Dan Flemming, Co-Founder of Render Networks, is fulfilling a mission to digitize and de-risk infrastructure projects and truly innovate the way businesses deploy fiber networks.
In this interview, Dan explores how a response to NBN’s challenge of building fiber networks efficiently has resulted in the global launch of Render’s innovative work management software for large-scale geospatial projects.
Q: Before you founded Render, you worked at several large telco and construction firms, including Multiplex, NBN, Alcatel-Lucent and even the Sydney Olympics. What key events led you to start Render?
Interestingly the first spark for me was whilst leading Special Projects at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. I was heavily involved in technology projects – result systems, telecommunication networks, internet data feeds – and it struck me that the project management of technology delivery could benefit from the disciplines that high-rise or heavy-duty construction deployed. What’s the scope, budget? Commercially, what are my constraints? What are good practices that are driven by low-margin, high-value, high-risk construction projects?
The second moment was working for Alcatel-Lucent in Asia where I was heavily immersed in the telco industry, fiber in particular and its extensive ecosystem. Emerging markets are different to more established regions like Australia or the US as there no predetermined way of doing things, you just come up with the best way to do it in the environment that you’re placed in. It opened my mind to, “Why are we constrained by traditional methods in more established markets if there’s a better way of doing it? At the time, I didn’t realise how much it impacted me, but I honestly think this was a big shift in perspective for me.
Upon returning to Australia, the NBN was just starting. I was hired as part of a small team to work out how to build what was by all measures a monumental project. We had a budget of $50 billion, a desire and willingness to participate for 10+ years by the Telco industry, and a unity of commitment and purpose from the Australian government to build it as fast as they could – yet, it’s proven very difficult to deliver..
Was that the moment you started to pen Render’s approach?
Exactly, with a blank sheet of paper, I asked myself – how can we make network deployment more efficient?
I’m sure I still have the scratchings at home, it went something like..turn the design into work, sequence it, make it doable in accordance with their schedule of rates. Then work out who’s going to do it, allocate it to them and, when it’s ready, give it to people to deliver. The guys who went faster, give more to them. This is not too far from Render’s operating model today.
We also recognized society’s insatiable desire for data and bandwidth would only increase and there was a gap in the industry’s capability to build this infrastructure.
Your mission is to build networks better. Are you only focused on fiber networks, what types of projects will derive meaningful value from Render?
We’re a company who look to build quality networks fast, whether that’s 5G or fiber in the home, large networks covering thousands if not millions of people, that require a new level of sophistication. Our response is not to do that with thousands of people, it’s to do it utilizing today’s technologies in a smart way.
We have the vision to change the way telco networks are deployed initially, however, the invention and technology could apply to any distributed, linear network like power, water or gas.
We manage projects that are very broad in width but shallow in depth. So if it’s a network that spreads across Texas or Western Australia, in each location a shallow number of tasks are needed, then Render is good at that. If it’s building the Eiffel Tower in one location then our technology is not appropriate and that problem has already been solved by Primavera and Aconex. If it’s building 5000 wireless towers across France, that’s where our technology has real value.
Render exists to deliver a large magnitude of tasks or processes that are related to each other, well documented, location-based, dependency driven and resource-constrained. Render keeps ‘the boots on the ground busy’ and manages data in thoughtful ways to optimize stakeholder alignment and delivery efficiency at scale.
How do you help customers achieve faster or ‘better’ network design and construction?
It’s the patented way in which we convert detailed network design into manageable pieces of work. We map construction dependencies into the software based on rich design data validated and collected in the field.
Tasks are sequenced and optimised in real-time and utilize predictive algorithm and scheduling techniques to avoid expected and unexpected construction problems. So you can change the order at each step, and the remaining tasks are automatically sequenced – if one team moves faster, then that just changes the order for all parties.
You spend a lot of time talking to network engineering and construction organisations – like NBN, Decon Technologies, Kordia, Downer Engineering and Chorus in ANZ, and Irby Utilities, Craighead Electrical Coop and D&H Construction in the USA — what are some of their biggest challenges and how are you helping them tackle these?
Fundamentally, resources are not productive enough. That’s the result of process inefficiency from the start of design through to the end of construction, productivity is impacted as the work is not clearly defined and people keep trying to work out exactly what they need to do, all the time.
It’s not clear because it’s defined somewhere on a paper-based drawing, or someone’s interpreted it in a particular way, or the data’s not good enough. Noone has previously gone to the effort of breaking down or ‘blueprinting’ exactly the scope of work needed to build the network design efficiently. The complexity is not in the work itself, the complexity is in the scale of it and its distributed nature.
We give everyone visibility into the status of all tasks – the owner, the builder, the contractor, personnel on the ground – are on the same page at the same time. They have the ability to track the status of every individual task real-time, using geospatial data across broad geographies.
Real-time project data, that’s a big one. Talk us through how digital data management is challenging traditional approaches?
Accurate and real-time data is important. Add geospatial visibility or, seeing things on a map, and it makes visibility and communication simpler, more accurate and less ambiguous.
We’ve come up with smart ways to manage data end to end. If you create a scope and then push it to someone to do the work, digitally using today’s technologies, they’re not only doing work more efficiently, you’re capturing data more efficiently so there are cascading levels of return.
We’re effectively providing these data sets and a new level of visibility and asset-based insight on geospatial maps. That’s innovation, taking everything off bits of paper, providing it to you live in the field, in a familiar Google Maps interface with enough data that you need to interpret what needs to be done. The guy charged with keeping people busy every day, can drill down to a bolt on a pole that’s connecting cable or pull back to 50 thousand feet and just say, “what parts of Sydney or San Francisco have been done yet?”
With that data comes visibility and efficiency, and accountability that wasn’t possible before – and commercially, reductions in cost and completion times to unforeseen levels.
What do you see on the horizon for fiber networks and their deployment?
A macro trend that we are inextricably linked to is the advent of unlimited, all-you-can-eat data consumption, and the downstream impact on what that means for fiber and infrastructure requirements.
The biggest game-changer in the next three years is 5G. The dollars being invested and the demand for fiber network design and construction is enormous because all this bandwidth needs to very quickly be delivered through fiber.
The need for more and greater networks is there, the process just needs to be more efficient. Which begs the question – imagine what is possible if the cost of fiber construction is not a constraint? What if you could halve the cost of fiber deployment, what would that do to the extent of it?
It changes the business case, let’s put fiber everywhere, faster. That’s what we’re excited about at Render.
Want to see Render in action? Contact the team today to see how you can leverage today’s technologies to de-risk your network rollout.