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The Future Of Telecom Project Management In A Digitized World With Dan Zygmunt

5TT 43 | Telecom Project Management

 

Digital transformation seeps into every aspect of business nowadays, even in the field of telecom project management. This development is a reflection of the larger phenomenon of IT-telecom convergence that is happening today. Dan Zygmunt is at the forefront of this crucial development as the VP of Telecom for Sitetracker, a B2B SaaS project management platform. He joins Carrie Charles in this conversation to discuss what Sitetracker uniquely offers to the telecom industry and what sets it apart from its competitors. He also shares a bit about his own transition to the tech side of telecom, which very much mirrors the larger movement of talent towards that space.

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The Future Of Telecom Project Management In A Digitized World With Dan Zygmunt

I am thrilled to have with me a special guest, it is Dan Zygmunt. He is the new VP of Telecom for Sitetracker. Dan, thanks so much for being with me on the 5G Talent Talk.

Carrie, thanks for having me. I appreciate the invitation. I’m looking forward to talking to you.

I’m especially interested to hear about your journey and your transition. What took you from where you were to the tech side of Telecom?

It’s an incredible journey. I started at Ball State University. I picked up a computer science degree there. I was always into tech early on, even throughout my childhood. During one of the summers at the university, I was working for this company called Harmon Glass. We were deploying in this hospital up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We were building this beautiful red Tundra. It was a glazier putting big pieces of glass 150 feet up in the air. That was my first opportunity to get exposed to project management and deploying things out in the field perspective and working along with the field crews. That caught my attention, I said, “I want to do this. I want to build infrastructure but more on from a technology side, like a network side.”

I finished up my computer science degree. I went on to do some graduate work at the Center for Information and Communication Sciences. I got a good understanding of the network architecture on how we deploy not only how the signal traverses the architecture but also the human communication aspect of it and how we communicate in deploying infrastructure from a services perspective. I did some interviews and ran into a guy named David Sharkey. He was working at Telamon, which is in Indianapolis. He goes, “What do you want to do in your career, Dan?” I go, “I want to build networks.” He goes, “That’s good. We do that here.” It went on for a little while. I didn’t hear back from him nearing graduation.

I called Telamon. I talked to the receptionist and the receptionist goes, “Hi, who’s this?” “I’m Dan. Can you page Dave Sharkey? I’m trying to get ahold of him.” He goes, “Sure.” This is a time when there’s a page and you can page people in offices. Dave picks up the phone and goes “Hi, this is Dave.” I go, “Dave, this Dan of Ball State.” He goes, “Hi, Dan.” I go, “I want to build networks. Can I come work for you?” He goes, “Did you page me?” I was like, “Yeah.” It’s part of being relentless. He goes, “Come on board. Let’s do it.” I came down. I started working for Telamon.

The first opportunity I had was working in central offices in the network. One of our clients was Verizon. I was working outside in the summer at the Bronson Hospital. I go, “This is the exact opposite of working outdoors.” I’m working inside central offices, getting my hands dirty out there with the crews, running cables, putting relay racks in, and dropping power into BDFBs. I got the first-hand experience of project managing, managing revenue costs and field teams. I enjoyed it. Dave came through and said, “We’re working on an outside plant opportunity for AT&T. Are you interested?” I go, “Yeah. I get to work outside. I’m good with that.” I got to experience the outside plant side of it.

At one point, I was looking to get into the wireless space. I helped start the wireless division within there. I ran into some entrepreneurs that we’re building high-speed wireless broadband in rural America. I was helping them with some of the business case aspects of it. There’s a cost in terms of how you deploy that network from a services perspective. They said, “Why don’t you join our team and let’s go do that?” At a young age, I got the entrepreneurial kick. I went out and raised some angel investment. I was bringing high-speed wireless broadband there. We sold that business a couple of years later.

I reached out to another one of my mentors, Joe Sanzo, at SAC Wireless. I asked him, “I had sold the business. What do you guys up to?” He goes, “We’re in the process of changing our customer approach. We’re going away from more of a tier-two to a tier-one, working directly for network operators.” He said, “Would you like to help us do that?” I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I’m employee number 100 over there. I was a part of all the transformation that goes from 100 people to tapping up to 3,000 people at one time and all the people and the processes that were associated with that.

