Refreshing Your Network the Right Way: What You Need To Know
Successfully deploying a great technology refresh amounts to much more than choosing a good solution and hoping for the best. It starts with strong resourcing, budgeting, and scheduling—and choosing the correct team that will ensure every point is planned and accounted for.
Sometimes even experts need expert help, and at The , we provide it. Founded in 2013, The Joule Group is a leading provider of wireless and network deployment services. We can proudly say we are Canadian owned and operated. We specialize in the design and deployment of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, and small cell networks, including the racking and stacking of the required equipment.
Beyond the hardware, our team provides clients with the business and operational project management support needed to tightly define the scope of a project, minimize and mitigate risks, and deliver on time and within budget. Because we take this approach, our team can provide a holistic end-to-end delivery that takes into account software deployment, network design, cybersecurity, and risk management.
We didn’t set out to operate this way. We initially focused on product development, even holding a patent for encrypted communications (which we later sold). It took us some time to realize that we didn’t want to be in that business, that there were gaps in the services market around technology installation in Canada, and that we had the people and knowledge to fill that gap.
That shift was primarily driven by what customers needed, but once we began working with , that motivation became even more pronounced. They helped us hone in on wireless technology networks, from the nuts-and-bolts level all the way up to integration.
Valuing Our Expertise
Cisco recently came to us with a project for one of their top-tier customers. The customer operates in every province across Canada, and they faced a number of challenges: their employees were using laptops for video calls over Wi-Fi, making voice calls, and using high-data applications, and they needed a next-generation Wi-Fi solution that could support all of this activity on a growing number of devices.
It was the perfect scenario for a Cisco solution to upgrade the existing Wi-Fi network in 250 locations, including the client’s headquarters and regional offices. This meant removing the existing Wi-Fi network access points, installing new Cisco access points, terminating switches, and removing all the old equipment.
The issue was that, like a lot of legacy clients, this customer didn’t have the technical team or the know-how to deploy this next-generation technology on such a large scale. Cisco can and does provide these services for their customers, but in this case, it was more efficient and cost-effective to use a local provider. The customer wanted a turnkey solution, and Cisco wanted to provide it to them—so they came to us. The Joule Group is an approved Advanced Services Provider and our dedicated team would provide the flexibility to work across Canada, and bring the cost-effective project management the customer needed.
Deploying a solution on this scale required a lot of careful thought and planning. We started with two “pilot” locations here in Toronto. We walked through the project end to end, shipping access points to the site, making contacts, reviewing drawings, cutting over the equipment, bringing up the new equipment, dialing in a network, and ultimately completing the work.
Initially, we’d planned to start at one coast and deploy province by province, but from those two pilots we realized it would be better to move from major city to major city. We had to take into account the customer’s priorities, where their immediate growth areas were, and—as we’re in Canada—even the weather. For a project of this scale, with this many locations, we knew there would be changes to the initial plan, and that was okay. If you start with a solid project plan that has input from internal stakeholders and service providers, you will be in a better position to handle changes.
The original plan allowed for eight months to do the overall installation, but the scope grew significantly. We ended up installing 30% more access points than originally indicated, for a total of more than 3,900. Additionally, there were periods where we couldn’t work because it wasn’t convenient for the customer, such as the end of the quarter, when they didn’t want any disruptions to normal operations.
Even though the project extended well beyond the original plan, close cooperation in managing change control and our ability to be flexible in scheduling allowed the program to continue at an aggressive pace. We had a solid plan in place, we knew we had done a thorough risk analysis, developed the appropriate risk-mitigation strategies, and could meet all the customer’s requirements and expectations.
What to Consider Before You Start
Companies do not undergo these large tech overhauls frequently, so when they do, it’s important that they get it right from the start. We see companies making several mistakes when they embark on a network refresh.
Often, customers underestimate the amount of communication and coordination required for nationwide deployments, especially with local offices. Taking the time to form those relationships at the local level, getting input from those leaders, and building their trust will pay off down the road.
You have to consider potential project delays as well. Take the earlier example: If your financial end-of-year is coming up and your people are burning the midnight oil, you need to communicate that situation to the program stakeholders. The project should be minimally disruptive to your business, but your schedule impacts your employees' ability to get the job done as well. A small investment in project management, including developing approved operating procedures, budget, and timeline, can help you avoid these delays.
We also see companies missing the security piece, especially now with so many more people working remotely. Our analysis, completed by my partner and CEO, Francis Syms, shows that by the end of 2020 there will be, on average, five connected devices per person globally. Each of those devices have potentially exposed IP addresses, possibly easy-to-crack passwords, and will be communicating over your network. The security of your network needs to be a key consideration.
Decisions about which of those devices should have access to critical parts of your network infrastructure will influence the architectural decisions in the planning stage. Even something as simple as trying to do payments over a machine connected to the new Wi-Fi network will pose compliance questions and regulatory rules. Cisco products enable security in the office and extend that for remote work, which is a pressing need for our current reality.
When working on a large project, you have to think about more than technical skills. You have to use the right people who can go into any office in Canada and relate to employees on the ground. Some of our installations take place in multi-level offices, in which deployment can last weeks. It’s vital to have people who are capable of working well with the end customer during that time, who can handle challenges as they arise, and can serve as an intermediary of sorts. That is key to the customer getting the best results.
The other thing that companies overlook is they only think of their existing needs, and not how those needs will change in four or five years. Your short-term objectives may include allowing employees to have access to corporate resources via their laptops and mobile devices or providing guest networks for your clients. Do you know what your long-term technology goals are?
Any decent technology partner can provide immediate solutions, but a good technology partner will also want to discuss the technology trends that will prepare you for your future needs. Are your employees going to transition to more videoconferencing applications? Will your facilities be using more sensors to track processes? A network refresh is a big investment, so you have to make sure to get it right for today and for whatever comes tomorrow.
Cisco has a lot of great products. Our role is to turn great products into a properly implemented solution.
Everyone Wins with a Good Partnership
Cisco’s an amazing company that provides a platform for network design that goes above and beyond what most customers even think they need. It’s a partnership where we both get to play to our strengths and, ultimately, everyone benefits.