Telecom: Helping Clients Go Fast
About This Episode
In this episode of the Kimley-Horn Perspectives podcast, Cole Edmonson, P.E., S.E., joins us to discuss our Telecom practice. Topics include a high-level look at how the Telecom group has grown, the various ways we serve clients, the successes that his team has enjoyed, and, of course, a little bit about 5G.
Derek Roessler: Hello, and welcome to the Kimley-Horn Perspectives podcast. I’m your host, Derek Roessler and joining me today to talk about our telecom work is Cole Edmonson, a 12-year Kimley-Horn veteran in our Alpharetta, Georgia office who has been helping lead growth in our telecom group over the last five years. Cole, welcome to the show.
Cole Edmonson: Thanks for having me.
Derek: So let’s just dive right in: as a lay person myself. I I’d like to know more. What is telecom?
Cole: I think at its most basic sense, it’s an industry built around the transmission of data and information from point A to point B. So, you know, 150 years ago that definition would fit it really well. But you know, in 2020, the industry is a lot more diverse. So we still have some obvious uses like telephone, internet, and TV that fall in that bucket, but just like we saw some massive advances and companies taking advantage of the speeds associated with 4G, we’ll see an entire new industry crop up to take advantage of the 5G infrastructure that’s being constructed across the country. This could range from something as, you know, as recreational as high-speed gaming with augmented reality to lifesaving uses like remote surgery. The ultra-low latency associated with 5G we’ll make these sort of ideas mainstream.
Derek: That sounds pretty darn interesting. And I know I’ve heard a lot about 5G so aside from just the industry look, what does telecom mean here at Kimley-Horn?
Cole: Sure. So you know, the industry has really comprised into two sides. The first is wireline and the second is wireless. So the clients and kind of the players in the wireless side are obviously the carriers, right? You’re Verizon, you’re AT&T or you’re now T-Mobile/Sprint. And then the addition of Dish, as well as some other smaller, more regional carriers. In addition to that, there’s infrastructure companies who sell to the carriers. So folks that sell equipment, folks that cell towers, folks that sell you know, radio and antenna equipment, and there’s also very large real estate investment trusts. So REITs who sell vertical real estate to the carriers. And so Kimley-Horn is going to interact with all three of those main players in the wireless side. And then on the wireline side you know, at its most simplest, there are the telco providers who sell service to customers and enterprise and then there’s the infrastructure providers who sell to the wireline providers.
And Kimley-Horn is serving all the telecom clients in both of those spaces and all the different locations. We’re also helping our non-telecom clients navigate telecommunications projects, or telecommunication scope on their own projects. This might be you know, one of our stadium clients or higher ed or healthcare clients that has a comm component to their project. We can kind of be the liaison between the carrier or the wireline provider and still act in that trusted advisor role to our clients. So it’s been a great spot for us to be.
Derek: Yeah, it sounds like it, and I could imagine, especially in an industry that has so much to do with technology and one client doesn’t want, you know, their secret sauce to get out, so to speak. It may be hard to talk in more detail, but I’d love to know how do you and Kimley-Horn provide services to this wide range of clients that you described?
Cole: Sure. So we started kind of in our bread and butter of civil engineering, structural engineering, electrical, and mechanical engineering. But, but since then, we’ve grown it to offering real estate services and tower inspections. So I myself do not climb, but we have some folks that are you know, tower climbers on staff and they’re structural engineers. So who better person to send 300 feet in the air than the person who not only can climb and train and other climbers, but somebody who ultimately may be conducting the structural analysis. Then project visualization is another really cool service that we’ve been offering to clients. So more and more of our projects are located in the built environment. So we’ve kind of moved from the you know, 300-foot tower in the middle of the corn field to something that might be on an ornate light pole in a downtown environment.
We can do we can do simple photo simulations to show what the projects will look like. We can also do kind of 3D augmented reality type visualizations for the more complicated projects. And I think that’s been something that our clients and then the jurisdictions have really enjoyed. We also, you know, we operate in a a practice builder model and you know, those internal to Kimley-Horn, I think we all know that term, but externally, what that really means is we’re a bunch of seller-doers. So, we don’t have the business development person that comes in and sells the project. It’s the person serving the client the entire time. And so from a “what we’re doing” standpoint, our folks are engaged with the clients from start to finish, and as the needs of our client changes, as technology changes, as jurisdiction requirements change, we’re there to adapt and offer whatever new services they might need.
