• April 27, 2010
  • By Derek Evan, distinguished engineer, Tidal Software

Scheduling Solutions Are Vital

Pretend you're an overburdened technology manager. You've just come out of a gut-wrenching meeting with your chief information officer, who has levied upon you two seemingly competing objectives:

  • cut your budget by 20 percent, and
  • find a way to dramatically improve customer service levels.

Sound familiar? The customer service in question is internal -- it involves meeting the ever-increasing demands of your corporate colleagues, who are eager to address business objectives that are critical to the company's current and future operations.

First, you might wonder how you're going to manage that 20 percent reduction in expenses. Right after that, you might wonder what the cuts are going to mean for your staff. How will you achieve your organizational goals while keeping your team's morale intact with fewer resources? Even more important is how you'll be able to do all that and still provide the increased, vital services your CIO outlined.

Your staff will have to cope with the business-as-usual tasks of doing their jobs with fewer resources. Not only that, but your little group will be expected to find additional time to spend on more-strategic business objectives designed to keep the company afloat in these hard times.

But customer support is what it's all about -- so what do you do?

Well, you can take comfort in that old adage, "work smarter, not harder." What does that mean for technology? You probably won't be able to cut down on the number of processes shooting through your environment. If anything, the demand for services will increase by a healthy margin. And, of course, your staff will still have to spend hours tracking down problems when a process stalls or fails. Thinking about this, you realize that countless hours are being spent babysitting critical processes and chasing down problems. If you could recapture those hours and apply them to ongoing process improvement, then you have exactly the leverage point you need. If you reduce the time to resolution of problems when they occur, and get processes back on track as soon as possible.

You've heard of sophisticated enterprise scheduling solutions that can fully automate data-center processes and even provide complete end-to-end visibility over everything that is going on. Without adding a single headcount, a first-rate scheduling solution can vastly increase the efficiency of any technology department freeing up vital hours to spend on improving customer service.

However, achieving maximum efficiency in a technology environment is only possible by deploying solutions that fully automate business process across the enterprise. Although many applications themselves include native scheduling capabilities, only by automating the department's entire workflow across applications and systems can the levels of efficiency be achieved that allow technology to actually do more with less staff intervention. This is the way to free up staff time to focus on mission-critical business deliverables.

As an example one of the most costly errors encountered in any technology organization is the wasted time and resources associated with processing inaccurate or incomplete data. This could be due to undetected problems with a "extract, transform, and load" process that's supposed to cleanse and consolidate data from the CRM module, loading a data warehouse for mission critical reporting carried out by your business intelligence software.

If the process is executed out of sequence, or is allowed to continue without handling process exceptions appropriately, the cost to the business to recover is very high. An enterprise scheduler guarantees dependency order and reduces mean-time-to-resolution of exceptions by generating immediate alerts with supporting diagnostic data. The process can then resume from point of failure with minimal downtime.

The heart of the solution is how problems are resolved. Just think about how draining it is to solve just one process problem. It can involve several staff members, scratching their heads trying to discover the problem's origin. Many times these problems can crop up late at night when batch processes are being run. The effects of these problems can be far reaching, too. Vital reports are not ready in the morning, and staff members are up all night troubleshooting. This greatly reduces their efficiency the next day. That's all wasted time, which is a drain on the department's resources, and reduces the amount of time that can be spent on customer services.

In many cases, problems can be resolved without any staff intervention at all through automated diagnostic and recovery procedures, which themselves can be triggered as events from the scheduler. Over time, diagnostic and recovery procedures that are initially developed and carried out manually by application experts can be pushed out to the scheduler to provide intelligent automation of runbooks. This frees up these experts to deal with new situations, rather than being burdened with dealing with the more common problems that arise on a day-to-day basis. By applying automatic fixes to a problem or, at the very least, sending out an alert with troubleshooting steps from a knowledge base, makes it effortless to solve problems.

Another benefit of a well-conceived enterprise scheduling solution is that it provides a platform that is a single point of visibility and control over all the processes in a system everything running through the system landscape-even across multiple data centers. With comprehensive, self-documenting automation and drill-down visibility, you have a solution that makes it faster and easier to train new people as your staff is shifted around to cover new responsibilities.

Visibility, control, automatic processing and problem resolution; they're the best way to get back the staff hours you need to keep your technology department on course and improve customer service during these trying times. Feel better now?

About the Author

With over 25 years of software development experience, Derek Evan has served as chief product architect and software developer for Tidal Software (formerly OCS) since 1986. He is one of the original authors of the Tidal Enterprise Scheduler (formerly sys*ADMIRAL), Tidal's flagship enterprise job-scheduling product, and is currently the company's only distinguished engineer, specializing in solutions architecture.

Evan designed and developed partner certified adapters for major enterprise resource planning packages including SAP R/3, PeopleSoft, Oracle, JD Edwards, Lawson Software, and BaaN, as well as other application integrations including Informatica, SAS, SAP BW, Tivoli Storage Manager, Veritas, Amisys, Speedware's AMXW, VMWare, and Actuate e-Reporting. During the last 22 years at Tidal Software, Evan has contributed to the development of four generations of job-scheduling and -automation solutions for many platforms, including Windows, UNIX (Solaris, AIX, HP-UX), MPE/iX, Linux, and z/OS (MVS, OS/390). In his early years at Tidal, Derek managed the development of Librarian/iX, the popular suite of software change control and configuration management for the HP3000.

Prior to joining the Tidal team, Evan was a member of the Financial Systems Group at ROLM Corp. and was a research fellow and statistical computing consultant for the Oregon Research Institute.


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