Throughout that whole journey, I had an incredible opportunity to touch all aspects of the network and what it takes to deploy, central office, outside plant, fiber, small cells, tower and DAS. I got this unique wide lens of the industry. Fast forward to where we are now, understanding of everything that’s happening in the ecosystem around investment. We’re seeing the critical infrastructure. We’re seeing at the government level. We see what is happening. I wanted to take the opportunity to say how can I help other firms that have to take on so much work? How can we improve their operation and help digitize that for them to be able to take on more work? What we do here is meaningful. We connect people with their families. We build a first-responder network. We even make it easy for groceries to land at our house.

I like that. I had groceries land up to my house. Thank you very much.

[bctt tweet=”Sitetracker’s amazing solution is helping us do more with fewer people and it sounds exciting.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

It’s incredible. I’m on this next chapter. I joined Sitetracker. Throughout that whole journey, I was always looking for this incredible tool that made it easier to connect people with how we deploy. I’m here at Sitetracker. We’re a SaaS company. We’re built in the Cloud, designed to build infrastructure. We help project teams, asset owners and teams in the field do the job the best that they can.

How long has Sitetracker been in business?

We’ve been around since 2014 or 2015.

I’ve heard so much about Sitetracker. It’s exciting to go a little deeper here. There is this massive shift taking place in the world, the digital transformation. How will this shift help companies drive productivity, accelerate growth? How is this going to help companies? I know this is an obvious answer, but I want to look at this from a view of you being inside of a SaaS company coming from Telacom.

As much as it’s a US challenge, it’s a global challenge as well. Since coming over here, we’ve done some international calls with some other firms over there. It’s a global challenge. The best way to do this is by looking at how we optimize the fundamentals and how we execute. We’ve been accepting the status quo for too long. It’s been affecting our balance sheets. It’s been affecting our work-life balance. There are some firms out there that are early adopters and recognizing this. Whether it’s Tillman, Ericsson, SCC Wireless, Cox Communication, Lumen, and Vodafone. There are a lot of doubters who say, “We need to solve this? We need technology to be able to do that.” They’re reaping the benefits of that.

The opportunity is to be that skills equalizer and translator that gets everybody on the same page. We look at the fundamentals as to how do we optimize our forecasting and aligning expectations across the full value chain of how that infrastructure gets spent all the way down to the people in the field. Taking away educated guess, making data-driven decisions and ensuring that line alignment. By Implementing a software system like Sitetracker, you’re digitizing your operation. This is all about how you optimize your processes, you would standardize them, and then we want to automate the hell out of them.

We do that within Sitetracker as an example by standardizing the milestones across the entire program. We look at creating that single repository for data and documents. It’s all within that view of that site level and then assigning accountability all the way down the site level. Everybody understands what their role is throughout that value chain, whether it’s on the asset acquisition side, construction aspect, the integration. Everybody has that view of who’s responsible for what. What we want to do is we want to measure that production and then make it transparent throughout the entire organization. When you do that, companies are going to be able to take on more work. They’re going to be able to drive costs out of their business. Their margins are going to increase as a result of that, and thus improving your balance sheets.

How did COVID accelerate this need to digitize processes for companies?

One of the things to think about there is that it pushed us into an environment where we all become more technologists. If we look at the environment that we’re in, the adaptability around to be able to use the software as a tool. Zoom is going into telemedicine rather than going in the office. It’s enabled us to push that envelope even more there.

The bottom line is, and we all know this, that there are not enough people to deploy 5G. I’ve talked about this over and over in episodes that companies are turning down work because there are simply not enough people to do the work. How will digitization help solve this problem?

5TT 43 | Telecom Project Management
Telecom Project Management: You constantly need to assess the effectiveness of how to execute. Technology is going to play an important role around that.

That goes to what I was talking about in terms of making it an environment where we optimize those fundamentals. That’s what I was focused on around how that digitization helps do that and that we’re able to take on more work by enabling that piece of it.

Tools like Sitetracker’s amazing solution that’s going to help us do more with fewer people and it sounds exciting. There’s a whole other side of this though, which is the more that gets automated, the fewer people we need. What happens to the people? What are your thoughts on this as we move along through this automation, digitization and how it’s going to affect the workforce, the telecom workforce specifically?

