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May 25, 2023

The Power of Digital Infrastructure and Operations Science

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch. The Broadband Bunch is sponsored by ETI Software.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Broadband Bunch. I am Pete Pizzutillo, and I am joined today by Todd Zabelle. He is the founder and CEO of Strategic Project Solutions and the founder of the Project Production Institute. Todd, really appreciate you joining us today.

Todd Zabelle:

Thank you, guys, very much for inviting me.  I look forward to a fascinating session.

From High School to Leading Sustainable Construction Innovations

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. You have a really interesting background. We ran into each other at a digital infrastructure event a few weeks back. What you were sharing was really interesting. I think our audience is going to find it really interesting, as well. Before we do that, it’d be really helpful to unpack how you ended up where you are today.

Todd Zabelle:

Well, I like to tell people that when I was in high school, somebody offered me a job where I could work out, get paid, and get a tan. I thought that was impossible. I ended up in the construction industry.  Through all my studies, I found out that there was room for improvement. I found that out because I actually ended up being a contractor, starting out in the early ’90s, and was asking a question of myself, “How can I make more money?” I had learned all about motivating people and thought it was something about that.

Finally, I  learned that there was a gap in how things occur and got the opportunity to work with some of the leading thinkers around the world, including Stanford, Berkeley, and other places, where some new ideas have come into play in the last 20 years. They’re not as popular as perhaps they should be. Our goal through the Project Production Institute specifically is to get the word out there so that people and companies can benefit from what’s possible.

Challenges on the Digital Infrastructure Growth Path

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. Thank you for that. I do think it’s a timely conversation connected to all the hype and excitement that’s coming in through the digital infrastructure investment, both on the public side as well as the private side. We’ve already seen a lot of tempering of expectations and certainly re-estimation of growth projections. Why is that happening? What are some of the challenges that you hear in the marketplace around the digital infrastructure growth path?

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. I used to think that there were primarily three challenges because everything’s the power of three. Right? Then, the fourth one popped up. Let me just propose what they are to you. The supply chain is a real issue. Lead times are getting longer. I think for some it’s even, “Can you get it?”

I’ll give you an example. Someone called the other day and said, “Hey, I heard your talk. I need a generator, and I can’t finish my project unless I get a generator.” I kind of felt bad for the guy because he’s not going to get a generator. The big guys are trying to get generators. Right? The list goes on and on. There are definitely some challenges around labor. Remember, I’m coming at this from the engineering and construction industry that supports the digital infrastructure and all that’s going to happen with the energy transition, which we’ll talk a little bit about, and also what’s happening in life sciences. It’s all bundled up.

The economy’s going through a huge transition, and not only are people fighting for things that are in the supply chain, but now we have challenges with labor. Work on these projects is becoming more complex. Being a welder is a real deal. We’ve got retirement of those guys that actually know how to weld and do that kind of work. Of course, workers are going to other industries where they think there are better opportunities and maybe it’s not as laborious. There’s a need to reduce carbon. We don’t need to say much about that. Now, the fourth one’s come in, which is the interest rates and inflation. The price of money and the price of goods are going up.

So, all of this is a backdrop that people that are building digital infrastructure and looking for a return on that investment have to deal with. Right? At the same time, they’re trying to figure out what the demand’s going to be. My prediction is as the AI stuff becomes more and more, and the IOT stuff becomes more and more, we’re just going to continue to need to build more stuff. I think you see that in the projections, whether it’s coming from Atamadoro, McKenzie, Lloyd, or whomever else.

Breaking Free from Outdated Mindsets

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. These are not new problems we’re going to unpack. Right? We always have these challenges, but it’s really critical. This is kind of, everyone keeps saying, a generational opportunity for us to improve our digital infrastructure, and close the digital divide.  But, we still approach it in the same old ways. In your experience, what is the problem with how we’re approaching this opportunity, and how did we end up this way?

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. That’s an excellent question. I would say the supply chain, labor, and the need to reduce carbon are all interconnected. You don’t solve those individually, believe it or not. You solve them together. I think that maybe if we just play with the supply chain a little bit, we’ll enter into the exact question. Let’s just bifurcate the supply chain into construction materials, equipment, and consumables. There are some really interesting things on the consumable side that I’ll share with you just for fun.

