By DALE BOOTH
You decide to upgrade your backbone network to dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM). Your network installation service pro vider-or your in-house staff-puts the equipment in place in your serving offices. You anticipate multiple-wavelength channels operating at up to 10 Gbits/sec, providing the bandwidth you need to meet your customers' growing service demands. Your customers are exceptionally eager as you get set to turn on the service. But when you test the system in advance of carrying actual traffic, there's a problem that threatens your scheduled upgrade.
This fear haunts many public-network service providers-a valid concern that is fueled by a lack of available, qualified, central-office equipment installers. And with the number of network deployments increasing steadily, no one in the industry can afford to close their eyes and hope the problem just goes away on its own.
The solution is an all-out effort to train installers, not only increasing the size of the labor pool, but also lifting skill levels at the same time. What would make this training effort even more effective would be an industry-wide technical certification program, covering network installers and site engineers. Certification would prove that these technicians are trained to industry-expected skill levels.
Public-network deployments in the United States are projected to increase at a rate of about 17% per year through 2002, according to analyst firm Dataquest. Worldwide deployments are growing by more than 10% per year.
With the shortage of qualified workers to deploy these networks, it isn't just a question of finding someone to fill a position. What matters to service providers-the ones whose networks are on the line-is reliability. Not having enough people with the right skills puts the network at risk. Installation errors can result in service degradation and network outages, both of which translate to loss of revenue for a provider. But such errors can be minimized with a program that trains and certifies installers according to the telecommunications industry's quality standards.
In a well-organized effort, training would be offered at two levels-basic and intermediate-for new and existing network-service professionals.
The basic-level training would in clude a mix of self-study coursework, classroom instruction, and hands-on workshops to enable installers to master the tasks necessary for installation. It would cover standard installation procedures (such as cable placement and lacing) that apply to any manufacturer's telecommunications equipment. The intermediate-level training would focus on how to complete the various forms related to an installation, such as the method of procedure (MOP) and installation specification forms.
Fujitsu Network Services has been using an in-house training program similar to this model for more than two years. Through its own program, Fujitsu has successfully reduced installer-caused outages from 15 in 1998 to just one in 1999. During that same time period, some of the company's regions showed an increase in error-free installations of up to 18%, based on verification by post-installation quality audits.
Using this training model as the framework for an industry-wide program, certification would be offered at the two levels and administered by third-party commercial firms. Network installers and site engineers would achieve certification by successfully passing a written assessment for each level.
With support across the entire telecommunications industry, the achievement of certification would be a well-respected accomplishment. It would speak for itself as evidence of a technician's capabilities. Clearly, given a choice of hiring a certified installer or one who is not certified, most carriers and other service providers would choose the certified technician. The same is true when these same customers outsource their installation work; they would choose the company whose technicians are certified when their network is at stake.
Training and certification ensures faster network implementations, higher-quality installations, and long-term savings. For equipment manufacturers, that means they can offer their service-provider customers more cost-efficient solutions in a reliable network environment. This type of program also benefits companies that provide subcontracted labor by giving them access to a pool of skilled professionals who can be called at a moment's notice to perform installations with short lead times.
At the same time, network installers and site engineers who become certified under an industry-sponsored program increase their marketability in the network-services workforce, and they become eligible for higher pay and improved career opportunities. As a result, retention becomes less of an issue.
There is one more beneficiary in this win-win situation, and that is the third-party training companies. They can increase their opportunities by offering this installer and site-engineer training and perhaps also serve as a certification agency.
As more installers and site engineers are trained and certified, the number of error-free installations should increase dramatically throughout the industry-both nationally and globally. Having a larger force of qualified installers on hand will surely alleviate any worries that service providers may have about putting in new network equipment. These issues were the driving force behind Fujitsu Network Services' recent proposal to the industry of a certified network-professional program. This proposal has so far been very well received, and the training programs it calls for will soon be launched. So the next time you're ready to upgrade your network, uncross your fingers and call on a certified installer.
Dale Booth is senior vice president of Fujitsu Network Services, a division of Fujitsu Network Communications Inc.