What you’re outlining there is tech is intimidating. It shouldn’t be intimidating. We’re all these technologists. We see all this technology that’s around us and we’re utilizing it. Change management is the issue. How do we change associated with that? How do we solve that? Sitetracker is an example of successful change management. We’re managing $25 billion of assets. We have 25,000 different users. Our adoption rate is 94%, which is incredible. The reason why is because we’ve created a system that’s intuitive. It’s recognizable.

I was on this Sitetracker Certification Program when I first came on. You could feel the relief coming off people because it was like, “Somebody finally figured out what we were looking for.” An example of that is our trackers, our web-based spreadsheets. There’s always this challenge around integrating new software. We created a sandbox and people would go play in. We have ready-made project templates. You’re not having to start from scratch. It clicks codes, that certification program. We also will partner with you on either business plan where we outline that value and then we want to measure it. What I’m excited about being here is creating a solid partnership between our customers and Sitetracker.

You hit the nail on the head. I’m going through this in my company. Every company goes through this at some point when you’re looking at your tech stack. It’s adoption. It’s getting your people to adopt the software and use it because it’s useless if people don’t use it. How do you get old dogs to learn new tricks? This isn’t an old joke. I could be one of those old dogs. I hear you when you say that it’s intuitive, something about a sandbox, which sounds simple. I like that language. Looking at these people who’ve done things the same way for so long, especially in telecom, how do you get them to shift?

From a shifting perspective, re-skilling is a part of this. To enable that job security, you have to be able to adapt. We walk through the program, great businesses have to innovate. At the end of the day, when we want to make that progress towards enabling that, understanding that technology plays an important role is critical.

You’re a success story for this re-skilling and upskilling and this world that’s moving toward digitization and automation. What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my job? We hear a lot about upskilling and rescaling and keeping your skills current and learning something new. You’re a perfect example of this in action.

We all understand that we constantly need to assess the effectiveness and how we execute. Technology is going to play an important role around that. For example, if you look at your cell phone, at one point, email and your phone was disconnected. I remember I was getting on a plane one time and the customer said, “I can’t get ahold you for four hours.” The next thing you know, I landed and I had to get a phone with email. You have to adjust and you got to pivot. That’s an opportunity to improve progress as a result of that.

What makes Sitetracker different or better than your competitors?

I don’t think of it as another software competitor. The folks that you mentioned want to stay in their current mode of operation. If you look at firms that want to grow, that’s one way that you have to do to grow your business. We have this philosophy around how we deploy and we create a foundation of people on processes. That’s a key differentiator there. There’s a ton of upside there. If you think of mergers and acquisitions as an example of firms that are looking to sell, knowing where all your assets are at, knowing the structural integrity of your tower, what’s available out there will help with the valuation of your firm. If there’s an unknown, there won’t be that discount. You have to go through due diligence. To be able to outline, “Here it is,” and there’s high credibility about it, you could get a better value around that.

The other opportunity is we have Sitetracker AI. We also have machine learning. Looking at what happened and what could happen is extremely powerful. You have this repository throughout your implementation of where all your data is and you can take a look at it in ways you never have before. When you’re going out into your forecasting, your project plan, and understanding how did this market perform versus this one or the cycle times or the jurisdictional challenges that you may be running into? Who’s the better PM versus the different general contractors? How do you make those decisions? It’s all going to be about algorithms that are going to help guide our decisions. We’re going to see a lot of accuracy improvement as a result of that.

[bctt tweet=”Tech shouldn’t be intimidating – after all, we are all technologists and we are all using it.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

I heard you say that it isn’t about another piece of software as a competitor. What it’s about is someone doing the things they used to do or doing it the way that they used to do it versus adopting this new and improved method and model. I know you got a lot of attention when you said increased valuation. I’m sure that ears perked up there as well. It is going to that next level. I was at a conference for staffing in my industry. The entire week was about the digital transformation, digitizing your business. We had five days of sessions. Not one session did not mention this changing, moving and transformation. It’s coming. It’s here. We need to get on the bus or be left behind.