For construction materials, think, of concrete, rebar, steel, wallboard, the stuff that you need to build a building. You have equipment. Basically, there are two types: generators and air handlers. Then you have the stuff that goes in the data center from a technology perspective. Then, you have this whole situation around consumables. I’m just going to go off on the consumables thing for one sec because there’s such an interesting story that I think you guys will appreciate.

Consumables are things like power and water. Right? The digital infrastructure’s consuming this as it needs to operate. The energy companies, especially the power generation utilities, have some really interesting moves on the table.

A friend of mine who’s very, very deep into this, just told me a couple of utilities told the crypto guys, “No more mining,” and the potheads, “No more growing or turning your power off.” All right? So if I’m a digital infrastructure guy, my local utility is there to support people’s stoves and dryers, perhaps not what I’m doing with the digital infrastructure, even though they want to watch movies and search the web. I’ll leave it at that, but I just thought it was important to say that.

When we start to look at construction materials and equipment, and the supply flows, it depends on what angle you come from. The manufacturing guys that make the stuff have a different view than the construction guys that buy and install the stuff.

The construction industry’s really mired in the 1910s and 1950s, ’60s thinking. We like to say there have been three eras of thinking about projects. Era I is based on the work of Frederick Taylor and scientific management. His understudy, Henry Gant, and others around that believed if you could get more out of workers the process would take less time. That’s just a fundamentally flawed concept. If you have a series of operations connected in a process, if everyone goes as fast as possible, all you’re going to do is build inventory, which causes a lot of problems that maybe we’ll talk about a little bit later.

The second era is when the US Department of Defense comes in. For the purpose of congressional funding, they need to understand and predict where their projects are going, again for budgeting. So, we move to this heavy administration layer. In some projects, there are more people watching the work be done than actually doing the work. We forgot about the work: designing, making, transporting, and installing things. We think about the administrative aspects of that. Right?

So, this gap that’s been created ends up costing dearly. Right? Now, what’s happened is, and this, I guess, makes sense, as this stuff was developing, the universities, the vocational schools, and all, began to teach everybody this stuff. Now it’s just a mindset, and not only the underlying mental models that are focused on this, but also the business models like, “Hey, I get this isn’t the best way to do it, but it’s how I make a profit.” So the digital infrastructure, life sciences, and energy transition guys, that are trying to do that are going to be hamstrung by the engineering construction industry’s inability to transition itself, which is core to this.

Revolutionizing Approaches in Digital Infrastructure Development

Pete Pizzutillo:

Wow. You’re right. There’s a whole industry around project governance, earned value, that kind of heavy oversight. If we just measure this thing at the smallest amount possible, we can definitely make sure that it gets on time and on budget. There’s a ton of overhead to do that. So, we have this problem. We have this really great opportunity. People are finally throwing money into the pot to go solve this problem. We have infrastructure issues like energy can’t even support the demand that’s coming. Manufacturers can’t support the demand. Taking this approach, what are some of the unintended consequences of how we try to get things done?

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. I don’t even know if people understand the magnitude of the consequences, but let’s lay a few out. Clearly, we’re tying up unnecessary capital. So, people in construction like to say,”It’s better looking at it than for it.” Right? Mass amounts of work in process and inventory are tied up on a construction project because somebody doesn’t want to run out.

Let’s make this as simple as possible. Right? “Hey, I don’t need five nails. I just need a box of nails, and I’ll figure out how many I need later.” Well, those boxes of nails get pretty expensive when they’re specific equipment. Right? Now, a lot of people don’t understand this. But in this field that I’m promoting here, operation science, which is really the fundamental science of how operations and production occurs, inventory, especially work in process, I’m not meaning progress, work in process, which is a production term, the higher the work in process, the longer it takes.

What work in process is the proxy for time. So if you want to measure how long it’s going to take, you actually determine how much WIP you have. Now, WIP equals time. WIP is the proxy for time. Time is money. Right? So what happens is, not only do we consume unnecessary capital, the schedule goes out and it impacts us on the revenue front. Right?

