The problem wasn’t data. Cable-giant Cox Communications had the data. Reams of it. The problem was how they were accessing it, or, perhaps more correctly, how limited they were in accessing it in any meaningful way without first wrestling it to the ground for a three count.
So, some six months ago, Tim Winebarger, Cox’s network operations center (NOC) tools manager, John Hall, director of the NOC’s operational systems and support, and Doug McDowell, from Intellinet, Cox’s business intelligence (BI) contractor, sat down and began to plan. What they came up with has completely changed the way Cox’s NOC engineers and staff view and use information.
Swivel Chair Reporting
Through the installation of a Intellinet’s NetMon BI solution, Winebarger was finally able to access a real-time, dashboard view of how the NOC and its associated satellite SOCs (system operations center) were performing. Now, instead of literally swivel-chairing from one terminal to another to get the reports he needs, Winebarger simply logs into the browser-based dashboard and pulls them up.
Also, because the all the reports are generated from data in a central repository, or, data warehouse, with an OLAP (on-line analytical processing) layer on top of that, compiling custom reports no longer requires hunting down data from 18 different sources. Instead, that data is collected by the data warehouse and accessed via the OLAP solution layer. The combination of data source integration, OLAP and dashboard/portal view make up the main components of the BI solution.
“The hardest part was the volatility of the data,” said Intellinet’s McDowell, “because the data that’s coming across in the NOC is all the way down to almost an end-user level. (The old relational database) couldn’t even handle the inputs into it as well as server queries, so without the proper BI architecture it was not feasible to what they wanted to do.”
What it means to users, in this case Cox’s NOC engineers and support staff, is they can access data in new ways and have it presented in usable formats that go beyond numbers on a page. Because the information is presented in a Windows browser, it can be easily manipulated and combined with other reports to gain new insights into how well things are working. Users can click on an area of one report, such as geographic location or network switch, for example, and instantly see all the data associated with that field. Before, this would have been impossible, said Winebarger.
“We can get to that information and we have a lot of that information but, again, directing it to the right audience is the next step,” he said. “And that’s where the limitations came in before. Literally, in the same real estate we couldn’t put the information from those multiple sources and make it interactive, and now we can.”
Since the go-live date was just two-weeks-ago, Winebarger has yet to take full advantage of the flexibility, literally, at his finger tips. Currently, only the NOC folks will have access to the portal, but the goal is to roll out NOC information to all Cox’s 21,000 employees as needed.
“Our mission is to continue to consolidate and make that stuff readily available to the whole company so we don’t waste time and money going 50 different directions to get one piece of information,” said Winebarger.
Not only does NetMon make the job of getting to and working with Cox’s nationwide telecom, cable, voice, and audio data more palatable, it also makes Winebarger’s job, as the system administrator easier. Via the portal on his desktop, Winebarger can see who is accessing the system, where they are, what they are doing and where they’ve been. And, instead of spending hours compiling one off, special-request reports for different folks around the NOC, Winebarger can now render those in NetMon, assign specific users and he is done. From then on, they can access those reports time and again without having to go through Winebarger every time.
This amounts to a major time savings for everyone and is one of the main reasons they implemented NetMon in the first place, said Winebarger.
From an IT perspective, it was an easy sell. The whole solution cost less than $500,000, said Cox’s Hall, and required the purchase of only six additional servers (the whole solution runs on nine). No infrastructure upgrading was required, only custom coding to get into older, non-XML enabled databases.
The Bottom Line
So, not only was the entire solution cheap (in IT terms at least and certainly compared to Cox’s overall revenues) but it also is expected to return an ROI in fairly short order, said Hall. This makes his bosses happy and, once the solution is rolled out to the rest of the company, including Cox’s business services unit, it should enable employees to become more productive and this, of course, saves the company money; something Winebarger was quick to point out as one of the major advantages of going with such a solution.
“Time is money,” he said. “So, if a person can spend five minutes getting to the info they need rather than 10, even 20 minutes, that’s a lot of time saved. At the end of the day, we have to find ways to work faster and smarter and this is one of the places we’ve done that.”