Derek: So beyond the seller being the doer, and I think that’s an interesting point to note, is there anything that people need to know about the service you provide that you haven’t already touched on here?
Cole: I think one of the really cool things that telecom staff has a really special ability to do is to drive efficiencies and projects. This is inherently a low-margin, high-volume business, and to effectively serve clients and remain profitable as a business, we can’t afford to just simply do what we did yesterday and do it again today. So our efficiencies allow us to make sure that we’re reducing errors, we’re improving quality and helping our clients go fast.
So I think the “How soon can you do it?” response is such a common perspective for a client in the telecommunications industry, because it is so competitive in their business. And I think some of our traditional practices where we partner with them has benefited from some of that; just always thinking of how we can get more efficient.
I think one of the other cool things about our team is that we have we have an ability to adapt to the detail and scope. And what I mean by that is we have the technical skillset to get as far into the weeds on a project as it demands, but we didn’t always have to get so granular. We can operate at the high level if that’s what a particular project warrants.
Derek: So with that efficiency and with the ability to be granular, or like you said, very high-level, what kind of process does your team typically follow?
Cole: Well, I kind of covered some of it; that are, you know, our main recipe is to have the seller-doer practice builders serving clients. And when we start with that, we generally have a lot of success. You know, our practice builders are going to remain with the client. They’re going to assemble a team that scales to whatever the project demands and then focus on serving the client. It really is a simple concept. And when we just let it happen and let it work and don’t get in the way, we found that it’s really successful. Internally, you know, well, externally the markets can shift quite rapidly in telecom and Kimley-Horn is built really well to adapt with that.
So, you know, internally the firm operates as one profit center. We coordinate within the practice to shift staff to various projects as they naturally ebb and flow. And then in addition, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in cross-training non-telecom staff, so that when projects ramp up heavy, we have an easy process to get talented staff engaged. And on the opposite side of that, when our Telecom projects ramp down, the majority of our telecom staff has engaged in non-telecom work. And so the benefit to our clients is they don’t have to worry about rotating staff and the inefficiencies that come with that. And then the benefit to our team is they’re getting to see you know, different facets of different projects throughout the year.
Derek: You’ve mentioned your team a bunch. And because I know you don’t want to brag on yourself, I’ll give you an opportunity to brag on some of the neat things that your team has done. What kind of success stories do you have that you could share with us?
Cole: Sure. So there’s countless on the external side. I mean, you could pick you know, just about any client; we’ve hung the moon at some point for them and really went above and beyond. I think we’ve had some really unique success with some of the 5G rollouts where our relationships outside of telecom have been helpful to just better understand a permitting process or really get to the core of what a specific jurisdiction is after in order to prove a deployment. We’ve also had some really cool success stories where we’ve had just some really technically complicated projects. And the clients have trusted us to to come up with an out-of-the-box solution that ultimately solve the problem and got their project deployed.
And then on the internal side, I just think the way our practice operates within the firm is such a success story. I mean, our team is a blend of long-tenured Kimley-Horn telecom folks, you know, new college grads, interns, senior recruits from other firms and tenured Kimley-Horn folks from other practices that have come to Telecom. And to have such a diverse group of folks and have everyone kind of bought into the goal of serving clients, growing the practice in a smart and sustainable way, and then creating opportunities for our staff and doing it in a way that just kind of puts others before our own interest is just awesome. So, you know, I personally love working with the team. I’m sure know the vast majority of folks share that sentiment. They just enjoy working with their team and I think our clients really benefit from the culture that we have internally.
Derek: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. You’ve used the word efficiency and in the name of efficiency, I think we can put a bow on it here, unless there’s anything else you would like to share with us today?
Cole: I think that’s got it. Thanks Derek.
Derek: Excellent. Well, thank you, Cole, and thank you everyone for listening. Stay tuned for the next episode of the Kimley-Horn Perspectives podcast.
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