5 Key Strategies for Telecom Companies to Build Supply Chain Resilience

June 21st, 2024 by · Leave a Comment

This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Taylor Allis, Chief Product Officer at Avetta

The telecommunications (telecom) sector is entering a new era, blurring the lines between the traditional definition of a telecom company and a tech company, as both industries boom with innovation. From promising 6G implementations to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program that will fund new developments, the opportunities are endless. As the landscape rapidly evolves, a mature and secure supply chain is crucial. It is the linchpin to ensuring the smooth rollout of new technology and deployments. 

However, the harsh reality is that 85% of telcos experienced project delays due to supply chain issues in 2023. Many organizations manage supply chain logistics to reduce disruption; however, there are larger risks that, if not proactively managed, could lead to supply chain disruptions and devasting consequences.

To combat this, there are five key strategies executives can implement to significantly improve outcomes.

  1. Serious Injuries and Fatalities

    New telecom innovations require new infrastructure, which, in turn, requires workers for installation. Telcom usage of contractors for the installation and maintenance of new infrastructure and towers is exponentially growing due to this need. These new workers must be properly trained in safety procedures and best practices to prevent injuries and fatalities.

    Working on telecom infrastructure presents physical risk as it often involves working outdoors at great heights and on uneven surfaces. It also requires working with electricity, posing the threat of electrocution. These risks are parallel with OSHA’s “Fatal Four” of construction work (or the leading causes of construction deaths): falls, struck-by, caught-in/between, and electrocutions.  

    Accidents not only disrupt business operations, but they also impact the health and well-being of contractors, employees, and even residents in areas where accidents occur. To prevent accidents and injuries, telecom contractors must be properly trained, vetted, and provided with appropriate safety standards and expectations. Deploying predictive and preventative health and safety controls to contractors ensures continuous business operations and helps avoid potentially costly and devastating accidents.

  2. Regulatory Fines Around Worker Health

    Due to the growing risk to telecom infrastructure workers, OSHA-1910.268 and other regulatory bodies mandate safety and health standards that apply to the work conditions, practices, means, methods, operations, installations, and processes performed at telecom centers and field installations. The negative impacts of fines, citations, or investigations by OSHA and other governing bodies are multifaceted. Not only could they slow infrastructure installations, but they can also negatively impact the company’s brand perception and reputation.

    To prevent detrimental outcomes, companies must proactively monitor for and adjust to new regulatory standards. They also must ensure their employees and contractors are following the appropriate guidelines.

  3. Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Digitization

    Many contractor and worker risk management practices are still in the pre-digital age. Examples of this include manual insurance verification, paper contractor compliance checklists, and using an onsite administrative employee to review worker qualification documents in manila envelopes. This practice presents many issues because manual processes are highly susceptible to human error. There’s also a lack of visibility into where the core risks are located across telecom maintenance installations. When companies digitize these solutions, they are more efficient, avoid future accidents and disruptions, and are able to access detailed data insight on where their organization’s risk is and preventative steps for avoiding that risk.  

  4. Supplier Bankruptcies and Disruptions

    The use of third-party vendors and suppliers in telecom operations has increased exponentially. The biggest factor telecom companies should consider when choosing a partner is financial risk. Many suppliers are small to medium-sized businesses. They may be experiencing financial struggles or may have litigation or financial liens against their business, which can impact future operations.

    While a telecom company and its suppliers are separate entities, a disruption with the supplier, such as a bankruptcy, will inevitably disrupt the vendor as well. Because of this risk, telecom companies should proactively monitor suppliers for litigation, financial liens, risky credit scores, and bankruptcies.

    This is in addition to other risks to be mindful of, including adverse media attention or government sanctions. Suppliers should be comprehensively vetted before being onboarded and be continuously monitored. If business risks are caught early in the process and executive leaders are alerted to a supplier’s business risk, alternatives can be found to avoid supply chain disruptions.

  5. Supply Chain Cyberattacks

    Telecom companies are targets of a variety of cyberattacks, from denial of service (DDoS) attacks to SIM swapping and more. To help combat these threats and protect sensitive customer data, many telecom companies have implemented robust cybersecurity strategies.

    However, many attacks are not targeted directly at the telecom companies. Rather, they’re aimed at the suppliers and third-party contractors that service them in a type of trojan horse attack. In fact, in the first three months of 2023, the data of more than 74 million telecom customers in the United States was leaked onto the dark web via attacks involving breaches at third-party vendors.

    Malicious actors know suppliers often directly integrate with a telecom company’s ERP, financial, or communication systems. They also know these suppliers are often smaller companies that may not have the same resources as those they service to defend themselves against cyberattacks. To prevent breaches, robust programs must be put in place to monitor the cyber practices and vulnerabilities throughout a telecom company’s supply chain, which include actions suppliers can take to be more secure.

With so much at stake for telecom companies, their employees, and their customers, the cost of insufficient risk management is too high to ignore. Practical strategies are available and necessary for the telcos willing to adopt them.

The value of the result cannot be overstated, and the good news is that these efforts do not have to come entirely from within. Telecom companies can find partners with decades of expertise in driving important processes, such as vetting contractors for risks, to achieve their safety goals.

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