So, we have projects that actually are determined to not be feasible because of the way we look at the project and do not really understand the decisions that are being made. We can’t get our heads around the fact that we have way too much work in the process going, way too much inventory tied up, and the cost of all that is impacting the feasibility of the project. So that comes out to, we lose control of time to market; we lose revenue; we create undue carbon. Right?

It’s just the most amazing thing in construction. I’m a construction guy. It’s okay to have materials waiting on humans, but it’s not okay for people to wait on materials. But for those materials to be there, you have to have a new lay down, all the equipment to move it around, forklifts, cranes, all the stuff that goes with it. Right? You’re producing all that carbon that’s associated with it, tying up all that cash. Right? So, this is a little bit of a gap that’s going on in the construction suite.

The implications are not only for things that could go from revenue and cost to share price. Yeah. There are a few CEOs that have lost their job because of the inability to particularly deliver projects. There are some guys on a power project that are going to prison. That’s really unfortunate because that happens to be a couple of nuclear projects. They’re so over budget and so delayed that that’s kind of made nuclear not an option, moving forward. The implications are significant to society.

Aligning Objectives for Efficient Supply Chain Management

Pete Pizzutillo:

So, we have this legacy of teaching people to use the wrong muscles. Right? We also have some market dynamics where, as you mentioned, the people that make the equipment, they want to sell as much as they can. They don’t care where it sits. Right? So, there are incentives for buying at scale or buying in bulk kind of mentality. So, the seller has one motive. The buyer is now wrongly convinced that “I need to buy as much as I can.” Now there are even shortages on the supply chain side so they’re hoarding some stuff, which is just compounding this problem. Right? So, how do you start unbuckling all that stuff? How can we start approaching this differently?

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. It’s unfortunate because it’s probably the most challenging thing. We have to get a mind shift from Era I and II, and this idea that it’s acceptable for materials to wait on people, to really understand, “What is the cost of having all this excess inventory?” Right?

The technology guys should see this, probably, differently. If you’re building a road, there’s not going to be any major pavement technology coming out rapidly. When you’re dealing in an industry where technology refresh can be in months, you probably don’t want too much stuff that’s going on out there. So, I think it starts with understanding, “It’s cheaper by the dozen until it’s not.”

Again, in the field of operation science, there are mathematical models and tools that are available that allow you to understand how much is too little, and how much is too much. We want to be lean, we don’t want to be anorexic. If we have too little, we’re not going to get the work done, the throughput. If we have too much, we’re just going to get bloated, and it’s going to slow down. So, we can very accurately understand how much we should have. This is what we’re looking to do through Project Production Institute, in partnership with the GLF, at least begin to get people to understand, “I need to look at this thing differently. Inventory is a proxy for time. Time is money. I need to really be thinking about this.”

So, what I believe has happened is, we’ve turned this into a game of win all you can win. That’s a simulation that some people play out there. The more you try to win, the more you lose.

So, you have people that, as you said, they’re hoarding, panic buying, trying to get stuff while there’s another guy that’s just trying to get a generator that’s never going to get it. So, I think we need to begin to understand that inventory is something that needs to be managed. That’s well understood in manufacturing. Now, there’s another thing going on out there that, for the life of me, I don’t understand. It’s actually what you said, the suppliers want to sell more stuff, but they don’t seem to be interested in increasing the capacity for some reason. Right? They push the lead time out.

I’ll tell you a story. This will just take a few seconds, but I think you’ll enjoy it. We went to see an air handler manufacturer, many years ago, as part of a field trip with a group of guys. This was crazy. One of the contractors, the McHale contractor, asked the air handler guy, “Why is your lead time 18 weeks?” Now, the plant manager said, “What? Our lead time’s two weeks.”

Then the VP of Sales said, “No, no, no, no, no. It’s 18 weeks.” He goes, “Well, nobody’s told me that.” Right? So, he’s a little bit frustrated. Anyways, the guy goes, “Why is it 18 weeks?” He said, “Because you guys are always changing your order.” The contractor goes, “Yeah. That makes sense. You guys make us order so far in advance that you order anything to get in the queue, and we’ll change it later.” Right?

