uptime due to power outages
•         Low fuel in generators
•         Unplanned site access
•         Theft or break ins at sites as well as other security events
•         Fuel ordered versus fuel delivered
•         Maintenance not being logged directly into the asset register
•         Unscheduled maintenance costs
•         Unmanaged lease agreements
•         Customers over using their load agreements and hampering capacity

In Quintica¹s experience, the typical services managed by an outsourced SMC or NOC, just as the BMC Remedy based management centre built by Quintica, include fault, change, tenant management, reporting, asset management, site management, project management, preventative maintenance and fuel/power management as well as a growing demand for the management of aspects such as Health & Safety.

The pure geographical nature of where towers in Africa are situated is in itself a management nightmare for tower companies and cellular companies alike. In fact it is the reason that many of these towers are in such remote locations, that cellular companies outsource this real estate to tower companies in the first place,² adds Osburn. ³Now couple that with the additional challenges we have such as quality of service of consistent power supply, a skills gap for technical skills across the continent and the lack of resources to fuel the towers themselves, and you will see the business case for the outsourcing of the SMC¹s of these tower companies.

The towers currently under the management of Quintica all boast multiple tenants; this has enabled their owners to spread the investment costs, the management costs and the physical risk of each tower. It is therefore the role of the SMC to monitor and manage the assets, incidents, changes, projects, site access, SLAs, people, contractors, leases, contracts, co-location customers etc. of each tower.

In short, data for, every change or activity at each site needs to collected and collated. This includes data on incidents, preventative maintenance activities, site access and changes at the site need to be recorded. The reason this is important is that in the event that there is a power outage, a loss of uptime or a problem at the tower, that this can be tracked back to a potential problem that occurred onsite. This will then be married to the SLA or KPI and it can be resolved with little disruption to availability.

As many of the sites are shared, it is the role of the SMC and NOC provider to be able to link and correlate data between multiple SLA¹s. Remember each towerco has a series of customers that it needs to report back to, with a separate set of SLA¹s. It is therefore critical that we have this information at hand at all times so that they themselves can prove they are not only adhering to their SLA¹s but that they are also keeping up with their KPI¹s,² adds Osburn.

He adds that the SMC needs to deliver information timeously to maintenance contactors who need to pay regular visits to the towers. These site visits can then be checked against maintenance and access logs at the sites, to ensure that these SLAs are met. To this end he says that one of the most valuable tools of the SMC services it provides its customers is the mobility component of its solution. Here contractors can be contacted via their mobile or smart phones in the event of an incident and they can report back on the closure of their incidents, directly to the system, via their phones.

Most tower industry KPIs measure availability using different models. The majority of SLA penalties are based around availability. But it¹s not just a question of whether the site is live or not, some sites are hub sites that feed other sites, so it’s important to know dependent sites as downtime can affect the functionality of other sites. Another role that needs to be performed by the SMC.

Service management is all about having the information at hand needed to make quantifiable business decisions about what has gone right and what has gone wrong. In the case of a towerco this is the difference between ensuring 99.999% availability and not. The risks towercos face across the continent are real, which is why more and more of them are relying on technology to help them automate this service management,² ends Osburn.

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