NBN Co cancelled almost 58,000 technician appointments that had been made over a two-month period earlier this year, coinciding with issues with a new field workforce management system.
The numbers [pdf] were revealed overnight and appeared to shed light on an issue that was given plenty of airtime by Labor Senators during senate estimates hearings back in May.
Curiously, however, NBN Co did not list the Unify issues as a possible cause of the cancellations in its written responses, despite those two things being closely linked by retail service providers (RSPs), and even previously by NBN Co itself.
NBN Co revealed that in April 2021, of the total 195,622 appointments it had booked with customers, the network operator itself “cancelled 30,184” or 15.4 percent of them.
In the same month, technicians also “missed” 8.8 percent of scheduled appointments, which comes to an additional 17,410 problematic appointments.
As in the past, NBN Co said that “missed” appointments may be where a technician misses the several hours-long window of time for the appointment, but eventually makes it to the premises and performs the work. However, the company did not provide a breakdown of how many “missed” appointments this description fits.
The next month (May 2021), “NBN Co cancelled 27,790 (13.9 percent) of the total 199,742 appointments.
It would have missed more as well, however due to what appears to be a typographic error in the question asked (May 2020 instead of May 2021), the missed appointments figure here can’t be calculated.
At senate estimates, elevated cancellation levels were directly linked [pdf] by NBN Co’s CEO Stephen Rue to problems with Unify, the company's new field workforce maintenance process and technician scheduling system.
Unify’s problems led to industrial action and ultimately an in-progress audit being performed by KPMG.
“Unify was designed to address issues like missed appointments, or work not being completed right the first time, and getting better information to retailers about technician location,” Rue told the May hearing.
“We launched Unify in Victoria and South Australia before taking it to other states.
“Unfortunately, upon launching in NSW some technicians have experienced reduced productivity schedules and work allocations, resulting in longer wait times for connect and assure appointments, and there have no doubt been some bugs in the system.”
NBN Co’s monthly report cards also directly link a sharp dip in technician-related KPI performance to the Unify issues.
Metrics such as ‘right first time’ installations and fault restorations are “impacted by some unexpected challenges following the recent implementation of a new appointment scheduling system,” the company notes.
NBN Co offers a range of explanations for having to cancel the 57,974 appointments in April and May in its written statements, but curiously the Unify issues aren’t among the explanations.
“It is quite common for appointments to be cancelled if a service is working and the appointment is no longer required,” NBN Co said.
“For example: There is a network incident and multiple customers are affected by a mass outage, such as a fibre cut. Before the network incident is declared, there may be appointments booked by customers for service faults, despite the network component being the issue.
“These customer appointments will be subsequently cancelled once the customer’s fault is resolved at a network level.
“[Or], when a technician calls a customer on approach of an appointment, the customer may cancel the appointment as their service is working.
“Sometimes the issue resolves by itself, i.e. the customer may have replaced some of their hardware like the modem which was causing the issue.”
NBN Co did not offer a breakdown of how many appointments were being lodged due to general network faults or issues that resolved themselves, and how these contributed to the number of appointments NBN Co itself cancelled, if at all.