As a product manager, I love solving my customer’s problems. So it’s always tempting to try and keep developing our product at Biarri Networks to serve all of our users problems. Realistically, we can’t solve them all — but where do we draw the line?
It was great to attend the Fiber Connect tradeshow in Orlando last week. Shows like this give us a great opportunity to observe the value chain that we’re part of. This is important for product development as it gives a sense of which problems are served well, and which aren’t. This is essential information when considering the long term strategy of what’s in and out of the scope of a product or suite of products.
A key challenge is knowing which of these problems that we’re in a good position to solve. For instance, when we ask our customers “what is the hardest thing about your job”, the answer isn’t necessarily going to be “designing the network” which is our focus. Some common answers are:
“it takes me days to draw a network that never gets built”
“climbing poles to hang cables”
“keeping track of my contractors and managing construction”
“getting accurate field data”
“managing and maintaining a network”
Our product meets the first one of those pain points but does nothing for the others. But could it? Let’s go through each of these and consider them against our strengths.
Something that climbs poles
This would require concurrent software development with hardware development. This really isn’t in our wheelhouse. We’d need to divert resources away from our current course and acquire new skills and technology. Plus, it’s really hard.
Put it on our roadmap? No way.
Software that keeps track of contractors
This is ideally a geospatial tool that uses optimization to allocate work to contractors based on the work that’s been completed already. It’s definitely in our wheelhouse in terms of our strengths in GIS, optimization and fiber optic network deployments. However, it’s a huge task.
One outcome of the Fiber Connect tradeshow for us was observing the way this is need is currently met by the industry. We’ve worked extensively with Render Networks over the years and seen great success there. Their co-founder, Dan Fleming, spoke at Fiber Connect alongside a customer telling their story.
In addition to Render, it was great to see some new entrants making a splash with Maptraq and Vitruvi both exhibiting.
So, should we put this on our roadmap? Three companies are serving this need well already. Let’s focus on our core strengths and stick to network design.
Software that collects field data
Render do a great job here as well, with Maptraq challenging them here too.
One product that I saw for the first time at Fiber Connect was from B+T Group. I’m excited to see how their technology enables network design to be more data-driven than ever. Our strength lies in processing data in creative ways to make deployment more efficient. So, we’ll make sure we’re well positioned to take advantage of this and products like it.
Seeing these companies take on this problem in such diverse ways makes it clear to me that this is well served. We don’t need to try and develop anything except to integrate with them more tightly.
Software that manages the network
This problem is frequently articulated by our customers, and a Fiber Management System is perhaps the most important system to purchase when getting ready to deploy a network. The problem solver in me sees this as an exciting problem and one that our customers are crying out for.
However, it’s a well-served problem. Vetro FiberMap and Geograph’s CrescentLink are just a few keeping some of our users happy right now. We see no need to try and interrupt that.
So, what are we building?
We’re not building a robot to climb poles and hang cables.
We’re not building a workforce or rollout management platform.
We’re not building a Fiber Management system or Database of Records.
We’re not building an app to collect field data.
We’ve built a Fiber Optic Network Design tool that is only going to get better at doing just that — designing networks. It designs all sorts of networks (FTTH / GPON, Fixed Wireless, Cellular and 5G), from feasibility to construction. Our development will focus on allowing our users to do that more efficiently and more accurately. This will save them money and get their customers connected to high-speed broadband more quickly.
Most importantly though, our software will work alongside the whole ecosystem of technology that is allowing these networks to be built sooner and for less. We’ll push designs into whichever Fiber Management System our customers want, and take field feedback from their preferred data collection method. When it comes time to construct a network, we’ll make sure whatever construction management software that they’ve chosen can ingest our data.
Co-operation is key when trying to solve your customer’s problems. Getting out in the market at Tradeshows like Fiber Connect helps us maintain focus knowing that there’s great work being done to solve the problems that we can’t.
Honorable mention to those trying to develop a pole climbing robot, I suppose we’ll try and work with them as well.