Bigger is better: The adage is truer in some applications than others. For utilities with large footprints, upgrading their telecommunications networks to fiber optics can be maddeningly complex; a programmatic approach offers many advantages over a piecemeal process.

As an example, consider a large electric utility in the Western U.S. with a significant footprint. As the power provider to a major metropolitan area, it depends on reliable communications networks to maintain service. Increasingly, that has meant upgrading to fiber-optic networks for better efficiency and reliability.

Flooded with requests for new fiber projects, the utility turned to us for a better way to handle these infrastructure additions. We were able to organize and consolidate these projects and provide a programmatic approach to the projects.

Developing that programmatic structure enabled and enhanced numerous efficiencies by placing the individual upgrades in the context of a much bigger picture. The advantages are wide-ranging:

  • Better schedule and budget coordination: By grouping all projects under the program umbrella, it is easier to prioritize among them. Any delays could have a cascading effect, which becomes easier to track and accommodate through the transparency of the big-picture schedule. The enhanced visibility also increases the ability to forecast budget outlays based on the status and progress of active projects within the initiative.
  • Better processes: From onboarding of new project assignees to templated workflows, program processes are refined to streamline the work. Checklists increase transparency and support schedule efficiencies for quality reviews and permitting applications. Material standards and coding allow bulk purchases that take advantage of price opportunities and reduce lead time, while the use of web-based document management consolidates information for simpler referencing.
  • Better infrastructure discovery: Establishing the routing and rights-of-way for new fiber networks can be a significant hurdle, but one that is eased when existing transmission or distribution poles can be leveraged. Examining the big picture allows the utility to take a more comprehensive review of the available assets and more quickly identify where those opportunities exist versus where more time and capital may need to be spent. 

    In addition, the available space on the existing poles can make a difference in which cable is used on any given project. This initiative is using a combination of ADSS (all-dielectric self-supporting) cables for underbuild installation and OPGW (optical ground wire) cables for overhead installation, based on where there is available space on the existing poles in a given corridor.

    The programmatic approach has also helped identify potential overlaps in construction and outages, making it easier to coordinate and schedule those and enhancing schedule and cost forecasts.
  • Better stakeholder outreach efforts: It can be hard to get internal stakeholders’ attention, appreciation and approval for small, scattered fiber projects. Uniting these efforts under a singular program helps the utility provide coordinated messaging that clearly communicates the scope of the program, why it is needed and what it aims to achieve. Effective outreach to stakeholders — internal and public — that lets them feel their concerns have been heard is important to attaining the buy-in that keeps projects moving forward.
  • Better project controls: Project tracking tools are only as useful as their data sets. By assembling tools that can coordinate and track budgets, schedules and scopes across an entire program, customized to the specialized needs and characteristics of the utility, it becomes much easier to identify critical information based on the context of the larger initiative. For this client, tools developed in this initiative will have additional use in other efforts, leveraging any lessons learned during their use and evolution in this initiative.

The big takeaway is that a programmatic approach to project execution for repeatable scope communications, transmission and distribution projects, can unlock efficiencies and enable capabilities far in excess of what is possible through the disjointed efforts of separate projects.


Learn more about the fiber-optic initiative and how we are helping this utility optimize its approach.

Read the Project Profile

Harinee Trivedi, PE, PMP, is a project manager in Southern California for Burns & McDonnell. She has over 11 years of experience and currently manages a large multidisciplinary, geographically dispersed team for high-profile programs such as fiber-optic communications deployment and transmission compliance.