Maintaining Connectivity in America Through the Throes of Covid-19
The following is a Q&A between RealClearEnergy and Rodney Sanders, Vice President of Velocity Telecom.
RCE: The outbreak of COVID-19 has dramatically altered connectivity demand. Does your reach cater to urban and rural communities and what would you say are the challenges to each region or community?
Rodney Sanders, Velocity: We cater to both rural and urban communities. Like you indicated before, with COVID-19, a lot of industries have taken to working from home. We are in one of those industries where there is no such thing. We must be present on site with the equipment; with the tools and cable, and we must physically install and test that equipment at facilities. Rural or urban whether it be distanced learning, working from home, movie theatres providing movies to the home, augmented at home content via service providers is all requiring mass infrastructure growth.
Whether at our clients facilities in West Virginia or downtown D.C. it’s always about ensuring the existing and new infrastructure meets the strict requirements of our clients, the telecom industry and our internal company high standards.
RCE: Markets and market forecasts predict the Global Telecom analytics sector to grow from $3.1 billion where it is currently, to about US $6 billion by 2023. In addition to social distancing restrictions, what would you say is propelling this incredible growth within the telecom market?
Rodney Sanders: It’s much like September 11th, 2001, in some ways, wherein we saw a new normal. We thought there was only going to be a temporary change in the way we do business or traveled, but it really changed the world forever. Now, we think COVID is creating a new normal as well.
Wi-Fi, even though it's been used in business and personally for years, it's now the new normal in interactivity. The bandwidth to work from home, to transfer large data files and PDFs and to be able to stream video in rural areas where children didn't necessarily need that; this is now the new normal, and we need to make sure that our customers have the high-speed reliability, the Wi-Fi access, and the bandwidth that they demand.
Our services are not just limited to residential customers, mind you, but commercial customers as well, those that are no longer conducting their business face-to-face, but through Zoom, WebEx, Cisco, Microsoft Teams, and other conduits.
Now, the new normal is to make sure you have the bandwidth and service availability to make these things work on a greater scale. If you look at the stocks for video conferencing companies such as; Zoom, RingCentral, CISCO and similar companies, they’re going up and bandwidth supports all of them.
RCE: How did you have to tailor your business to function during COVID-19?
Rodney Sanders: First, we implemented safety protocols both in our office and on job sites. We initiated a sign-in process which included taking employees' temperatures. We installed new state-of-the-art air purifiers and air scrubbers. We enhanced the procedures for wiping down our equipment and tools.
We also had to make sure we insulated against and prepared for the safety of our crews. We call them 'pods' and no member of a pod was able to leave that pod; so if you have a five-person pod and one were to potentially, albeit unlikely, show signs for COVID-19, it would only 'take that one pod down', temporarily of course. That degree of project management and coordination is what we had to put into effect.
Generally, you have one lead who's used to bouncing from six or seven projects a week. Now we must reassign and re-educate new leads for each project. It really adds a different layer to project management.
I think a lot of organizations look at the hard costs that get sunk into COVID-19 cleaning supplies, working from home, Zoom, laptops being delivered to employees who didn't normally need them and get flustered. But, it’s the hard costs in terms of hiring another project manager or an assistant project manager or other lines of back of house support to ensure safety, and more importantly ensure that jobs get done and get done right, that was a big paradigm shift and pivot for us.
RCE: In the past, Velocity has used the analogy about going from a country road to a four-lane highway in response to COVID-19. What is that analogy and what does it mean?
Rodney Sanders: The country road to four-lane highway analogy has to do with bandwidth. Initially, we had to keep up with a standard in the engineering industry for telecom. What they needed in terms of bandwidth was five 9s or 99.999% of being up and accurate without outages.
The bandwidth along with the standards of Meantime Between Outages (MTBOs) and Meantime to Resolute Resolve (MTRR) have all gone up, since so many more people are taking part in that traffic. Therefore, the pivot in terms of technology was that we had to take the pipe that was the size of a straw and increase that pipe to the size of a fire hose almost overnight, because a lot of the other industries slowed down, but the delivery of content to homes increased dramatically.
