This Spring, Operations groups throughout the world had an opportunity to exercise their catastrophic fallback plans in a way never imagined.
The impact of COVID-19, somewhere between Y2K and 9/11 on the spectrum of major telecoms events, was something we plan for but in spite of all the dry runs and plan tweaks, many organizations still found themselves asking some pretty big questions when NOCs began to consider shuttering office spaces.
Nonetheless, BT Federal’s Customer Operations response to COVID-19 proceeded without incident or disruption. Network Operations transitioned to a remote working model while fully maintaining continuity of business operations and ultimately did so because we had a specific plan based on the right assumptions. The NOC would be inhabitable, staff shortages were likely, and movement could be restricted or routinely disrupted.
As customer sites, off-site data centers, space providers, and others went into essential services mode we reviewed our disaster recovery options, took in each days news, and as the window was closing for a graceful exit from the office we took action.
- Rapid Response
While BT Federal has a long heritage of remote teleworking, traditional full-service technical network support centers are not established as such. We had to quickly settle on the planned steps that were most important to the crisis at hand.
We set a baseline of backbone and access network health, data centers stability, customer site access, and vendor viability and, from there, began summarizing daily changes to processes and requirements.
- Welfare & Wellbeing
First was implementing controls to ensure safety and wellbeing of colleagues and their families so that everyone understood and could work to the new arrangements. Foremost among these arrangements was establishing safe working areas free from most distraction.
- Process & Policy
Remote working policies were activated for Customer communications and team interworking which addressed everything from ad hoc meeting arrangements to incident trouble-shooting. Inevitably some items needed additional fine-tuning but with good planning there were few gaps.
Operationally, BT Federal processes are based on ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) standards and industry best practices. This process framework made total virtualization less challenging than it could have been – shift handovers, ticket escalation, rotation scheduling and other activities didn’t rely on face-to-face exchange of information making full transition smooth.
Immediately the entire Customer Service team went through refresher training on ticket handling adding to the staff depth chart to account for incidents spikes or increased staff sick days. On top of this, we added an additional Tier Zero layer by prepping processes to allow for simplified ticket intake essentially allowing us to flex up staff numbers even more on the front line if need be.
- Customers & Continuity
Job One remained delivering quality Customer Service. In communicating with Customers we made sure they understood that it was Business as Usual – that our team wasn’t going anywhere or changing anything.
Customer policies with respect to facilities access, escort, and equipment usage were changing quickly under us but we increased the amount of inter-team comms and status updating to make sure we were tracking the changing landscape.
Service metrics did not take a dip – by continuing to measure KPIs we were able to keep things from turning negative throughout transition and into daily operation of remote working. Although overall incidents increased, the time-to-resolve stayed flat even when adding in delays for gaining access approval and site escorts.
Lastly, while we continued with development projects we delayed implementing anything significant and new until the dust had settled. We didn’t add more channels, increase AI, or migrate a lot of data believing that the timing wasn’t right for big changes during an event of this magnitude.
- Multifunctional Method
From HR to Finance to Sales, and from Contracts & Legal to IT & Security – the entire business had a role in making the Operations move to remote working successful. Although it had the potential to be hugely disruptive, and it was a fundamental change to working practices, it didn’t become an issue to our Customers because the entire business had a hand in making it work.
At the top was BT Federal’s COOP Team involving senior business leadership. They held regular internal meetings in addition to organization wide telecons allowing everyone – not just front line Operations – to get questions asked and answered directly. IT also helped maintain morale and keep the wider team feeling connected. The COOP Team spawned several working groups to manage other issues – hygiene, interim office space access, and, of course, a return to building operational working group.
- Cyber & Security
Operations staff accustomed to working in a controlled office environment quickly needed to be able to work remotely, balancing new access to data and systems while not creating security vulnerabilities. So secure access and handling of company and customer account information had to transition and run smoothly.
No one wants a data breach of any sort, so up-to-date security is a must for any device using an VPN gateways for enterprise access. Again here, BT Federal already employed redundant cloud-based security policies – the most efficient way to maintain the quality of the customer’s experience while incorporating the highest levels of security and not inconveniencing the customer.
And our security repositories were constantly updated with the latest procedures and information. Previous planning, practicing, and fine-tuning allowed the team to know where to go and what to do.
- Tools & Technology
In the end, there is no point in a technician being able to take a call if they can’t get to the information that they need to help a Customer. Yes, there were some very minor issues such as missing licenses, app log ins, or small equipment shortages but overall the preparation was in place from Day One.
Systems and connectivity were there and the teams were ready and able to properly address them – phones, laptop, professional headsets, ticketing and monitor applications, network access, collaboration tools, etc.
Reliable applications are the backbone of remote working and no less so for operations teams. The right apps were in place and operated at the desired speed and performed well so there were no hold ups in productivity.
Customer tools remained stable as well including portals and customer facing reporting systems.
Ultimately everyone faced bandwidth and computing capacity requirements that were going to be somewhat unknown – overnight usage profiles changed for office-based appliances and applications, data centers, and remote working infrastructure requiring altered demands on distributed enterprise infrastructure. Within a matter of days there was more broadband and 4G usage, more VPN access, and more tools being used differently than before.
When the time came, applying these concepts to a fully functioning 24×7 NOC still required all of the previous planning, practicing, and fine-tuning but it paid off – all functions were moved on schedule and with zero Customer impact. BT Federal now operates a Virtual Managed Network Service Center that is both sustainable today and ready to adapt to the next phase of “opening up” tomorrow.