About 2 years ago I was close to getting a fiber optic internet connection to my home. I even signed the contract. Unfortunately, a minimum of 30% of all households in the village needed to sign too. The counter got stuck at 26%… This means it will probably be 5 to 10 years before our village is considered again for installing a fiber optic network. Obviously, it was a bit of a letdown that I would not be able to enjoy the speedy connection a fiber optic cable can offer, but if I’m being honest, the connection and speed I have with my current cable broadband are more than sufficient for my needs. And after spending many months in Australia last year on a project for my previous employer, I know I’m blessed with my internet connection.
Internet in Australia really is a story on its own. While I was over at a friend’s house I was given his Wi-Fi password (note that these days that is the true measure of friendship), but after just a couple of minutes of not getting a decent enough connection to open any site, I switched back to my mobile data package as it had a better connection. It was not the first time we switched to a mobile connection either. In a meeting room in a hotel in Perth, I even used a 3G dongle to give a Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 demo on Sales orders & Projects via a remote desktop connection. We tried doing it using the hotel’s (very expensive separately paid) internet, but it was excruciatingly slow. Now especially when it is your job to give a demo to try and convince the people in the room that the system will be good for them to work with, it doesn’t really give a good first impression if it takes 4 minutes to open up the Sales order form – no matter how often you stress that it is caused by the bad connection and not the system itself. So obviously I remarked to my friend that his home connection reminded me of the connection in that hotel in Perth. But then came the kicker: he told me that actually there was a fiber optic cable all the way into his street – it just didn’t reach his house.
Somewhere around 2009 Australia’s government started a very ambitious plan to connect every home in the country to high-speed internet. They planned to connect about 93% percent of premises to a fiber optic network and the remaining 7% (which was living too remote and isolated for the fiber optic network) would get state of the art satellite connections. A great plan, to be sure. An expensive one too obviously, but if you want to make sure your country (especially one that is rather distant to a lot of other hubs in the world) is ready for the future and is even a front-runner, I think the investment makes absolute sense.
So too, obviously, did the Australian government and the work on this huge project began. However, as with most large projects, time and budget ran out a lot more quickly then planned. As the government had also changed in the meantime, instead of allocating more resources to the project, the project got redesigned to cut costs. There was still going to be a fiber optic network, but it would only be a fiber to the node network instead of a fiber to the premise network. This means that you have the best possible connection to a hub in your street, but from there it is the (in Australia already outdated and worn out) copper cables that bring the connection into your home. You know how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Well, in this case, internet is only as fast as its slowest piece of cable.
I found this story striking because I have seen the same thing happen time and again during my implementations. Projects get redesigned to cut costs and time. Now I understand that sometimes this is truly necessary, but in most cases, I’ve witnessed it, it was only done to quickly save money. Unfortunately, it is always a short-term money saving. Yes, the number at the bottom of the invoice is lower than it would have been, but not taken into account is all the extra time needed by employees doing their daily jobs because they are now not getting the add-on, customization and/or training they actually need to simplify their job. And this usually costs more money, actually usually a lot more money, especially in the long run than the quick savings made on that invoice.
Working for the end customer itself, what I missed so often there was true commitment. Follow-through. A solid plan is made and agreed on, but during the plan’s lifetime, it gets bombarded from the ‘outside’ to do it quicker and cheaper, no matter the consequences. Often this is led by changes in management, boards, committees etc. The bigger the organization, the worse this problem usually becomes. But that commitment is so important. If you’ve invested time and energy (and therefore also money) as a company at the beginning of the project to make sure it encompasses exactly what the company needs, then follow through is all you need to reach the best possible result.
Follow through of a well-defined project will lead to the best possible system, for whichever product or add-on, with the best-fitted set up for your company. But the benefits are even greater. It will also keep employees involved, proud and happy. If you know you work for a company that follows through on their projects, you do not hesitate to commit your own energy and best work to that project, because you know what you do matters and can contribute to a job well done and an improvement for the company and its employees. If you know the company you work for usually abandons or downsizes large projects somewhere along the line, it is so much harder to keep motivated to give it your all, knowing you will probably not get to feel that sense of pride in a job well done and a finished project at the end.
Back to Australia. Not only did voters lose a little bit more trust in their government due to this fiasco, but as mentioned, the copper network that they are now still relying on is already outdated and even worn out in a lot of places. It will possibly last a few more years, but then it will really need to be fully replaced. The expected costs associated with this undertaking, are higher than the extra costs needed for carrying out the original plan of pulling the fiber cable to each premise. The short-term savings will turn into long-term costs. Scrapped ‘extras’ from implementations usually follow the same path. Follow through and some trust in the decisions made by previous decision makers could prevent such situations.
So my advice: do a careful selection and proper defining of projects at the front gate, but then when a project gets a green light, follow it through. It is the most important thing you can do as an individual and as an organization. Even if you have to move some things to a second phase, then it is all about following through on that second phase. It will generate trust, it will generate a good result and it will even generate profit.
Lidwien Hummelink, Business Consultant, HSO Innovation