The analogy of having to turn a country road into a four-lane highway overnight is a good one. Another way to look at it was that the demand for capacity went from satisfaction with a horse and buggy to the need for a stealth fighter in a matter of two weeks. That's what we had to do alongside the rest of the industry. We were proud to do it as seamlessly as it was accomplished to-date.
RCE: How will Velocity seek to bolster current revenue sources or for that matter, create new revenue streams? More broadly speaking, where and how might the company plan to expand in the coming years?
Rodney Sanders: The two dynamics that we have been extremely successful in as pertains to augmenting our revenue stream have been both organic and inorganic. Organic, meaning one of our greatest compliments is word of mouth - internal client expansion and referrals from within an existing organization. We go from working with one engineer to two engineers to twenty engineers or from one region to two regions to five regions, to the point where we really take over an entire area, territory, region, or coastline with and for our clients. Organically, that one crew becomes fifteen or twenty. That's our number one way to increase revenue streams.
In terms of inorganic - If you look at some of the larger companies like Broadcom; those companies are acquiring new companies, often 1 a year. What we've tried to do is to stay in line with offering that end-user experience along with turn-key solutions that our clients were asking for; we went from installing gap equipment, to increasing from the gap equipment to the large switch facilities that encompassed all the equipment. That’s when clients came to us and said, “You're installing it. Can you warehouse it? Can you inventory it? Can you deliver it?”
So, we went out and procured a 10,000-square foot warehouse, and then our clients came to us and said, “Well, you're delivering it and you're installing it. Can you bring the pipe in from the outside of the building to the inside?”
So, we went out and bought an outside plant company or OSP, consisting of large box trucks, fiber trucks and boom trucks. Guys next to them in hard hats wearing yellow, going down in manholes with orange cones or up in the box trucks with the splicing fiber.
We're currently looking at purchasing an equipment vendor and equipment supplier who has several relationships and several contracts with both CONUS and OCONUS fiber and cable organizations. That will allow us to get more competitive hardware pricing and get into another line of business with another revenue stream. When we can't grow internally from the great work we do, we purchase other lines of business that align with our clients demands and what they're asking for day to day. We view this as being a partner vs. a vendor.
RCE: What do you think makes Velocity unique in the highly competitive field of telecoms?
Rodney Sanders: I'm biased, but I have come from other telecom companies in the past and Velocity has added multiple layers of project management. This is something that most telecom companies fail to do due to cost.
It takes dollars off our profit, but it ensures a 100% or 99.99999% successful completion rate with the standards that are required. The second thing we have done is incorporate technology which a lot of our competition does not utilize. We have a client log-in interface within our website, wherein you as a client are issued a username and a password.
So, think of it as you're building your house in Maryland while you're out living in California. You may not go to that house every day, but you can go in with a username and a password and you can view daily pictures of that house, daily pictures of the progress. You can see the blueprints, plans, permits for electrical, permits for mechanical, permits for fire suppression, inspections and you can see if they're approved or denied as well as the reasons why they were either approved or denied.
Velocity obviously isn’t in residential construction, however, our clients on the telecom side have remote access from anywhere in the world to review their projects status via status reports, schedules, digital pictures and approvals. The interface allows our clients to troubleshoot remotely real-time to save project time scheduling. It also offers a single repository for all the necessary data so if their senior management asks, “What percent of the project is done? When will it be completed? Have you billed it out? Have we paid them? Are you over budget? Under budget?" All that is just keystrokes and seconds away from them real-time. This has become an invaluable tool, which has helped us gain notoriety, not only in the industry, but with those clients that have helped connect us into different regions.
RCE: Is there anything else we should know about Velocity?
Rodney Sanders: Though we are quite a large organization now, we still are a family business. We're just made up of 100 different families.
The way we treat each other internally, what we will and will not tolerate with regards to simple protocol has created a family synergy to where everyone wants to make sure they do the best that they can for their fellow crews to ensure success.
The way we have structured their bonuses, increased salaries, and the way our teammates are incentivized, has really helped with retaining employees.