NBN Co overloaded its workforce scheduling system

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NBN Co overloaded its workforce scheduling system

Doubled user base, choked system capacity.

NBN Co has finally revealed the root cause of issues with its troubled workforce scheduling system, essentially onboarding too many users at once and asking them to record too much data from the field.

The company also confirmed the architecture of the system at a high level, with ServiceMax Go acting as the app-based frontend, and a mix of Salesforce and ServiceNow sitting on the backend.

While the ServiceMax - or SMAX - component has been much maligned, it appears the broader architecture of the system had capacity constraints that were only exposed when NBN Co introduced the system to one of Australia’s largest states.

NBN Co’s chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer said earlier this month that “the first phase of the rollout of the workforce scheduling system went well in South Australia and Tasmania, however the company encountered a number of issues with phase two of the rollout of in NSW and Victoria."

It was not clear at the time what had changed between the first and second phases of the rollout.

An NBN Co spokesperson did not respond to questions raised by iTnews at the time.

However, Dyer told senate estimates on Thursday afternoon that it was a capacity and load issue, caused by the number of people physically using the system, and the volume of data being handled by the system.

It also appears NBN Co did not run the same change management process in phase two of the rollout.

“What changed - or my reflection is - in South Australia and Tasmania a much smaller volume of work came in, [and there was] a lot more direct hand-holding, if you like, with the technicians in relation to the changeover from one system to the next,” Dyer said.

“[When] we then went to Victoria, we did initially see a usability impact from a technician’s point of view but it very quickly recovered within one-to-two weeks. 

“When NSW was added, overall it doubled the amount of contractors. 

“We then had the issues around functionality where it wasn’t syncing properly, so therefore it caused a poor experience for [technicians and subcontractors].”

Compounding the amount of users introduced to the system, Dyer said latency and lags also resulted from the volume of “artefacts in the field we were asking the subcontractors and delivery partners” to upload and download.

It remained unclear why the system was unable to deal with the load of the phased introduction; this may come out at a later date when written questions from senate estimates are answered.

The workforce scheduling system was labelled “shambolic” by the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and there have been nationwide protests held over it, as well as more broadly over pay for field work.

The system is also behind a further delay to the restart of HFC sales, since it is causing problems assigning technicians to new activations.

When the issues are ironed out - which Dyer said had largely occurred - and the phased rollout resumes, the workforce scheduling system will ultimately be used by up to 1800 field workers a day.

Dyer briefly explained the architecture of the workforce scheduling system and how the different pieces fit together.

“The ServiceMax platform sits on Salesforce, and essentially it’s an app which coordinates workforce movements,” she said.

“Appointments are loaded in, there’s an event initiated by a RSP or the end customer, either for an assurance or activations job, and that’s logged in NBN Co’s systems.

It then goes into ServiceMax and that essentially becomes visible to the technician of where they need to go and perform their work. 

“It also provides them details about the problem and about the premises. It’s a way they can record information, health and safety information, and information about the job, and it builds up information that NBN Co stores and can use at a later date.”

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