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What Operations Centre Technology Do I Need?

That’s not the right question. I know the critical question starts with wondering what operations centre technology you can deploy. However, I’ll do my normal Technology In OPS spin here and reframe the question to:

What Operations Centre Technology Options Exist and What Approaches Should I Use to Picking Technologies?

Now that I have re-framed the question I am NOT going to answer it yet! Isn’t that awesome? You may thinking “stellar – this bugger just avoided the question.” Don’t worry – I have answers for you – they’re already in your hands if you’re reading the Technology In OPS magazine.

And by the way that isn’t quite the right question. We’ll get to the real question shortly.

I have a reason for delaying.

Here’s my reason: Technology is put forward way too early most of the time. People don’t look at what they need and what they are trying to accomplish long enough. Then pick a technology expecting it to solve all of their problems instead. This approach rarely works and is harmful at times.

That point above is the cause of many technology project failures by the way. I’d suggest noting it. And just for fun – note it down again – it’s that important. This from a technology consultant. Weird eh!

Operations Centre Technology  – What is The Real Question?

The real question is quite simple: How can you best use operations centre technology to enable effective and efficient information exchange both inside your operations centre and with your partners?

I’ll deal with the questions that you need to be considering in this article. Without answering these questions you can’t really decide on a technology approach, though many vendors and instant-fix tech folk will tell you otherwise.

The single most important aspect about an operations centre is to ensure that you are allowing information to flow appropriately. To maintain the high levels of situational awareness and to enable decision making you MUST optimize this information flow.

Information flows in three different ways in an operations centre – inside the centre, into the centre, and from the centre. These are similar but have their own subtle differences.

Operations Centre Technology – Internal Information Exchange

Let’s start inside the operations centre. We’ll start here because if your internal information exchange isn’t effective (and efficient) when you open up to the outside you are just going to exacerbate any problems that exist.

When you look at all of the roles and mandates that your operations centre is fulfilling you need to ask the following information exchange questions:

  • What information do you need to get your job(s) done?
  • Where is the original/source-of-truth for a particular piece of information (i.e. Who has it?)
  • Where and how can you get that information? What format is it in?
  • How fresh does the information need to be?
  • Who do you need to share the information with (in the operations centre)? How do you need to get it to them? How often?
  • Are there limits on what you can do with the information (share it raw? Create your own products from it?) or how long you can have it?
  • What effect am I aiming for?

There are a myriad of more detailed questions but this list will get your juices flowing and in the right frame of mind to start addressing the problem and ultimately selecting the best operations centre technology for your organization.

Stepping Outside The Operations Centre

I haven’t found an operations centre yet that was completely isolated. Operations centres are created, by definition, to consolidate a capability in a particular place (location or even virtual). These centres are created to take in information and to share out information. That’s what they do (beyond making decisions, command, and coordination)

Unfortunately, very few operations centres are capable of sharing the information that they need to share with their partners. There are many reasons but policy and process are barriers that commonly block effective information exchanges. Breaking down those barriers is a whole other topic, so I’ll jump into the questions that you need to be thinking about for information sharing.

Operations Centre Technology – Incoming Information Exchange

Operations centres receive or pull information from many different sources. Some are from resources that they control (e.g. Lower level organizations, field teams), some information is from partners, and some is just general background information needed to inform the operations centre staff.

Generally the same questions about the internal flow and exchange of information apply to incoming information, but there are some subtle and important differences. The difference with incoming information

  • Who can I get the information from?
  • How can I establish a relationship (formal or informal) with the group that has the information I need?
  • How can I convince the sending organization that they can trust me with their information?
  • How much of “their” information do I really need? The less you ask for the better the odds are you will get it.
  • How can I safeguard the information I have been trusted with?
  • How do I know I am getting the information I need from my sources? If a source has stopped sending you the information you need – what happens?

Incoming information is fairly well understood when it is within a single organizations. One we have multiple agencies involved though it becomes more complicated – but it is manageable. Technology plays a role here but operational processes are more critical.

Operations Centre Technology – Outgoing Information Exchange

Sharing information from the operations centre is a hard one and this is an area where many (most) organizations don’t do well. The problem here is rarely technology, though technology can make the problem worse if applied poorly.

The fundamental issue with information exchange that goes from the operations centre to other parties is that we still have a built-in “need to know” approach and other barriers that stop us from being effective. We also tend to share either too little (or nothing) or way too much.

Sharing information outside of the operations centre inverts the list of questions that are asked internally and for incoming information. The questions are largely about understanding what your partners need and how you can get them what they need.

So here are the questions that you need to consider – it isn’t exhaustive but it will get you thinking:

  • Who are my partners that need information from my organization?
  • What information does my partner need and how can I get the information to them? (For each partner)
  • What can’t I share? Why can’t I share it?
  • What does the public need (if you have a mandate to inform them).
  • What is the bare minimum information that they need? <— This question can solve many of the problems that come up when you answer the following questions.
  • What barriers (policy, process, people, technology, etc.) exist that would stop or slow down the information exchange that is needed here?
  • How can I get the information to my partner?
  • What do I need to worry about with my partner having this information?
  • Can my partner share the information as-is with their partners or do we need guidance on what they can/can’t do?
  • What do I do if we inadvertently share information that we shouldn’t have? Terrifying question but if you don’t have a plan in place you will be in DEEP TROUBLE when (it is a when – not an if) a mistake is made.
  • How can I balance my need to protect key information with my partner’s valid need for information? Balancing the need to know and need to share is crucial – and hard.
  • What conditions may cause me to loosen up or tighten my information exchange? How do you enable this shift?
  • How do I want to affect the situation by sharing information? How can I tailor my information to improve that effect?

Again, this is a high-level list of the questions that you need to consider. I could dive deep into each one of the questions but there are two major problems with doing so here:

  1. This article series is about looking at the operations centre technology considerations and I haven’t even touched that yet.
  2. You didn’t commit to reading a 2” thick non-fiction book! Yeah – that’s how deep this rabbit hole goes.

So we’ve covered starting the process that you need to be thinking about. These questions are what you need to be thinking about before you select your technology options.

You can take the thread that I start here and follow it deeper. The next step still isn’t listing the technology pieces. It is looking at your team and your processes and current operational capabilities. Without looking at these you will make poor technology choices.

OK, we’re done for now.

I’ll get get the Part 2 article out shortly on the blog. The full 3-part series is in this issue of Technology In OPS digital magazine (click here for a free subscription) if that is where you’re reading it (i.e. turn the page!).

 As always please feel free to comment or reach out. Your feedback is a huge motivator!