Connectivity is Key – VP of U.S. Telecom Provider Rodney Sanders on Challenges and Opportunities for Industry Growth Amid 2021 ‘New Normal’

Maintaining ‘security of supply’ in internet and communications technology (ICT)-driven connectivity for both America’s urban and rural communities has played a pivotal role in the telecommunications industry’s exponential growth in 2020 and also to ensuring stability and recovery for a myriad of industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rodney Sanders, Vice President of Velocity Telecom, provides insider perspective on the road ahead for the industry of ‘bandwidth’.

Has the manner in which your telecommunications company manages projects or completes physical installations been altered due to the ramifications of COVID-19?
Our staff members (of which we have approximately 60-75) have to physically travel to our clients’ facilities; have to engineer, furnish and install (EF&I) and test their equipment completely on-site.

We are primarily hardware people – We are one of those industries wherein you cannot work from home.
Unlike certain sectors, where you can pass on information or facilitate technology transfer via the internet, we have to physically enter a warehouse, extract the inventory or equipment and physically deliver it to our clients’ facilities.

And so at Velocity, we took it upon ourselves to virtualize quickly and effectively; we were able to incorporate remote video technologies to keep connected with our in-the-field installation staff and the quality of their daily work efforts. Within our own facilities, we added the extra step of wiping down all newly-arrived equipment and materials, installingUV light air scrubbers in our offices and warehouses, as well as incorporating other clean practices including spraying down the offices twice a day with industrial grade foggers like those used on commercial aircraft.

Our employees have switched to ‘shift work’ within the offices, so that they are only operating at 25% capacity and rarely in the same place at the same time.

Safety is a top priority for our organization, both in meeting the COVID-19 adherence requirements of the U.S. States wherein we operate when servicing our clients and in engaging with each other as a Team amid this ‘new normal’.

We are always open to augmenting our client services to help provide a turnkey solution, one that so many of our clients demand.

How did the onset of COVID-19 impact the telecoms installation industry? Did it slow down or speed up due to this need for virtualization?
While many industries saw fault-lines in their supply chains, we understood the opportunity and moreover, the responsibility inherent to digital connectivity. The onset of COVID-19 grew the telecoms installation industry exponentially.

With everyone safely at home, whether working remotely or attending school online, this created a massive utilization shift from the traditional commercial venue to the residential arena. This then created an immediate need to build-out and augment the residential infrastructure capacity, in some cases completely anew, in order to handle those elevated utilization levels.

It’s interesting – In the initial throes, we faced a marginal lull, as did so many sectors across the rest of the world. Due to the historical nature of our industry, which routinely has lapses in workload, we established a process several years ago to provide full paychecks to our employees during times of less than full employment rather than simply bench them.

At the onset of the pandemic, we put our process into place and made the decision to ensure that no employee was left behind without a paycheck. Not every company was able to sustain the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way.

Now, as the demand for remote learning, working from home, tele-meetings, remote medical appointments has steadily increased, so has our workload. We are grateful for our employees’ tenacity and loyalty to our Team and to those we serve during this unprecedented period.

How specifically have standards and practices changed in order for installations to be carried out safely?
We’ve added enhanced levels of project management and coordination that did not exist previously. We quickly implemented temperature checks and, of course, the wearing of face-masks on a daily basis. We also reduced the number of installation staff that operate within a given client site.

While we developed our set of safety protocols, we also had to mesh our new standards with the expectations and standards given to us by our clients. Each step of project installation and management had to be re-evaluated in order to have the safest outcome. We repeatedly reinforced to our staff, especially our installations, the extensive efforts being taken to assure their safety in the uncertain environment.

We believe it was important not only to make such an effort, but to give them the confidence to go about doing their job.

Our installation crews used to change depending on various needs, but now there is absolutely no mixing of tech-teams between assignments. Our installation crews are firmly assigned, and act as insulated ‘pods’ or work units. This ensures that if one member of our team happens to come down with symptoms of COVID-19, it is limited to that pod. This allows for insulated containment in the event of an unlikely positive test.

How has the telecommunications supply chain been affected and what kind of ramifications did this pose to your projects?
Supply quickly decreased while demand seemingly increased overnight, to be sure.

We have had to dramatically increase our lead-times for equipment and materials as well as rapidly pivot in expanding our supplier base to ensure that we meet our clients’ myriad of often complex needs.

Currently, we have extended forecasting from one month to four months to ensure that we have the equipment and materials necessary to meet our clients’ deadlines, resulting in a VAST increase in our investment in inventory regarding both installation materials and equipment.

China’s frenetic infrastructure build-out has caused a scramble in the United States cross-sector and our supply chain is no different.

‘Proactivity’ and forecasting market trends and security of supply will be critical to our continued growth.

Advancements in technology occur at such a rapid pace. How does Velocity continue to keep up with the frenetic tempo in order to stay ahead of the curve?
It seems that with each technological advancement, we sometimes find ourselves at a new railroad crossing, where we simply need to ‘Stop, Look, Listen, and Learn’.

We perform work for a variety of Telecom clients that push us to deliver a gamut of ever-changing skills, processes, techniques, and services. We adapt to this demand by having our staff learn and adhere to strict standards, obtain specific certifications when needed, and utilize our own in-house training area.

At the highest levels, we have found that our Telecommunications clients traditionally request completely bespoke, turnkey solutions. They want a vendor that can handle as many pieces of the puzzle as possible, and Velocity listened.

We went from being an installation company to procuring a 10,000 sq. ft. inventory warehouse, transitioning to become an installation and furnish company in light of increasing client demand.

We are now able to provide turnkey solutions, from an ‘outside plant to an inside plant’. The result is that we run many of our client’s projects from cradle to grave, operating 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Take your typical office complex – You would traditionally have two different companies addressing your internal and external connectivity solutions; today, those assignments are handled entirely by Velocity.

As to addressing technology, our approach is simple. We adapt, while providing for our clients a seamless user-experience.

We always start from a 35,000 ft overview and work our way down to the granular ground-level so that we evaluate and capture our clients’ needs. We then execute our services to be delivered on-time, on-budget, on spec, each and every time.

In terms of innovations, I would point to our ‘thin-client’ username and password technology; We developed a proprietary repository for our end-users to log-in and view their projects’ status, the project’s percentage of completion, applicable to each and every Velocity client.

From this ‘dashboard’ installation portal, we maintain an open line of communication with our clients, enabling them to view their project documents and even access progress photos at all times from anywhere in the world.

How is the telecoms industry evolving? What role Velocity will play within it over the next decade
The ability to increase reliability and bandwidth is what moves the needle for all telecom and cable providers; the ability to be at the forefront in terms of expertise and execution is what drives Velocity.

We pride ourselves on the ability to pivot to every need, every want of our clients. Versatility is the force multiplier that will sustain us through the next decade and beyond.

Being the industry leader of both long term projected projects and immediate response projects in the case of emergencies is the standard we hold for ourselves within the telecom industry.