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How to Reduce Telecom Truck Roll Costs?

By Morgana Siggins

January 9, 2020


Windshield time is all the unproductive time that your technicians spend traveling to and from remote sites during a truck roll. You probably know exactly that this gets expensive really fast.

There's no question about it: truck rolls are costly. When you are paying your techs to spend hours of their time sitting in a car, you are greatly raising your costs and wasting their time.

And what if it takes a snowcat or even a helicopter to get to a remote site? Do you have technicians that spend the entire day in their trucks driving from site to site? Is your technician dispatched to a site every time there is a problem just to find out what the issue is?

Windshield Time

Here at DPS, we've been helping hundreds of clients to avoid allocating large portions of their budget to truck roll costs and inefficiencies. You probably can't afford to leave your sites unchecked and unmonitored, so we aim to help you find better solutions.

Resolving more issues remotely helps, but not all monitoring systems are created equal. In order to really avoid unnecessary truck rolls, you need to know what the best systems should have.

So, let's dive in.

An Efficient Remote Monitoring System is The Key

Reducing truck roll and windshield time involves putting in place a remote site monitoring system. This is a solution for better managing the status of equipment at distant locations, so you don't have to physically be present at your remote sites.

Many different industries deploy remote monitoring, such as railway companies, utility companies, and phone and cellular companies. And, although the technical specifics vary between remote site monitoring systems for each different industry, they all share a common general topology.

Remote telemetry devices, or simply RTUs, are deployed at each remote site to collect system alarms from the equipment stationed there, and also monitor the surrounding environment for critical factors - such as temperature, humidity, physical intrusion, etc.

In Telecom and IT industries, an RTU is a remote device that monitors and reports events occurring at a remote site.

After all this data has been collected at each remote site, it must be aggregated in order to be presented to a human operator. This job is handled by a central master station.

SCADA system
A master station can provide a number of helpful extensions for network alarm management of monitoring equipment. RTU data can be filtered, analyzed and monitored against functional standards.

These master stations necessarily have much more processing power than the average remote device, although they may not have the same level of protection against industrial environments (they are usually deployed in offices rather than remote huts and cabinets).

Master stations commonly feature redundant architecture, and simultaneously running a redundant pair of master stations is an industry best practice for superior remote site monitoring.

With both of these devices types working together, you and your techs are able to accomplish remote site monitoring. You'll have a good situational awareness across perhaps thousands of square miles containing remote sites. If a problem arises at a site, an appropriate response can be issued to ensure that a particular remote site problem won't grow until it becomes a widespread network outage.

How Remote Monitoring Can Help You Avoid The Top 10 Causes of Wasted Truck Rolls

You don't have to put up with windshield time and truck roll expenses any longer. Let's take a look at the top 10 most common leading causes of windshield time - and how you can avoid them.

1. Unexpected outages that require unscheduled repairs at remote sites

Unscheduled repairs create uncontrollable windshield time costs. If you don't know how many truck rolls are going to happen this month, you won't know what your operational expenses will be.

You can bring your outages and your truck rolls under control with proactive network monitoring. Getting visibility of growing problems before they cause outages lets you take care of them during regularly scheduled maintenance. Check your event logs for unplanned outages and truck rolls. If you're visiting your sites more often than schedules, it's a sign you need better monitoring.

2. Making site visits to operate on-site equipment

Many problems can be solved by simply turning a switch, such as starting a backup generator, for instance. However, if the switch is 20 miles away, that simple solution becomes pretty expensive.

Every device at your sites can and should be remotely operated through your network monitoring equipment. Remote operation enables you to solve more network problems right from the Network Operations Center (NOC), with no truck roll necessary.

Check the most recent full audit of your remote site equipment and see how much of your equipment isn't controlled from your NOC. After that, compare that list against your event logs. Determine if any of the uncontrolled gear caused a truck roll in the last year. This exercise can help you determine if you need to get additional remote controls in place, within your network.

3. Sending the wrong person with the wrong tools and supplies to the remote site

If you don't know what the problem is, how can you be sure you're prepared to correct it?

Technicians often travel to remote sites to diagnose a problem, and then have to return to the central office to grab the correct tools, the correct supplies, or to call a technician with specialized training.

A quality network alarm monitoring system will give you detailed information about alarm events, ensuring that you'll really know what the problem is and can send the right person with the right tools to do the job. How much detailed information are you getting from your current monitoring system? Are you confident that, if a repair is required, you can always send a fully prepared tech?

4. Inability to precisely locate problems

Truck rolls costs can be kept to a minimum if you can pinpoint where problems on your network occur. How often have your technicians had to drive for hours just to locate remote sites and find problems?

You can correct this issue with a network monitoring system that can display a graphic "war-room" representation of your network on a map of your physical locations. Graphic displays can zoom from the national level to region, city, site, rack, device, and alarm point. You'll see exactly where alarms are occurring.

Alarm master web interface
When you have alarms displayed visually on layered geographic maps, you usually can drill down from regions, to cities, to sites, to photographs of individual equipment racks. This provides a "war room" view of your alarms right down to the network devices themselves, rapidly accelerating repair operations.