Every COO, CIO, and CTO are sitting together in a room solving this. It’s happening. With the amount of investment that’s being made, they have to be prepared. Everybody understands the challenge that if you take on too much work and you don’t have that foundation ready, you’re going to fail. This is an integral piece. I love what you were saying about how you have to adopt. I’ll give you an example. I’m a big runner. I enjoy running. For a long time, I was in the mid-pack. I’m a mid-pack person. It’s like, “How do I get faster?” Your mind runs faster but your body has got to run fast. What do you have to do? You have to change your training regimen. All of a sudden, you’ll climb more stairs or do speed work. All of a sudden, you start adopting those new activities and you start moving up inch by inch. You have to change what you do. It’s transformative. If we apply that from a business perspective on how we do this, the results would be extraordinary.

This reminds me of the story where a man is chopping down a tree and he keeps chopping and it’s taking him forever to even make any progress with this tree. Someone walks up to him and says, “George, why don’t you sharpen your ax?” He stops. He goes over and he sharpens his ax and then hits it three times and the tree comes down. The key here is stopping to sharpen your ax. With all the tech that we’ve adopted, we’ve been through our own transformation with AI software and with staffing. We’ve got all kinds of different new SaaS products in Broadstaff. We have had to stop and take the time to learn it, adapt it and integrate it. Once you do, your ax is sharper and everything works better.

Sometimes you don’t know how challenging it is until you see how better it could be. You sit back and you reflect. You’re like, “How did we ever do this before?” You’re always making statements like, “Thank goodness we did this.” I’ve lived this. I’ve been in the environment. I know there’s a bunch out there that have that they’re sitting there and they’re like, “We’re glad we did this and we implemented this because we were never going to do it.” Your customers are happier. Your culture is happier. If you have an opportunity, you can set expectations. Everybody has alignment for that. People understand what they’re supposed to do and how they got to do it.

Something else comes to mind and I’ll have you put on your sales hat for a minute. As business leaders, we’re bombarded with SaaS products. I must get many LinkedIn messages every day. I hear the same conversation, it will change your life, save you money, more than, less time, this, and that, and all this great stuff. If I keep adding to this tech stack, my monthly cost keeps going up. How do we choose and know that out of everything we have available, Sitetracker is going to be the tool that I need? How do we choose that from all the noise out there with the SaaS products?

The differentiator is that if we look at what we’re responsible for doing, we’re responsible for deploying critical infrastructure whether that’s small cells, tower, fiber, wherever that may be. To be successful, you have to have a piece of software that was purpose-built for that. There are tons of tools out there that will analyze data for you. You have to make the correlation between what do you want it to analyze. We purposely build it for this platform. We’ve been building it for a long time. It has been field-tested through broad and different customers along the way. It has been constantly innovated. We take that feedback. If I have to deploy physically in this network, I want to be made purposely and is intuitive from that perspective. That will help with the adoption and it’s going to help deploy it. When you’re able to extract the information you add, it has all those different layers required to do it.

I appreciate that. The other piece of it is that our competitors are doing it. If we don’t get on the bus, we get left behind. That’s a critical piece. Let’s switch gears to the people aspect because there’s this IT telecom convergence happening. The people that are needed to build these virtualized networks are completely different than the people that were needed years ago in our industry. I know there are a lot of people who don’t have those skills. There’s also a great talent shortage in IT. When hiring, do you look for skill and experience? Do you hire character and train skills?

You’re spot on, there’s a huge convergence happening. We look at the network orchestra outline and that is even extending. We have to look at smart cities as an example. We’re trying to get to a carbon-neutral environment by 2015. From our perspective, we don’t compromise on either. If you want to hire and build a great company, you need both. Leveraging that is extremely critical. We have an environment where we work across the entire landscape. If you have experienced project managing and fiber, that’s translatable to a small cell, that’s translatable to build a tower, and it can be outreached into the other ecosystems out there, smart cities or energy for example.

It sounds like many skills in telecom will translate into that IT or tech space. What advice would you give? We do get candidates who come to us that are looking to make that transition from the traditional telecom space and maybe into more of a tech role into that 5G tech world. What advice would you give because I know you’ve made that transition?

Something I did when I came over here is trying to capture the challenges that you face as you were in that role and how you can bring that tech from maybe shaping the landscape of what that product looks like. Companies now maybe are building towers, but they even want to get into fiber or they want to get into small cells. There’s this whole convergence that’s happening that you mentioned. As you look at the experience you had making those deployments, how can you leverage that skill that you had into a product? What would you wish that one thing could do? You can take all those related elements that you have throughout your journey and adopt them and say, “I wish we could have done this.” You can bring them and then look at putting that on a roadmap as an example.