So, part of this is, “Not only do we not fundamentally understand the whole issue with this,” there’s an issue with transparency, and then just understanding, “What are we doing with each other?” We’ll talk about that a little bit later with the geo thing and the rest. Yeah. I don’t think everyone understands how they interact with each other like you said. What you said, it’s critical. There are different objectives on each side of the coin, if you will, from the supplier and the consumer.

Transforming Industries

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. 100%. How do you align the motives? How do you align the economic incentives? Even philosophically, how do you retrain people around your ecosystem? Okay. So, not all projects are suffering in this manner. I mean, so who is ahead, thinking things differently? Where have you seen this shift starting to take place and actually bear some fruit?

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. I would say that, really to me, the heavyweight champion of all time, and it’s worth studying, is what BA did at Heathrow Terminal 5. Actually, my current company was put in business for that. These were guys that came out of the automotive industry, and they very much understood what it is we’re talking about. That was starting in ’99 through to 2003 or ’04. They had some issues with the parking and baggage when they opened up, but the construction was a remarkable feat in what they were able to accomplish.

So, that has sprung a variety of people throughout the world involved in different civil infrastructure projects that have had success. Very large desalination plant down in Australia that was late, and getting later, that they were able to pull back in by applying the things that we’re talking about.

The oil and gas guys are beginning to pick this up. They’re doing it two ways, which is interesting. One thing that they’re doing is, rather than building the mega projects that they used to build, I’m talking $50 billion stuff, they figured out how they could make those projects more, for lack of a better word, modular, and build elements at a time and get to revenue faster.

So, they’re reducing the WIP. They figured out, again, “If I build 10% of the plant now, or 20% of this big thing, over time, I’m going to build, at least I could get producing and get to cash faster and move that MPV curve.” You see this with work that Sutter Hospital’s done in the hospital sector, or Sutter Healthcare rather. I think it’s just pockets of people that are looking to do things differently. When they’re doing this, they’re having significant success regardless of what type of project it is. Right? Some are talking, and some aren’t. There’s a hyper-scale that’s very involved in this. They’re having success, and they’re just not talking about it that much.

If you go to the projectproductioninstitute.org site, you’ll see them talk, and they’re laying it out. Right? A lot of this thinking is well established in the automotive industry and how we make cars today, because of what Ford and Toyota did, which is completely different thinking than what happens in the construction industry. It’s now found its way across the automotive industry. If you didn’t adopt this thinking about inventory, and so on and so forth, you wouldn’t be in business anymore. So, pretty much what we’re talking about here is fundamental science, and it’s the decisions you make. If you put a lot of cars on the freeway, it’s going to take a lot longer than if you have 10 cars. The question is, “How many should you have?” That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Streamlining the Broadband Infrastructure Journey

Pete Pizzutillo:

So, you’ve pointed out a lot of things specific to broadband in this infrastructure challenge that we have in front of us, in terms of education. So, a lot of money’s flowing through the states and local municipalities, people that are new to broadband, but maybe not so much on the construction side. What are some things that those folks can start thinking about to start reframing this approach differently?

Todd Zabelle:

I just happened to have a phone call with some guys the other day. I was listening to them. They’re building a pretty significant, let’s call it, digital infrastructure facility somewhere. They said that they spend a significant amount of time trying to explain to the local municipality what they actually got themselves into. That makes sense. Right?

That’s kind of across the board. I’ll tell you the one, when you talk with the guys on the carrier side, that’s really interesting is just the mere amount of permits that have to be drawn. So I think, on, let’s say the data center side, perhaps you’re looking at planning permission, and there are all sorts of things we’re going to do with utilities, and so on and so forth. When you start moving into 5G and radio-type stuff, the number of permits that are required… I was talking with one of the large carriers a couple of years, and they just said, “Our biggest problem is getting permits. We can’t get the permits.”

Now, if you think about it, that’s just another production problem. You’re only going to be able to deploy the infrastructure as fast as you can get permits if the permits are required, or you can’t get a single permit. So if I’m a municipality, one, I really want to understand what it is I’ve got myself into, not that I shouldn’t. Two, I ought to be thinking about, “What stress is that going to put on me as a business enterprise, even though I’m a municipality or even a state, and how can I support this such that everybody’s successful?” It is different than what we typically do in the field.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. How do people identify those stuck points, or those bottlenecks, in the process? Are there tools available for that, or is that kind of a consulting activity?

