What the “New NOC” Is…and Is Not
Having graduated from college in 1993, I entered the workforce as a regional sales rep and was handed a fax machine to receive my daily updates of inventory I could sell, and a pager so I could be contacted. It seemed so efficient at the time - - getting daily updates and being able to be notified someone wanted me to call them wherever I was. Through today's lens of technology, clearly we were in the infancy stages of process improvement through technology.
Some companies and some industries have moved faster than other to evolve their technology tools and processes. Most of healthcare, for example, resisted the conversion from paper until HIPAA made it a requirement. The network management industry isn't quite in the same spot, because there has been consistent improvement - - dashboards, availability via mobile devices, portals, reporting, breadth of systems supported, etc. Despite those advancements, internal and outsourced operations centers largely remain grounded in protocols and tools that are 20+ years old in their general framework. The changes are now moving faster.
Here are three significant changes are taking place.
Is: Workflow and Automation. Is Not: Big rooms and screens
Gone are the days of the cavernous rooms with console desks and huge screens on the wall. Unless your organization likes to spend unnecessary money... As long as I've been in the business of ensuring customers' networks were operational and performing at a high level, I couldn't understand the showplace NOC. It looks great, no question. If the goal is show and tell with customers or internal stakeholders, spend away. But the reality is, the efficiently run NOC is built upon tools and process that drive workflow and automate the case opening and case closing, notifications and escalations to different teams. Leaders of these teams have dashboards that deliver a much improved interface in a more consumable manner from their own machine, than the effort of presenting that information on a 120" screen. Leaders in IT Service Management, like Service Now, BMC, and Cherwell Software provide the platform to deliver the workflow management across teams and departments in organizations. Analysts live in these systems quickly pivoting from one task to another, not looking up at wallboards. This is where efficiencies are gained and how SLAs are met.
Is: Optimization-focused. Is Not: Operations-focused
Availability. Performance. Capacity. Delivering information to users via applications consistently is operations. Yes, operations is critical. Yet the NOC services of tomorrow and the consumers of those services are recognizing that this is table stakes. It's commoditized. Many providers and many different tools can deliver this for specific technologies (network, datacenter, cloud) at a high level. What our internal and external customers are demanding is that we leverage the information available to us, analyze that data, and deliver services to OPTIMIZE the environment. In cloud environments such as AWS we can be analyzing and cost-optimizing enterprise deployments, and we can also be checking configurations against extensive best-practice standards and optimizing configurations for performance, availability and security. Similar examples exist for the network, on-prem data center, and applications. The era for up/down and SNMP to be the scope of services has past. The new NOC has to do more.
Is: Top-down. Is Not: Bottom-Up
NOCs have forever been measured by some consistent KPIs. Measurements like acknowledge time and response time to incidents based on priority, hold time for service requests reported over the phone, or first-call resolution percentages. Clearly these continue to be part of a portfolio of measuring day-to-day operations of an operations center. However, these are what I consider "bottom-up" measurements - - elements that service delivery leaders consider if they are done well, then that will translate into a positive customer experience (internal or external). As we accelerate closer to the 2020s, our measurements need to focus on the experience that matters: the users of the the information and the network/systems/cloud that delivers them. Leveraging data aggregation tools to analyze application performance and end-user experience are more of the true measure of success. Just ask a medical professional in a high-volume healthcare facility. Challenges for doctors to access patient images or records, screen hangs for nurses or nurse technicians when triaging patients, or back-office staff processing billing or verifying insurance information. That's what matters to the customer. There could have been 50 alerts that were generated by the underlying systems that were all acknowledged within SLA, but the business doesn't care. The shift to top-down measurements has come.
If you're a member of a team delivering these services, challenge yourself and your operations to step up. Remove yourself from the comforts of the past and consider how to deliver more of what the business needs in a more efficient manner. For those that are already here or moving this direction, you are to be commended, you're on the leading edge. Onward and upward.