Controlling Alerts

None of us likes to be on call for our organizations. Late night phone calls, especially for something silly like adding a new user to a system or rebooting a machine, can make for irritable employees in the morning. Too many nights in a row of problem calls, legitimate or not, and I’d argue that an employee’s effectiveness during the day is substantially diminished.

Since many of us are paid to be creative and improve systems over time, is regular firefighting a good use of our knowledge? This might be even more true if we find ourselves receiving escalation calls on a regular basis and our daily workload doesn’t change.

I ran across a company that had set up a rule for alerts and pages. If any alert was set up in an automated system, it had to have corresponding documentation, with a resolution, in an operations manual. That’s an interesting idea, and certainly promotes the idea of performing root cause analysis and understanding your systems in advance. However does this really reduce any escalation? 

Perhaps if there is a team available 24/7 that triages initial alerts this helps, but if there’s a small team of people that must support systems, is it worth the effort to document every issue? I suspect that a better policy is that repeating alerts, those that occur regularly, need to be analyzed and a more permanent solution implemented. I know that’s easy to say and hard to do, but that really is the best policy. At least if you want to ensure your employees are working efficiently over time.

For those calls that are ad hoc, I recommend a log of actions taken be kept in an easily accessible location, in a text format for searching. That way if a different person receives a similar alert, at least they’ll have some idea of what actions the last person performed.

Steve Jones

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