Uniti Fiber

Uniti Fiber View as PDF

“Having the Samsara platform and tracking on our vehicles and equipment is completely critical to our operation.”

John Hixon, Fleet Manager, Uniti Fiber

Telecommunications utility company Uniti Fiber partners with Samsara to gain visibility across their fleet and network, increase efficiency, and enhance team performance.

  • Real-time data provides visibility across a diverse fleet of heavy and light vehicles, heavy machinery, powered equipment, and unpowered equipment.

  • Open API keeps fleet data synced with systems such as Esri, ArcGIS, and Salesforce, enabling real-time fleet visibility across the entire software ecosystem.

  • Robust reporting reveals actionable patterns in behavior to increase fleet efficiency.

Uniti Fiber focuses on the construction and operation of fiber optic network infrastructure, serving a wide variety of customers, from schools and hospitals to telecom carriers as well as the US Military. The company has a presence in 20+ states, primarily in the Gulf Coast, Midwest, and North Atlantic regions.

With more than 1.3 million miles of fiber in their network, Uniti Fiber relies on a fleet of 400+ light and heavy duty vehicles, 150 construction trailers, and 150 pieces of construction equipment to build and protect their network. Keeping their network online is critical — not only for their business, but also for their customers, who depend on Uniti Fiber for internet connectivity.

In 2017, Uniti Fiber acquired four other fiber utility companies and faced the challenge of uniting several disparate fleets. After vetting more than five different telematics solutions, the team decided to invest in a partnership with Samsara.

“I didn’t just need a system that I would occasionally go look at, I needed a place for our fleet to live,” said Fleet Manager John Hixon. “Having the Samsara platform and tracking on our vehicles and equipment is completely critical to our operation.”

Uniti Fiber now considers Samsara a mission-critical tool for maintaining and extending their network quickly and effectively.

“Understanding where our fleet is and how it's performing contributes to the efficiency of our business,” said President Andy Newton. “Working with Samsara's been great not only from a reporting aspect, but also dispatching and overall visibility of where our resources are.”

Improving dispatch efficiency with real-time GPS data

Field personnel tend to have a lot of “windshield time” - unproductive time that technicians spend driving to and from sites in order to complete a job. They may drive for two-plus hours to get onsite for 30 minutes worth of work. Samsara gives Uniti Fiber the ability to see vehicle location in real-time and allows dispatchers to consolidate multiple jobs along a technician’s route to maximize productivity. The dispatch team can now add new install jobs and outage check-ins to the field team’s schedule on the fly.

“If we’re putting personnel on the road for that long, I’m trying to hit as many things as I can within that path,” said Lindsay Hunt, Manager of CAD & GIS (geographic information system). “I don’t have to bring somebody else in to go do the same thing because there’s also an opportunity cost associated with that. Any time you pull somebody off another project, you’re causing a delay.”

The team has gained a 76% increase in dispatch productivity due to enhanced visibility and improved efficiency, which directly impacts their bottom line.

“Being able to increase performance is a big deal for us. The improvement we’ve seen comes from process refinements we’ve put in place and how smart we’re being with the personnel that we have,” said Hunt. “Samsara is helping us use our personnel resources more wisely.”

Michael McCarty, VP of Outside Plant Operations, manages the teams responsible for major construction projects and agreed with Hunt. “Making sure they’re planning out their day and not criss-crossing their route unnecessarily really helps,” he said.

For the Asset Protection team, increased efficiency and performance is extremely important. They’re the front-line defense and protection against potential damage to Uniti’s core infrastructure from digging projects. The team is responsible for responding to 811 “call before you dig” inquiries within 48 hours.

“Samsara’s been excellent for my team,” said Chip Williford, Asset Protection Manager. “It helps keep everything running smoothly and is a big benefit.”

Improving fleet performance by sharing data across tools

With a vast network spread across 20+ states and limited personnel, Uniti Fiber’s ability to respond quickly to outages and emergencies is paramount.

“We own the infrastructure that nobody thinks about. When people think about the internet, they think about ‘the cloud.’ But it’s actually a cable in the ground or up on utility poles, whether people know it or not,” said Eric Daniels, a retired US Naval commander who now serves as Uniti Fiber’s SVP of Operations. “If we have a bad day, everyone has a bad day. Businesses can’t function, schools and hospitals are disconnected, and 911 call centers go down. Our job is to make sure the network stays up.”

To add to the pressure, the Uniti Fiber team has contractual obligations to customers to report an outage and be on-site within hours. Getting the right person to the right place at the right time used to be an ongoing challenge.

Before Samsara, the team had to synthesize data from multiple platforms in order to respond to an issue. Dispatch could only access customer location information in Salesforce but had to open Google Earth to plot the location and import their own network information to determine if an underground or aerial resource was needed to make a repair. The team then had to call around to find the right technician using a phone tree— which usually took 25+ minutes.

Because of this inefficiency, Uniti Fiber’s dedicated team of dispatchers was excited to streamline the process. Leveraging Samsara’s open API, the team connected Samsara to Salesforce and Esri, Uniti Fiber’s GIS, so they could see their real-time fleet location overlaid on a live view of their fiber network.

“Being able to pull Samsara on top of our network so we can just look and see who’s closest has been a huge game-changer for us,” said Hunt. Her dispatch team can now quickly identify the type of technician needed for a job, identify the proper personnel to handle the customer request based on proximity, and dispatch that person in minutes.

