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Spark’s Inspiring 5G Lab

5G, the fifth generation of mobile network technology, is expected to hit the mainstream in 2020.

By 2021 it’s predicted that the number of 5G connections will reach between 20 and 100 million. 5G will be up to 10 times faster than 4G and looks set to transform the way we work, further enable smart cities and revolutionise how we use Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But, to date, the technology’s applications are not widely understood.

Spark’s 5G Lab

Telecommunications leader Spark New Zealand spent six months developing a 5G lab to give visitors the opportunity to see, touch and feel this next generation of mobile technology.

Spark wanted to showcase what 5G will offer business, utilities, innovators and entrepreneurs.  The 5G Lab is also a way to drive discussion and ideas among potential users and educate how 5G can be applied to improve business operations and the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.

A race against time

The key to the project was speed and agility, and at the heart of that was procurement, which began only eight weeks before the launch.

To meet this deadline, Spark had to reject the traditional procurement mould. This meant no lengthy RFPs, no requirement-gathering, no ratification of capability or lab testing and no certification of the operating team. It was time to get stuck in, fast.

Key challenges

Spark was determined to launch the 5G Lab before the end of 2018, allowing just six months for project completion, in order to sow the seeds of innovation and development in the minds of client, stakeholders and innovators before the new year. The procurement team needed to be efficient and flexible, as the project evolved and the vision adjusted, to ensure that every opportunity was seized. Some of the key hurdles that were overcome are listed by Spark below.

  • Procurement time: We had essentially eight weeks to complete the procurement. We had a target opening date, but this was truly a live project that developed as we went.
  • Being Agile Spark was the first major New Zealand corporation to adopt the Agile methodology from top to bottom. We put together an Agile squad drawn from procurement, commercial, communications, legal, branding, marketing and others. We instituted two-week sprints to evaluate projects and progress.
  • Procurement: Standard procurement processes (the CIPS Global Standard for Procurement and Supply) were completely ditched. Spark adopted a pragmatic system that meant they completed review, agreement and supply in six to 10 weeks, instead of the usual three to six months. At the same time, agreements were still implemented that protected both Spark and the suppliers.
  • Management: Spark’s senior leadership team is usually involved in each step of major projects, but in this case, it was important they understand that there was no time to work through the usual process. Instead, the budget and the concept was approved upfront and the senior management was simply updated on progress.
  • Partners: Spark needed companies to buy into the project and to come on board. Through these relationships we got to work smarter, harder, faster and to deliver world-class capability and showcases. Where extra funding was required, we encouraged the partners to contribute to the budget.
  • Innovators: As well as the major companies Spark collaborates with, small start-up companies were also scouted and asked if they would be interested in using the showcase lab. The answer was always “Yes”!
  • The timeframe: Spark set itself an almost impossible timeframe to take the project from concept to launch. To achieve this they had to work at pace.

To achieve these goals under such tight time constraints, Spark’s procurement team burned the candle at both ends. They progressively assessed and selected showcase partners while the project was developing around them. They put together strong working agreements with our suppliers in record time and held daily stand-up meetings to make sure key people knew what was going on any roadblocks could be quickly addressed.

The success of Spark’s 5G Lab

When visitors arrive at the lab, an indigenous digital human in a large picture on the entrance wall engages visitors once detected, greets them, welcomes them to the lab, and explains what they’ll see. The booking system with its facial recognition system ensures the robots on the demonstration floor greet visitors by name and ask them about their experience.

Post opening, outside Spark showcased the ability to travel in a driverless vehicle around the Wynyard quarter precinct.  A drone showcase was used in conjunction with local Council and the aviation authorities to navigate the area and see the results of its scanning technology for Health and Safety.

The Spark 5G Lab was a huge innovative success.  Within the first 10 months of operation, 3000 customers from 370 companies visited the lab. Twenty companies have showcased at the lab and six have used the 5G co-lab space to test their 5G applications.

PASA Awards 2019  

Spark NZ was the winner of PASA’s “Breaking The Mould – Best example of non-traditional procurement” award. This award invited submissions from procurement teams in Australia and New Zealand and was designed to highlight and recognise procurement projects where there has been a demonstrably new, unique or non-traditional approach taken.

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