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Introduction
The need for innovation and progress does not come without a price. That price sometimes can be millions of dollars spent or countless man hours wasted on attacking a market without developing the proper strategy. The need to identify all the positives and possible pitfalls prior to execution is essential in determining whether a chosen strategic direction may live up to expected financial and operating results. Detailed and fact-based financial modeling tools are typically used to evaluate the expected performance of a given direction.

Situation

An electric cooperative that had an aging communications network in support of grid operations recognized that it needed to upgrade its network in order to ensure reliable service to its members. Much of the communications equipment within the network was no longer supported by the vendor and spares for microwave tower locations were no longer available. The client determined that a network upgrade strategy had to be developed.

Complication
While a full system replacement would solve the problem, the territory featured a significant amount of rural territory, suggesting a high degree of capital investment needed. Like most electric utilities, capital availability was scarce and hard decisions would need to be made in order to deploy limited capital. The client prided itself on delivering reliable service to its members, but affordability had to be taken into account.

Research
During the engagement, experts at The Shpigler Group evaluated network requirements and the key areas of system vulnerability. The team conducted extensive research on communications solutions available on the market and matched the suitability of each to the client’s service territory. Systems that showed promise were further evaluated through targeted interviews with utilities that had deployed the systems to validate claims related to performance and cost.

Analysis
In order to utilize the results of the research effort, The Shpigler Group developed a system analysis tool that quantified the specific impact that could be expected given the deployment of different system architectures. Mixes of alternative technologies were explored in order to evaluated hybrid designs that would offer a “best of breed” solution for our client.

Problem Solved
After conducting the research and system analysis, it was clear that the best strategy for our client was to develop a phased approach with respect to network upgrade. The locations of highest vulnerability were identified and targeted for immediate focus, thus eliminating the highest threats while also freeing up spare units for other areas of the network. A multi-year system deployment plan was established in which each location was identified for upgrade with either microwave or fiber based on system characteristics and topological aspects.

Result
The client has followed the strategic plan that The Shpigler Group developed and completed the entire network rebuild within five years. With detailed system analysis, the project was submitted to the state for funding and received a grant of nearly $1 million. The total project was completed on time and under budget.

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