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A Tale From the Telecom Trenches: Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes, no matter how prepared you might be for an IT project, you find yourself facing challenges you never could have imagined. Take, for example, the situation we encountered recently working on a project for one of our retail clients.

The retailer had inked a deal with a big-box chain to place a store within a store, in a setup similar to a bank branch at a grocery store. The task ahead of us was to get our client off of the big-box retailer's network and onto its own network. The cash registers consisted of a laptop, point-of-sale terminal, a Cisco router, and a T-1 circuit.

Below are the issues that came up, most of which, as I mentioned, we couldn't have anticipated. Our lesson learned: Prepare for the unexpected. We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.

    1. Because some of the big-box stores were in very old buildings with hard ceilings, pulling wire from the cash registers back to the main distribution frame (MDF) closet was difficult.

    2. The T-1 at 40% of the stores was installed in our client's MDF closet instead of in the big-box retailer's' MDF closet. We faced delays as we waited on the local exchange carriers (LEC) to move the T-1s to the correct locations.

    3. We found asbestos in some of the older buildings, so we couldn't turn up these sites on the new circuit. They will be turned up in 2015.

    4. We had a technician pass out in a tiny ceiling space in which the temperature had risen above 95 degrees. He finally found his way out... and to the emergency center.

    5. We found conduit full of water and so we couldn't pull our cable through it.

    6. When a LEC receives an order to install a T-1 circuit, it rejects the order unless the store address matches the U.S. Postal Service address. We had many issues with this; a LEC would want us to give it a suite or store number, but since the big-box retailer was an anchor tenant in these malls, we had no suite number to provide.

    7. Communicating with the big-box retailer was problematic, too. We would send emails and call the stores to let them know when we would be out to run the cable and install the equipment and T-1. However, that information oftentimes wasn't communicated to the security guards, who would then deny access to our technicians.

    8. Even when technicians gained entry, sometimes they found the equipment they needed (and expected to be on site) was missing. Despite shipping equipment with our name on it to the big-box retailer, store personnel would send it back to our retail client store -- it was a musical merry-go-round.

1. Because some of the big-box stores were in very old buildings with hard ceilings, pulling wire from the cash registers back to the main distribution frame (MDF) closet was difficult.

2. The T-1 at 40% of the stores was installed in our client's MDF closet instead of in the big-box retailer's' MDF closet. We faced delays as we waited on the local exchange carriers (LEC) to move the T-1s to the correct locations.

3. We found asbestos in some of the older buildings, so we couldn't turn up these sites on the new circuit. They will be turned up in 2015.

4. We had a technician pass out in a tiny ceiling space in which the temperature had risen above 95 degrees. He finally found his way out... and to the emergency center.

5. We found conduit full of water and so we couldn't pull our cable through it.

6. When a LEC receives an order to install a T-1 circuit, it rejects the order unless the store address matches the U.S. Postal Service address. We had many issues with this; a LEC would want us to give it a suite or store number, but since the big-box retailer was an anchor tenant in these malls, we had no suite number to provide.

7. Communicating with the big-box retailer was problematic, too. We would send emails and call the stores to let them know when we would be out to run the cable and install the equipment and T-1. However, that information oftentimes wasn't communicated to the security guards, who would then deny access to our technicians.

8. Even when technicians gained entry, sometimes they found the equipment they needed (and expected to be on site) was missing. Despite shipping equipment with our name on it to the big-box retailer, store personnel would send it back to our retail client store -- it was a musical merry-go-round.

As it happens, we had advised using a separate network on the initial project. However, upper management decided to put the terminals on the big-box network so as not to incur the additional cost of installing a separate network. Then came the Target breach during last year's holiday shopping season, and upper management had a change of heart. That's when we got the mandate to get off the big-box network and install our own network after all.

We turned up a total of 350 stores in only two and a half months -- quite a feat since we had so many obstacles in our way. So, keep this story in mind when working on a project in multiple locations and especially when working with a store within a store. You really never know quite what to expect.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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