5. Technicians returning to the central office for remote site keys

If you don't have a keyless entry system for your remote sites, techs have to come to the central office to obtain remote site keys. If a site needs repairs unexpectedly, technicians may even have to return from the field, just to fetch a key and return to the field again, effectively doubling windshield time.

Installing a keyless entry system not only enhances security but also keeps techs in the field instead of driving back simply to retrieve a key.

6. Site visits for turn up and troubleshooting

How much visibility do you have of your remote-site monitoring equipment? Do you need to have someone on-site to verify connections and polling between your RTUs and the master station?

You have a remote monitoring system to reduce truck rolls, not to create more of it. So, make sure your monitoring equipment supports remote access, this way you can turn up and troubleshoot your units from the NOC.

7. Site visits for provisioning RTU units

Site visits are justified if you're physically installing equipment, but not if you're simply sending data. If you have to send a technician to provision a unit, your network can't change and grow without creating more costs of truck rolls and windshield time.

Quality modern network monitoring equipment supports remote provisioning by LAN, so you can manage your database, and make changes whenever necessary, directly from your NOC. This way you or your techs won't have to travel to remote sites - every extra mile is money lost.

8. Site visits for loading firmware

If you can't update your equipment without physically visiting the site, you have an uncomfortable choice between keeping your monitoring at its current level or incurring more expensive windshield time.

Check your sites for network monitoring equipment that requires a direct serial connection for a firmware download - or even worse, older legacy equipment whose firmware can't be updated except by swapping a circuit board. Quality modern equipment will support firmware updates by LAN.

9. Site visits for debugging communications problems

Do you have to travel to your remote sites to diagnose and debug communications problems? Do you have to connect special equipment to your transmission lines? If you do, you're creating unnecessary truck rolls.

See if your current monitoring system supports a Protocol Analyzer mode. You can and should be able to debug communications traffic right from your alarm monitoring console.

10. Site visits to operate serial equipment

Are you able to connect to your serial equipment from the NOC? Any data connection that doesn't support LAN is a powerful generator of truck rolls and windshield time.

You can eliminate this problem with LAN-based monitoring equipment that supports reach-through connections to your serial equipment.

RTUs Can Reduce Major Headaches

Now that you know how an efficient remote monitoring system can help you avoid wasted truck rolls, let's take a look at what you should look for in a competent RTU.

  • Built-in intelligence
    First of all, good RTU will have built-in intelligence for common tasks, such as fuel tank monitoring, door monitoring, and power cycling. It should be flexible in the areas you need, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
  • Multiprotocol and multi types of notifications
    Make sure your RTU is compatible with whatever protocols you might have, even the legacy ones. It should also send alerts to your email or phone via text message - or whatever other type of notification you need.
  • LAN-based firmware upgrades
    When it comes time to update your RTU, you should be able to use a built-in web interface to change your configuration. You don't even have to leave the central office.
  • Smart RTU with remote configuration capabilities
    You need a smart remote device that features a user-friendly web interface that is configurable from any computer with internet connectivity.

Here are other useful features you should keep in mind when considering a network monitoring system:

  • Nuisance alarms
    You should look for a system that can silence nuisance alarms. If there are alarms that your techs are taught to ignore, they are more likely to miss a critical alarm. Make sure that this doesn't happen by installing a system that can intelligently sort alarms by level of importance.
    Qualification times are also great for alarms that "flicker". You may not care about a typical door-open alarm during business hours, but a door that's propped for more than 3 minutes is a potential threat you must know about.
  • Fuel levels
    If you have a generator that needs propane or other liquid gas, you need to be able to monitor the gas levels at all times. Your network monitoring system should have the capability of alerting you when the fuel levels are low, as well as monitor for trends, so you can detect problems such as leaks.
  • Remotely power-cycle equipment
    When your equipment is malfunctioning, most of the times all that's needed to fix it is a quick restart. With remote power-cycle equipment, you can do this without sending a tech to a remote site hours away.

Make an Inventory of Your Remote Sites and Get Your Perfect Fit System

Do you have plenty of other work to do outside of remote monitoring? Don't waste time and money on truck rolls when you could simply select smarter equipment from the start. Smart RTUs featuring remote configuration allow you to monitor your site from wherever you are, without dispatching techs for anything less than a major problem.

However, knowing everything you can and should monitor can be challenging.

We have more than 30 years of experience as a custom remote monitoring solutions provider and we know that questions and uncertainties are common in the earliest phases of monitoring systems deployment. So, to help you make an informed decision, our team of experts put together the DPS Remote Site Survey.

This document is a guide that will take you through the process of brainstorming all elements that you want or need to monitor to keep an eye on at your remote sites. Download your free copy of the DPS Remote Site Survey.

However, if you prefer a more detailed and personalized way to plan your remote monitoring system, to ensure a perfect fit, you can also have a consultation with one of our application engineers. Simply contact us and we can help you determine your real needs, both for the present and the future.

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins is a marketing writer, content creator, and documentation specialist at DPS Telecom. She has created over 200 blog articles and videos sharing her years of experience in the remote monitoring industry.