Todd Zabelle:

I’m not here to sell anything, but that’s exactly what we do. So, there’s the ability to take and build what we call production system models, whether it is the permitting element, the flow of storage, or the construction, or the engineering, or all of it together, whatever you feel is appropriate, and be able to take and run analytical models through these mathematical equations that I’ve been talking about, or simulation models to figure out what’s going to happen in advance. That’s one thing that’s not really common.

So if you’re going to design and build a car, they spend a tremendous amount of time understanding how that thing is going to work, how to build it, and how best to make the parts. The same thing’s true in this area where we could identify, because there’s always a bottleneck in the production system, is the bottleneck the permitting? Is it getting the power turned on; is it getting the supply coming across into the site, or the multiple sites; is it the construction phase, or the engineering phase? All this, now, can be completely understood.

The most exciting part about this, and we’re going to talk about this at Data Cloud at Monaco, is actually using the digital infrastructure, whether it’s IOT, GPS, and so on and so forth, to have those data feeds up into the model and create a digital twin so you could see it all playing out in real-time. So, part of the thing here is actually to bring some of the stuff that the digital infrastructure players are creating and building to solve part of this problem for them and everyone else.

Applying Decision-Making Principles

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. That’s really interesting, the digital twinning part of it. Yeah. Is there an ideal project size, or is there a floor? Does this approach work on all projects?

Todd Zabelle:

We’ve been involved in projects that are $500,000 and they’re mission-critical. We’re going to take a valve out on something that controls all sorts of stuff, and it’s got to be done. We’ve been involved in projects where there were rail possessions in downtown London, for lack of a better term, and the liquidated damages were 100,000 per hour that you were delayed. Then we’ve been involved in projects up to 50-, 55 billion, and everything in between. Basically, it’s really about what decisions are you going to make between the relationship of, “How hard am I going to push my capacity,” the higher the utilization of the freeway, the longer it takes, “How much inventory am I going to build up as I’m doing things?” Then, “What am I going to do about this concept of variability?”

I don’t want to get too technical on that. We’re making these decisions every day, all throughout our life, because that’s what humans do. We produce stuff. Some things are good, and some aren’t, but there are decisions on an ongoing basis. What I’m talking about applies to everything. We just happen to be talking about digital infrastructure today. It’s really those decisions, and hopefully getting people to understand that, “If I put too many cars on the freeway, it’s going to take longer, though Frederick Taylor taught me, ‘The more cars I put, the faster I’m going to go.'”

So, it works across the board with anything. Yeah. It drives some people around me crazy. I’m thinking about this more flipping burgers, or making cocktails.

Overcoming Commercial Interests for Effective Ecosystem Dynamics

Pete Pizzutillo:

What about trust? I feel like, in this world, understanding that you need to approach this from an ecosystem perspective. I mean, is it hard to get folks to the table and really be transparent so that you can start getting down to brass tacks?

Todd Zabelle:

Okay. So you’re a man that’s got deep experience, obviously. That is extremely interesting. I think you probably know, and that’s the reason for the question. The challenge that we have, and we have to figure out how to do this. If we put a bunch of owners, in construction we call them owners, guys with the money, in the room with a bunch of suppliers and contractors, the suppliers and contractors are just going to talk about how great things are.

I did a talk one time at Stanford and asked, “How many people in the room are owners, how many people are contractors or suppliers,” and put their hand up. I said, “I’m going to ask all the contractors and suppliers how good things are going.”  They all put their hands up, everything was great. I asked the owners, “How good is it going?” They all put their hands up that it was bad. Right?

You hinted at it, or maybe even said it, the contractors and suppliers have to say everything’s great. Now, where it also gets interesting is if you have investors, whether institutional or private equity, whatever the case may be. You as the owner have to tell them everything’s great. So across the board, it’s extremely difficult to get people to be honest because they have commercial interests at play.

