The next edition of the HP Discover Podcast Series delves into how Telum in Northeast Mexico improves their ISP services delivery reliability through quality assurance and higher availability using advanced monitoring software.
To learn more about how they have matured their process, technology and IT culture, we are joined by Max Garza O’Ward, Head of IT Operations at Telum, an ISP based in Monterrey, Mexico. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Why are reliability and high performance are so important to your business?
O‘Ward: It’s a very competitive business for the telecommunications industry. We’re not the top dog in Mexico or Northeast Mexico. Everything that we put into our customer effort is to bring in customers that we need to keep. So reliability is a key part of our commitment to our customers.
Gardner: And you’re not just using technology. You’re delivering technology. So it seems essential to have a handle on what you have, what it’s doing, and maybe even get out in front and have predictive capabilities when problems might arise.
O‘Ward: That’s very true. Prediction is where we need to focus. To ensure good services we need to make sure that all those systems are up and running, and we use software to precisely do that.
Gardner: For our listeners who might not be familiar with your organization, tell us about your size, how many subscribers, how many services. Just give us a description of your organization, both in terms of the breadth of services and the size of your audience?
O‘Ward: We’re part of the Northeast Mexico market, basically Monterrey, which is the biggest city up north. We have three different customer markets. The residential market is roughly over 500,000 customers. We have small business or SOHO businesses, with between 3,000 and 6,000 customers. And we also have a large enterprise market, around 1,500 large enterprises.
Gardner: Let’s dig a little bit into the problems that you face. Several years ago, you were looking at a network that was perhaps a bit unwieldy, maybe not well-defined. You had some difficulties predicting how certain things that you did on your network would impact your customers. Perhaps you can walk us through your problem set, your challenges, and then how you started to solve them.
O‘Ward: That’s a very good approach. In terms of network, we basically started noticing that we were committing a lot of unplanned outages, or unplanned downtimes. So we started to reinforce our monitoring solutions based on HP software. We came in and provided better solutions to what we were looking into as a network element point of view.
Based on that, we refurbished our inventory and made sure that all of our network elements were replaced promptly, based on events. So prediction was key to our better service-level agreement (SLA) offerings.
Gardner: Max, was this a function of changing just the software or was there a cultural component to this? Did you have to change the way you were thinking about monitoring and quality assurance in addition to employing some new technology?
O‘Ward: Yes, it was a cultural change. As a matter of fact, just two years ago, we revamped the way the operations department is composed. So a big gap that was closed because of culture. Culture needed to be changed.
Previously, we had all these disparate teams working on only their solution. Once we came under one head of operations, we decided that service was the only thing that matters. So we bridged that gap and now we have all these cross-functional teams working for the same response, which is service offerings.
Gardner: So IT service management (ITSM) has led to the ability to maintain your quality and performance. Are there any indicators of how much — perhaps the number of failures from one period to more recent failures?
O‘Ward: There are a lot of numbers. I will give you top figures. IT is the department that I head, and most of these departments are based on different engineering groups.
When we started working toward service and focusing only on services, on video services, for example, we had over 10 percent failures globally, not every month, but throughout the year. Once we got under this new management and using our new HP tools, we have been bringing that number down consistently.
Now, it’s a combination of culture, teamwork, and understanding where the failures are. Sometimes software tells us where the problem is and sometimes software is needed to understand where the problem is.
In this particular case, we soon understood what the problem was and we decided to change out equipment that was failing via either obsolescence or just a defective part.
Transparency and visibility
Gardner: In addition to changing culture, putting in some better processes and better tools, it seems to me that for a lot of companies that I speak to, a lot of the process involves getting to know yourself better, providing transparency and visibility.
Then, it’s dashboarding that information so that people can access it, regardless of whether it’s firefighting or just ongoing maintenance. Tell me about this journey from having a lot of elements, perhaps not always visible, to getting this new-found ability to have greater inventory control.
