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Alert Notification Best Practices (part 3)

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This is part three of my “Alert Notification Best Practices” focusing on techniques and methods in creating a comprehensive notification system that is easy to implement, simple to maintain and delivers the goal of “making sure the right person(s) get the right notification at the right time and at the desired destination.

 best practice

As mentioned earlier we are keen to hear request and suggestions from our customers, please feel free to “join the club” and let us know what best practices you are applying and also if you have specific pains regarding notification management and delivery from your systems, I’m sure we can help.

We already outlined the importance of adding to the notification as much information as you can, building structured and standardizes formats to your notifications, this all aim to help us achieve three goals without which you cannot have functioning notification systems:

  1. Simple to integrate
  2. Simple to maintain
  3. Accurate and reliable

Like with any information system one important step in achieving the above is to try and limit information duplicates, we want to be able to integrate the notification system in fewer possible places and we want to try and limit the changes needed to be performed to this integration when changes required.

So let’s see some more practices derived from that:

  • Never send notification to specific recipient – Organizations are like living creatures they are changing all the time, organization structure is changing, people are joining or leaving or just changing positions, sending a notification to a specific person means you eventually will need to go and find all those places and change them. And as mentioned earlier changes are in many cases the root of many notifications failures (You always forget a place or two and then when the specific alert will occur, the notification will reach no one, no one will address the problem resulting in costly downtimes. So we suggest as a best practice, always, even if there is only one recipient you send the notification to a distribution list (or group in SNS++). In this case add, replacing or even deleting can be done in one simple place with little effort and with the certainty that all cases are covered.
  • Send only to designated recipients – One of the most common problem with notifications is overload, recipients confidence in the management, monitoring and notification systems is critical for the IT team operation. If recipients receive too many alerts or alerts not intended for them it causes them simply to ignore notifications sent. This is way it is important to send the notifications just to the designated recipients, but this require managing different distribution lists (groups) for different types of alerts/equipment/problems etc. advance notification management systems (like SNS++) help with this as you can send the same notification to several distribution lists and the system will make sure each recipient gets only one copy of the notification. Later in is series I will talk about SNS++ Smart Routing engine (http://highnetsystems.com/productSmartRouting.php) which makes this task much simpler.
  • Do not overload your recipients – Management and Monitoring systems produces large number of alerts and notifications, one main purpose of notification system is to help the organization reduce the amount of notifications received by each recipient. This is a wide issue with several practices and solutions: I already mentioned the importance of “Sending only to designated recipients” the other issues are:
    1. Smartly use output devices – Not all alerts are important and/or urgent use the power of your notification management system to redirect urgent alerts to recipient mobile devices, but low priority alerts can be easily redirect to the recipient’s email account. This will also save you money as SMS messages costs for each message sent while emails messages are free.
    2. Manage work hours, time off and duty rosters – It is annoying to receive notification when you are out off work or on vacation and this is a low priority issue or there is another team member on duty. Utilize your notification system work hours, time off and duty roster features to ensure people are not getting alerts when they should not.
    3. Filter duplicate alerts – In many cases alerts are sent more then once, this can be because the situation is not yet resolved or because the alert has some root cause that causes the management system to generate additional alerts. Advance notification system will allow you to filter out many off the duplicate notifications reducing the load on your recipients. If you followed the practice of “Create a notification standard” creating those filter rules will be much easier.
  • Send customized alerts to different type of recipients – When your management/monitoring system found a failure you can use your notification system to perform two tasks automatically to improve your SLA and quality of services:
    • Send the detailed technical alert to the technical team – This will allow your IT team better assess the resources  and urgency of the problem
    • Send service alert to the users – One of the most time consuming tasks IT and help desk people has is to answer multiple call about the same issue, as each of the users experiencing the problem will call to report it. You can use your notification management system to automatically notify users that there is a problem the IT team is working to resolve it, and a notification will follow when the problem is resolved. This notification should be generated as result of the original alert and with end user context not technical context.

This practice has several benefits:

  • - The IT team gets immediate notification about the problem so system availability is improved.
  • - Users get notified about the problems and that it is being addressed which increases their confidence in the quality of service they get from the IT team
  • - Less calls to the IT teams or the help desk reduces the load and free their resources to address the problem.
  • Smartly use escalation – Advance notifications systems includes the ability to define escalation process to ensure alert have been delivered and accepted. Do not abuse this feature; it is not intended for any notification. You want your recipient work and utilized the notification system and not see it has something annoying.

Stay tuned for more “best practices” in part four including some ways to use SNS++ Smart Routing (http://highnetsystems.com/productSmartRouting.php) and Notification Heartbeat monitor (http://highnetsystems.com/productNHBM.php) engines.

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