Let’s talk culture. What is it like to work at Sitetracker?

5TT 43 | Telecom Project Management
Telecom Project Management: There’s always an opportunity to improve your progress to achieve results.

It’s pretty incredible. The energy is off the chart here. The intellect is off the chart. We’re aggressive as well. We understand the challenge we’re trying to solve and there’s a holistic passion about that and it’s incredible. I got my coffee mug over here. The values resonate as well. Pursue relentlessly. Focused meonically on the customers, care deeply, think boldly. We’re committed to diversity and inclusion.

You have that written on the coffee cup?

Yeah.

I want one of those for Broadstaff.

It’s great.

You keep it in front of you all the time.

As you go out through your day, it’s great to think about those values. If your community has many different people, how do you put yourself with them? How do you communicate and speaks out? Pursue relentlessly, if it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t have ended up with that first job. Who knows where I would have gone? You do have to care deeply because there are many people that we interact with every day. Everybody’s trying to accomplish something. Everybody has a work in life that they’re trying to solve. At the end of the day, motivation is a huge piece of that. You have to be thoughtful and caring about that.

Are you remote as a company? Are you partial remote? Are there remote opportunities? That’s a hot topic for many candidates especially in tech and IT.

We’re remote. A survey came out based on what’s happening. We may head back into the offices or what that may look like. I’m remote.

You’re in Chicago. I haven’t heard the train yet.

It’s gone by a couple of times.

[bctt tweet=”Great businesses need to innovate. Understanding technology plays an important role.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]

The new world we live in. The good news is people have figured out that we can do so much remotely. Before, we had to be in an office and that’s a whole other conversation but that’s exciting. It’s great to hear about your culture. I know that your founder and CEO is a phenomenal and brilliant individual. I’m excited for your growth. Are you hiring, in conclusion? If so, what types of roles are you hiring for? Where can we find out about open jobs and Sitetracker, in general, for people who want to learn more about Sitetracker?

It’s been amazing. We haven’t missed a beat. The one thing I love about this industry that we’ve been in is that we constantly challenge ourselves and get out of our comfort zone and continue to drive forward. It’s been a resilient industry. It’s been incredible. For us, we’ve grown 237% over the years. We had the largest pipeline we’ve ever had, which is super exciting. The answer is yes, we’re hiring across all business units, whether it’s sales, marketing, products, implementation. You can find us on www.SiteTracker.com. There’s a ton of openings. Come and join us. We’re doing excellent things here. We’re looking to make a great improvement to how we work and live here.

It’s the world in general. It sounds exciting. You are in other verticals as well besides telecom.

We are. We talked about the architecture around the network expanding into energy is a huge one. We see electric cars. We’re trying to get to a carbon-neutral environment by 2015. At the end of the day, it’s about getting that box, that form factor out to some physical location. Whether you’re selling a radio device or an IoT device, it’s a box for energy as an example. There’s going to be a lot of them.

There will. For those of you reading who would like to know about all the different verticals that are available through Sitetracker and everything that’s going on, the great work that you’re doing, you can go to www.SiteTracker.com. Dan, thanks so much for being on the show. This has been exciting. I love talking tech. I had fun. Thank you.

Thanks, Carrie. I appreciate it.

Take care.

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About Dan Zygmunt

5TT 43 | Telecom Project Management

 

Dan is an accomplished telecommunication professional with over 18 years of experience. His experience includes Customer Success roles within various telecommunications deployment services companies [SAC Wireless a Nokia Company, Aircado, and Telamon].

His diverse background includes working across multiple components of the network including Central Offices, Outside Plant/Fiber, Small Cells, Tower, and DAS. In his current role at Sitetracker, VP of Telecom, Customer Success, Dan will drive digital transformation to their customers in the Telecom space.

Dan believes critical work/life principles include honesty, integrity, being open-minded, transparent and that in order to build a great company it takes great people, process, and technology!

In addition to his professional career, he is a father, husband, and an outdoor endurance enthusiast who resides in Southern California.

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