I think, in this particular instance, from what I’m hearing, as things are getting so tight, and people are starting to lose their job, and whatever else the case may be, the cost of staying the same may no longer be bearable. That’s when people have to say, “Look, we got to check everything at the door. We got to figure out how to make this work.” So, I think one of the things, and again you you’ve alluded to this, is for people to understand the other person, or the other entity’s drivers, and “How do you make that work?” Right?

This lead time thing, to me, is just amazing. I’m not clear why more capacity is not being brought on, other than perhaps the Neon situation in Ukraine, and that’s for another discussion. But, why aren’t suppliers? Well, if the consumers are happy like they’re handling it, it just keeps going out further and further and further. They’re willing to accept that. Then, why not keep pushing it out there? Right?

I think what needs to happen here is, people need to come together and at least, understand each other’s drivers and what they need, like a good negotiation. Two, understand the dynamics of the operation science and what’s at play. Then three, collaboratively create a way forward. Now, this sounds like pie-in-the-sky stuff. Perhaps it doesn’t happen at an industry level, but that’s the goal. Maybe it happens at an ecosystem level, and maybe there’s a hyper scaler who has an ecosystem they want to work with. Right? At the end of the day, and I said this at the beginning, I don’t think this is only digital infrastructure. I think the life sciences and the energy transition guys come into play, as well, because you go back to the same supply base.

Shifting Mindsets

Pete Pizzutillo:

So, from the state and local perspective, identifying things like permitting, and understanding your part in creating bottlenecks within the projects, how can the vendors and suppliers think differently? We talked a little bit about their incentives in terms of just moving as much product and protecting their own interests. Are you seeing a shift in folks thinking differently on that end?

Todd Zabelle:

Not really. But, what I am seeing is that some of the consumers of their stuff are trying to think differently. I think it’s important to understand you’re talking to some of the greatest technology companies in the world. When they told Steve Jobs, he couldn’t have his glass, he went out and made his glass.

I would just be cognizant that you’re dealing with very sophisticated customers, and you’re in their way of growth. These guys, at a certain level, are playing with the life and death of the company based on what’s happening out there. I just don’t know if they’re going to hang with you. So, I’d just be cognizant if I was a supplier that, “My customer’s extremely sophisticated, probably has some fairly deep pockets whether it’s Apple or Bell Labs, or the list goes on and on, have significant R&D horsepower, which they can unleash.” This lead time thing going out further and further and further is really something that I would be sensitive to if I was a supplier.

Now, if these guys listen to the podcast and say, “That guy’s smoking crack.” I would just be careful. Right? I would also probably, and this is really crazy, it just came to mind, be thinking about, “How can I assist?” So, when somebody wants to come in and buy $350 million worth of generators and go put them in a warehouse, I’d say, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t do that.” Right? Maybe, that’s not the best thing. Here’s what I believe, and I’m even surprised I’m saying this myself, “If we get too greedy, then we’re not going to get the work.” People are going to say, “It’s not worth it.”

That’s not as much on the supplier side, but the construction industry, they seem to forget that from time to time. The times the oil and gas guys, “Screw it. We’re walking away for a while, and we’re not going to build anything.” Right? Everyone said, “Well, what happened?” Scared them away

Aligning Incentives

Pete Pizzutillo:

Well, performance-based contracting’s always been thrown around for a while, and it’s hard to see it in practice. Have you seen any of that? If we’re beating these milestones and these projections, then the vendor benefits from that.

Todd Zabelle:

Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff going on there. That’s a whole conversation in itself. You said a word at the beginning about the unintended consequences. I think any of these things that you look at, whether it’s connected agreements with multi-parties, 32 people signed the same agreement, whether it’s performance-based, cost plus, reimbursable, unit rate, it just… Heathrow Terminal 5 did the most remarkable thing, and for 20 years I just thought that was the best thing ever.

