LBx Executive Interview with George Salvador, Director, Geographic Business Intelligence for Time Warner Cable

BACKGROUND asktrict The cable industry is fundamentally a location-based business with a plant and customers tied to specific locations, yet management is just beginning to realize, develop, and invest in the power of location data or GIS (geographic information systems) beyond engineering. As the cable business moved from a single residen- tial video service business to multiple products and expanded into business services, a greater need arose to better understand the location of the plant and network equipment relative to new customers. Time Warner Cable (TWC) is the second largest cable company in the United States, providing video, voice and high-speed data services to 13.3 million subscribers. We spoke with George Salvador about the role of GIS and location at TWC and the business drivers for investing in a location-based data platform.

LBx What is your responsibility at TWC?

SALVADOR  I have two overall responsibilities. First is managing a data conversion effort, which is the most difficult and expensive part of our effort. This involves converting all TWC unstandardized CAD files into a GIS database so that we can build a centralized repository of all plant data files. Second is managing a small GBI (geographic business intelligence) development team to build customized GIS application tools to leverage that data across the enterprise.

LBx  What is your background?

SALVADOR  I have a Bachelor of Arts from University of Colorado at Boulder. I was a Geography major with a minor in Geology. I got involved with a cable company after college because there was not much demand for geographers at the time, so I began my career in the design and documentation of outside cable plants.

LBx  How are you using GIS at TWC?

SALVADOR  The GIS department evolved from traditional design work that primarily supported upgrading activities. When TWC began offering digital phone service, it pushed us into using GIS tools. We had to determine the location of customers’ addresses in relation to telecom rate centers in order to provision the customer phone numbers accurately—this was the perfect role for GIS technology. Now we are looking at GIS to be leveraged for other parts of the business and focusing more on geographic business intelligence. We are using a number of tools to build our own GeoWeb portal. We have built an Oracle spatial data warehouse for OSP (outside plant) data, and use a mixture of GIS software tools such as ArcGIS and ArcInfo, and we support MapInfo users in the company, along with a number of other off-the-shelf tools, but we need to develop our own specific tools to address the particular needs of the cable industry and TWC. For example, we are building a residential serviceability tool for addresses not currently in our billing systems. With this tool, the Customer Service Representative is able to type in an address that is automatically geo-coded to identify neighboring cable customers and what services are available in that location. This saves a truck roll and provides a high confidence that the customer is serviceable.

LBx  How have the trends in GIS and business changed over the last three to five years?

SALVADOR  Previously in cable, location awareness was the function of a truck roll and boots on the ground for addresses not previously in the billing system. TWC’s GIS initiative was started about three years ago; however we had a slow start, with difficulty in selling the project to senior management. As a publicly traded company, TW heavily scrutinizes capital projects before approval. With the emphasis on ROI and ROA (return on investment and return on assets), they were looking for an immediate return. We had a grass roots start by introducing the benefits of GIS to the local divisions and middle- management leaders needing location-based business information. All the cable companies are under similar pressure to demonstrate ROI and ROA. Today, senior management is starting to see the importance of understanding the relationship of the plant to customers in rolling out new commercial services.

LBx What other business problems are you solving using GIS?

SALVADOR GIS is solving a number of operational, regulatory and marketing issues:

DEVELOPMENT OF MORE EFFECTIVE NODE SPLITTING TOOLS: With the addition of digital phone and high-speed data, nodes (a node is a distribution point in the cable network that generally serves an average of 500 homes) need to be split into smaller segments of customers to accommodate the increase in traffic. Before GIS this was done arbitrarily; with GIS the engineers are able to bring in traffic patterns on usage and split the node using that kind of data.

Previously in cable, location awareness was the function of a truck roll and boots on the ground for addresses nor previously in the billing system … Today, seniors management is starting to see the importance of understanding the relationship of the plant to customers in rolling out new commercial services.

NETWORK HEALTH: With GIS, plant outages can be monitored at the exact location, and predictive analysis on the area of the plant experiencing outages may determine that a piece of equipment is getting ready to fail. With integrated weather analysis, the vulnerability of particular areas of a plant can be determined. For example, is the plant in a flood or hurricane zone?

ASSET TRACKING: How much fiber is out there? How much dark fiber? How many amplifiers in the field? Without a centralized GIS data warehouse, the information has to be retrieved from each division that has different standards.

IDENTIFICATION OF FRANCHISE BOUNDARIES: Cable companies are granted franchises to operate video services either on a local municipality basis or at the state level. In the State of California, the California PUC (Public Utilities Commission) needed to understand where TWC customers were, relative to census bureau data and franchise boundaries. The Government Affairs department had a hard time assessing that with spreadsheets. GIS technology solved their problem!

TAX ASSESSMENTS: Without a centralized repository of plant data, it is difficult to know where exactly the plant is, relative to tax boundaries. This problem leads to either overpayment or underpayment of taxes.

MEDIA SALES: The media sales group is looking to determine ad zones that are determined by hub boundaries, which are then associated to certain nodes. It’s hard to know where the hub boundaries are without determining what nodes are associated with the hub; GIS analysis can solve that. Advanced Advertising is a priority initiative for TWC and the other cable companies. GIS is becoming a critical support for that effort.

MARKETING: It is widely known across the cable industry that the billing systems are only about 80-85% accurate—to get a correct address with multiple dwelling units and rural routes is difficult. A recent request from one of the TWC divisions required cleaning over 400,000 addresses to market residential services. After scrubbing and geo-coding the address records, only 200 were returned undeliverable.

LBx  How does GIS data work with

SALVADOR  The issue is the aggregation of the data so that it is meaningful. We are working with the folks internally to provide critical outside plant and physical address data for that effort.

LBx What is your biggest challenge in working with GIS and location data?

SALVADOR Getting senior management support and collecting data from all the regions and getting it all standardized into something that’s useable. Senior management traditionally sees maps as an engineering tool; they don’t yet understand the underlying value of the data as a business tool. Cable companies were built by acquisition and have a mosaic of CAD drawings that are not spatially accurate or created with a single standard.

LBx What advice do you have for others who are managing GIS projects or thinking about a GIS or location application option?

SALVADOR Get an executive steering committee set up and organize workshops to determine the business needs; get executive oversight early. That way, when the time comes to build the business case, you can explain how GIS will solve those business needs