Fiber Optic Network Maintenance: Priority to Data

Published on 27 February 2024

Fibre-optic broadband is the gold standard for high-speed internet connections, and while some countries are still in the process of replacing old copper cables with fibre, others, such as the Netherlands, are already approaching the end of large-scale roll-out.

SPIE started the Service & Maintenance department 15 years ago in anticipation of the transition from Construction to Maintenance.

Henri van Zandbeek, Business Unit Manager FttX at SPIE Nederland tells us how their digital mindset helps make this change profitable. 

Henri, what role has SPIE Nederland played in the Dutch fibre-optic rollout so far?

When I started at SPIE in 1995, I personally blew one of the first fibre-optic cables in the Netherlands! We then started Service & Maintenance back in 2008. Since then, we have always had an important role in the fibre-optic rollout, especially in terms of quality and innovation. Now the roll-out in the Netherlands is almost finished, apart from small-scale new builds, there will be far fewer connections to install: by 2026, 95% of Dutch homes will have fibre optics - and we have the ambition to manage at least a third of the entire network in the Netherlands. 

That sounds like a strong market position.

It is but shifting the focus from laying new fibre to providing Service & Maintenance for existing networks requires a different way of working and thinking. We have gained a lot of knowledge and experience over the past few years, in addition to which we have access to an enormous amount of information (data) in which we have continuously tried to automate and digitalize processes (work) as much as possible and, in this way, use the enormous amount of data we have on FttH (Fibre-to-the-Home) and FttX (Fibre-to-the-Office/Site/Premise) connections to our advantage.

How are you doing this specifically?

We use various applications, with a focus on data instead of documents – i.e. data first. With Dataverse (MS Suite), we have the freedom to build a dataset of tables and relationships based on our processes and assets. So the software no longer dictates our processes: instead, we change the application to suit our needs. We enrich the data with external content via APIs, which forms the basis for managing the fibre networks for our customers, the contractors, and our team in the Network Operation Centre (NOC). 

That sounds like a big project.

It was – and still is. Fortunately, we have a passionate group of employees who have been closely involved in this development from Day 1 and are always looking for smarter, easier, and cheaper ways to work – all the while never compromising on safety and quality. This permanent core ensures that other employees are always included. At first, some said: "But we already have a document of every asset and connection…?". Now that they have access to all relevant live data, they see the benefits. Especially since we are opening this data to field workers through the development of Low-code/No-code mobile applications. Due to the costs involved, management had to be convinced, but after we explained our business case, they provided us with the resources needed to continue developing. 

And how will this system develop in the coming years?

We now know more about its assets than the network operator itself, which gives us a strong competitive advantage. The data makes it much easier to coordinate contractors working on or near our network, streamline maintenance operations, and avoid disruption for end-users. Further automation of these processes using the MS Power Platform will optimize this even more. In countries such as Germany, which are still in the construction phase, but will move to maintenance in the coming years, our system architecture could prove invaluable: discussions have started recently about how our solution could benefit other parts of the Group. Finally, we are investigating the extent to which artificial intelligence (AI) can help us harness the enormous amount of data that we have already collected and are now maintaining. Here, we see a lot of potential in the near future.