What they did is they guaranteed the profit in hard sterling pounds for the contractors and said, “You’ll make this amount of money. Now, let’s go figure out how to make this thing more effective. We’ll share in the gain.” I just thought that was the best thing going until we got involved in a very large project in Australia, a company that’s no longer in business today. The company that bought that company ended up in bankruptcy. What happened to them was they got into one of those contracts. The scope creep tripled the size of their contract, and then it messed up their whole share price. The revenue kept coming in, but the profit stayed the same. So-

Collaboration for Transformation

Pete Pizzutillo:

You’ve mentioned a couple of times the GLF community, and I’ve mentioned the Project Production Institute. Can you just share with us a little bit about what each of those is doing, and how you’re helping them?

Todd Zabelle:

So, this is very exciting. We’re going to work on this exact problem or problems, probably not on the interest rate inflation. Well, probably the inflation, but not the interest rate situation. Like I say, you can’t solve this problem, one, by looking at it discreetly. The labor challenge, maybe we don’t need as much labor as we think.

The carbon issue and all the stuff going on supply chain, they’re interconnected. I think you need to bring people together in an independent body to enable dialogue, learning, and optimization across the industry. Right?

The questions that are being asked are, “Why are lead times long, and getting longer? Why are people not coming into the industry? Why don’t suppliers just increase capacity and produce more? What would need to happen for them to do so?” Right? “Is this really just an issue with Neon because of the situation in Ukraine, or is this more a wider thing where people are seeing opportunities to level their business by pushing lead talent?”

If you’re a supplier, the best thing that can happen to you is to level your business. I’ve been thinking about this, and again, I could be completely off base. Everybody wants to be a tech business, and they love reoccurring revenue. If you can’t be a tech business with reoccurring revenue, “Why not we push out the lead times, we get recurring revenue that way?” Right? “It just makes us worth more.”

What we want to do through the GLF community and Project Production Institute, is bring the group together. Now, the Project Production Institute is not even a not-for-profit, it’s not for revenue. Companies such as Chevron, Shell, Microsoft, Google, and so on and so forth, have representatives that are in there.

We’re looking at, “How do we further develop this field of operation science and its adoption for engineering construction so we could tackle this project delivery problem that’s impacting everybody in society throughout the world?”

Education and Training for Transformative Change

Pete Pizzutillo:

Are you attacking the educational pipeline? I mean, as you mentioned, we’ve kind of been beaten into these old patterns, or are there schools, universities, or trade associations, that are starting to take this approach, and the new kids coming up learning this way?

Todd Zabelle:

We’re really doing three things. We’re providing education to the new ones coming up through schools like Cal Poly, Stanford, and so on and so forth, and others around the world. Then we’re also, through Cal Poly, Stanford, and Texas A&M, have put together courses for learning for, maybe we call this, the old dogs so that people could come in and learn this. We’re also, with Texas A&M, putting together an online educational program and these ideas, because that seems to be where people like to be.

PPI also has a series of working groups where people come together and learn about this stuff and figure out how to apply an organization. That was the impetus for the GLF community. PPI was looking at, “How do we put together a working group around Digital Infra?” GLF was thinking about, “How do we work this supply chain thing?” Then, we happened to come together. So, all those things that you’re talking about, educating the young ones coming up, re-educating the ones that are out there today through universities that are leaders in these fields.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. That’s great. So, how can our listeners learn more about you, as well as the other groups that you mentioned?

Todd Zabelle:

Visit www.projectproduction.org It’s free to sign up. Take a look around. There’s some stuff on there that I truly believe people are going to want to hear, specific things on how to address lead times, presentations by companies that are involved in this stuff that you’ll know the names of. Go in there and see what’s happening, and get involved. If they have any questions, they can contact me directly.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Yeah. That’s great. I know. I’ve seen some of the case studies. The data’s really compelling. It’s going to make you want to learn more about how you all are doing this. Todd, I really appreciate breaking that complex concept down for us, and thank you for joining the show.

Todd Zabelle:

Well, thank you, guys. It’s been really fun, and you guys are extremely professional.

Pete Pizzutillo:

Oh, thank you. Appreciate that. So, this is going to wrap up this episode of The Broadband Bunch. Thanks for listening to myself and Todd. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably into all things broadband. So, feel free to check out our website at broadbandbunch.com. We have weekly episodes and other resources. We’d love to hear your story so reach out and let us know if you’re willing to share. Thanks, again, for listening to Todd and me.

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