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Network Operations Filled With Unplanned Activity

Curtis Franklin
3/28/2017
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Ask an executive whether they want the organization to be proactive or reactive, and the answer will almost alway be "proactive." It's a noble goal, but according to the results of The 1E 2017 IT Incident Response Report, released this week by software tool vendor 1E, the average IT professional spends roughly 14 weeks every year reacting to events on the network. That's based on survey respondents saying that every day, 29% of their time is spent responding to immediate events rather than working on planned activities. It's a number that brings up a number of questions including, "Is anyone surprised by this?" and "Is it bad?"

For the first question, I looked for the answer on Google. When I typed in a number of search strings like "IT worker time reacting to network problems" I consistently received at least 220,000,000 responses. While I did not go through all 220 million responses to check for relevance, I took the large number to mean that this was an issue that has occupied quite a bit of thought over time. I think it's safe, then, to assume that, while the specific number might be discussed by people, the rough scale of the number won't surprise most people who have put any thought into the problem.

The second question is more complex than it might appear on the surface. The complexity begins with drilling into where the stream of interruptions begins. For 56% of the respondents who said they spend from 25% to 100% of their day responding to problems, those problems arise from operational issues like outages and performance issues. Another 41% said that their interruptions were to deal with help desk issues. Given that relatively few people call the help desk to offer compliments on superb system function, it can be assumed that these are "bad" events, too.

Beyond the insight into network and system performance, interruptions and incident response are bad because they generate stress in the workforce. According to a paper published nearly 20 years ago by Rebecca Maxon of Fairleigh-Dickinson University, stress is a "costly epidemic" in the workplace, bringing with it effects including absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover and more.

Christine Porath, writing in the New York Times, said that stress is a major contributor to incivility in the workplace, and that incivility can be a literal killer. In her article, she wrote, "Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and the author of 'Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,' argues that when people experience intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems pay the price. We also may experience major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers."

In business units outside IT, advice on how to reduce stress from unplanned interruptions often boils down to "set up time for dealing with un-scheduled things, and ignore them until it's their turn." That is career-limiting advice when it comes to network performance issues or outages. So what can network staff do to minimize the destructive effects of stress from constant interruptions?

  • Get the right tools -- Tools that allow staff to quickly isolate the cause of the problem, followed by tools for rapid remediation, reduce stress by giving people something to do about the problem (beyond panic).
  • Get the right process -- If the staff is spending more than one-quarter of its time on un-planned activities then it's worth building processes that recognize the reality of these events, provide ways of dealing with them, and allow for the unplanned when it comes to employee evaluation and management.
  • Get a goldfish -- Because watching fish helps calm people down. And goldfish don't have to be walked in the rain.

The survey took place between February 19 and February 28, 2017 and included responses from 1,014 IT pros (verified by Survey Monkey). The data was drawn from 1E's professional network database, sourced from site visitors, customers, events and external data partners. Of those responding, 306 respondents represented companies of more than 50,000 machines, and altogether respondents represented companies numbering almost 21 million endpoints in total.

— Curtis Franklin, Security Editor, Light Reading

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