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60 Second Interview with Chris Dalton, Project Co-ordinator, Openreach

Monday, 17 October 2016

So what exactly does your job involve, Chris?

I am responsible for planning the day to day work flow and co-ordinating certain elements of the roll out of fibre broadband, making sure that the correct resources are allocated. I often get asked to investigate the best solutions for areas and situations where there may be complex challenges to overcome. Generally, I have to make sure our resources get aligned in the best possible way.

What kind of issues and challenges do you come across?

The challenges are really diverse. Some are to do with everyday physical challenges like blocked or collapsed ducts and some are related to collaboration with local authorities, from initially planning the location for apparatus to making sure that we can carry out the engineering work required in a way that minimises any disruption to traffic and the public. We also need to take into account any other local activity that is happening. So for example, I was recently involved in rearranging a planned engineering schedule at very short notice to tie in with a local re-surfacing and landscaping project. There are always a huge number of factors to take into account!

You mentioned physical challenges. What kind of problems do the engineers encounter?

It is very common that when we open an underground chamber, it is full of mud, silt and water. So we use a device with the evocative name of ‘a gully sucker’ to clean it out. Another issue we recently encountered was that power cables had been completely concreted over – these cables were key to powering the new cabinet, so we had to come up with another solution to getting power to that location. And there is a real surprise every so often, too. For example, some engineers within Openreach found newts in a cable chamber. As newts are a protected species, nothing further could be done until the appropriate wildlife specialist had been called out to take care of them. These are the kind of events you really cannot anticipate and of course, they all have an impact on the amount of time that the job takes and a knock on effect on your schedule. ‘The best laid plans....’ and all that!

Are there any other particular challenges you would highlight?

There are always a lot of people to keep happy – and that is not always straightforward. Sometimes individuals or community groups may be unhappy with the location of a particular green roadside cabinet, for example. And sometimes we simply cannot find a solution for a particular situation. We always do our best to involve people and overcome any concerns, but there is not always an easy answer.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the variety. Every day is different and I relish coming up with solutions to all the many challenges. Although there is an overall plan, you have to keep being responsive to changing circumstances and that means there is never a chance to get bored! I also really enjoy meeting the public and talking to them about the programme. For example, I was on the Digital Scotland stand at the Royal Highland Show this year and I get involved in a lot of community events.   It’s always such a buzz to tell people about the benefits of fibre broadband and explain what is involved in the rollout. There is huge interest in fibre broadband and you get carried along by the wave of enthusiasm.

Would you say you have had the opportunity to develop within your career, Chris?

Yes, working on this programme is just the latest exciting challenge since I started working for Openreach as a Network Engineer ten years ago. The hands-on experience and knowledge I have gleaned from being ‘on the tools’ has proved invaluable to me and provided a brilliant grounding for later progression.  I’d urge  anyone thinking of joining Openreach as an engineer to give it a go. In fact- we are recruiting now!

Do you have a superfast connection at home?

Yes and it’s fantastic! I live in a rural community outside Perth that has been connected to fibre only as a result of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme. I used to be a crew member of a Glasgow band, The Grim Northern Social, where my main role was running the website.   At that time, a superfast connection would have made a massive difference in uploading content and testing the site, which really makes me appreciate the speed of connection which I now have. Being on the road with the band took me far and wide, especially across Scotland. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction when you hear of a cabinet going live in some of these locations, notably the benefits it will bring to some of the more rural communities in particular. Meanwhile, good friends recently got married by Elvis in Las Vegas. This was such a momentous event that I live streamed the wedding on my laptop, my mobile phone and my iPad simultaneously, just in case one failed. Thanks to fibre broadband, I enjoyed the spectacular ceremony with a perfectly stable Elvis never got ‘all shook up’!

So you are a real champion of fibre technology! Do you think it is making a difference to people in Scotland overall?

Every day I hear stories about businesses, families and individuals that are finding fibre broadband is changing their lives for the better. Flexible working from home is one area that is really starting to take off now, as a result of fibre broadband. People like being able to work from home and all the evidence shows that it increases productivity too. It is really motivating to know that the work I am doing is helping make such a positive difference to people’s lives. This programme is creating real change and I love being part of the team making that happen.