The ability to connect their fleet and network data has allowed Uniti Fiber to shift from a reactive to proactive mindset.

“It was the coolest thing when I saw the screen with the APIs running between Esri and Samsara. It was a glorious moment for us because suddenly I could not only see where everybody was, but I could see where everybody was relative to our network,” said Daniels. “Samsara is such a powerful tool for us. It feels exactly like I’m back in a military command center.”

Samsara’s flexibility and ability to link to other systems paves the way for better collaboration within the Uniti Fiber team. With increased visibility into real-time vehicle location and network data, Hunt’s dispatchers are able to leverage personnel from different divisions to respond to customers more efficiently.

She recalled an instance where a site was only accessible until a certain time, but the field technician was an hour away and would be locked out by the time he got there. Hunt dispatched a different employee to hold the door at the customer site until the technician could arrive to troubleshoot. This allowed Uniti Fiber to resolve the issue that same day instead of waiting until the next morning, minimizing the disruption caused to the customer.

“Samsara makes a huge difference. We can see exactly where everyone is out in the field,” said Hunt. “There’s not different groups or divisions — it’s just Uniti, and we’re all out there on the same team working together to bring the network back up and make things happen.”

Robust reporting for better organization

One of Uniti Fiber’s major requirements for a new telematics provider was the ability to consolidate data to see a comprehensive view of their fleet’s performance. Using Samsara’s geofence and tagging functionality in conjunction with reports, Hixon has been able to make sense of his fleet’s data, segment performance by team, and enable other managers to gain visibility into their team’s activities and performance.

Hixon leverages geofences to mark specific locations—such as major job sites or even larger geographic regions in the case of a big restoration project—and uses tags to group different departments or vehicle types. He can then run reports by tag and filter by activity within a geofence.

“Samsara allows us to set up automated reports to see a particular group at a set time every day or once a week,” said McCarty. “We know geographic areas where the field team should be working, and we can mark those with a geofence. Then, I can get a report to see every action that’s taken place inside that area.”

With more than 700 people in the company and multiple business divisions, having the ability to create personalized reports is a necessity. McCarty finds the organizational tools extremely helpful for him to assess how his team is performing. The Outside Plant team manages a lot of heavy equipment, including a $400,000 boring machine, and Samsara’s flexibility allows each administrator to configure and focus their view so the data they’re seeing is relevant and useful. His managers can set up tags to focus on anywhere from 15 to 50 vehicles, and include separate tags for the assets or pieces of equipment that they care about.

While this kind of reporting is critical to gaining needed efficiencies in day-to-day operations, having robust organizational tools is particularly impactful in emergency situations where decisions have to be made quickly with limited information. During storms or other large weather events, Samsara enables the Uniti Fiber team to make informed decisions quickly while saving valuable time and resources. Afterward, having organized information also makes it easy to share relevant data with insurance companies, vendors, and even customers. Hixon was able to answer insurance claim questions for the 100+ vehicles dispatched to support Hurricane Michael restoration efforts without employing 2 additional full time employees.

“Once you create that organizational structure with the tags or the geofences, it's extremely easy for the Samsara platform to dissect that granular data and give you a report,” said Hixon. “We could cross-reference invoices with data from the Samsara. You can literally see quantity of vehicles, quantity of miles, when or where it happened—and it's all right here in black and white.”

Using fleet data for next-level customer service

Uniti Fiber is looking to better leverage Samsara data, reporting, and tags to identify potential problems with their fiber network and proactively take action before issues become critical. Going through Samsara’s Time on Site report to find customer sites that have received a higher-than-expected number of technician visits can reveal a potential equipment breakdown, Hunt explains. She can then send field personnel out to do preventative maintenance on the network, saving a larger headache in the future.

“If I notice that we’ve made eight trips to one location in the last two months, there’s something going on and the patches we’re putting on aren’t working,” said Hunt. “When you’re in the day-to-day, it’s sometimes hard to realize the patterns that are starting to show up. Good organization and reporting help us step back and look at what’s going on from a higher level.”

Hunt is also excited about how Samsara can help Uniti Fiber provide better customer service and enhance communication with customers. The team uses Live Sharing links to share information with customers during critical situations and give visibility into what their technicians are doing to restore connectivity. Samsara allows them to add filters such as geofences or tags to control the amount of data that is accessible to external parties—down to a specific geographical area or set of vehicles. Dispatchers can also set an expiration date on the unique link to ensure that customers are only seeing what they need to see for a limited period of time. Hunt envisions a world where Uniti Fiber can share granular information with all their customers to enhance the service they’re providing.

“Having a construction worker show up at your place of work is disruptive, and any business or customer is looking to see how we can minimize this disruption,” Hunt said. “Samsara has the real-time data to help us track and tell a customer, ‘Your technician is en route and will be on site within 30 minutes.’”

Creating a more connected future

Since partnering with Samsara, Uniti Fiber has grown their fleet by over 30% with plans for continued expansion. As Uniti Fiber continues to extend their fiber network and grow their fleet, the company is exploring other ways it can leverage Samsara to see gains across the business. They’ve invested in additional asset tracking on their equipment, and are exploring AI dash cams for increased visibility and safety for those in the field.

“Samsara is a real game changer. We want to be the best at what we do, and Samsara allows us to scale and perform at a very high level,” said McCarty. “Some of the solutions we considered could have been a good fit for the moment, but that wasn’t enough for us. We wanted a partnership that could grow with us and help us be more efficient.”

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