O‘Ward: To start off, transparency is key. Once you have an approach of letting the upper management know where your failures are, that creates concern. And in order for us to create business, we need to have a reputation to uphold.
We started with monitoring basic monitoring elements. We created awareness of where our failures were, and at the same time, we asked for more budget to focus on all these defective parts.
That, in turn, made management very aware of what the engineering departments were actually doing — either as an IT department or as engineering by itself, which is basically hardware.
Once we had all these components, and they were publicly scrutinized or they were publicly shown in a quarterly meeting, that helped create a dashboard. Now, dashboards are really fun if you really know what you’re talking about, but if you give upper management the wrong information, wrong decisions are going to be made. So that’s key.
We’re working on creating a huge dashboard. Maybe this year is going to be the year. We have the elements and we’re providing that information for the dashboard to be built, but we are waiting to do the next step.
Right now, we’re focused on getting the elements straightened out, monitoring all of our key systems, and we have done just that in the last year. So we’ve upheld our end of the bargain, which is service, quality, and capacity. The next step is going to be providing automatic dashboards. Right now, dashboards are manual.
Gardner: So the good news is that you’re getting much more reliable information about what’s going on. The bad news is, is you have got a whole lot of information coming in.
O‘Ward: That’s correct.
Gardner: Big data is a big topic here at HP Discover. What are your thoughts about how to get that data, be it structured or unstructured, into an alignment so that you can improve on your situation, know more about it, get better predictions, and better analysis? I suppose the capstone for this is how important will big data become for you to maintain and improve on your reliability over time.
O‘Ward: Big data is a big name, it’s a big trend, and everybody is talking about it. A lot of people, especially people who aren’t technology-oriented, talk about it as if if they know it. The way big data is coming into our shop is focused more on customers.
If we’re talking about big data, unstructured data, that’s coming in from our traps or alerts and stuff like that. Yes, we need to go into that particular scenario. We’re looking at two different projects.
We’re going to look into a big-data project that actually brings capacity and quality for our services. At the same time, there’s going to be another effort from big data that is a customer-facing effort. So yes, it’s going to be a reality in the next year.
Gardner: So it’s safe to say that big data is going to have an impact on your IT operations, but perhaps also in your marketing, to understand what’s going on in the field very quickly and then be able to react to it. Big data sort of ties together business and technology.
O‘Ward: That’s correct. That’s the way we’re looking at it. As I said, there are two different teams of people working on it. We’re going to be working on the operations part first and then at the marketing part as well.
Gardner: We’re here at the beginning of HP Discover. Are there any things in particular that you’re going to be out there looking for in terms of how to accomplish your goals over the next several years. What would you like to see HP doing?
O’Ward: Very much what they have been doing in the past. The software is awesome, just great software, and if you have the right people and the right potential, that software can bring you very good benefits.
Our head of operations for the whole company is here with us this week. I’m going to make sure he attends all these meeting in which we can talk about big data and how we can mold out all of the strengths and all of the key performance indicators (KPIs) that he needs. I hope that HP continues to be an innovative software company. I have really enjoyed working with them for the last five or six years.
Gardner: Okay, last question. Going from a failure rate of 5-10 percent down to less than 1 percent is enviable. A lot of people want to make those kinds of strides. Now that you have had experience in doing this, do you have any 20/20 hindsight? What would you suggest to other organizations that are also trying to get a better handle on their systems and their network, get to know their inventory, and gain visibility? What have you learned that you might share now that you have been through it?
O‘Ward: It doesn’t matter how much we monitor things or how many green lights or red lights we see on any given dashboard. If we’re not focused on business processes and business outcomes, this isn’t going to work.
My take would be to focus on a business process that you actually know it’s critical and start from that. Go top-down from that. That would be the best approach. It’s worked for us. It actually bridges a gap between management and the engineering departments. It also provided us with sound budgeting information. Once you understand what the problem really is, it gets approved easier.
So look at business processes first, get to know your business outcomes, and work on that toward your infrastructure.
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