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Benefits of On-Call Scheduling Software

Dan Holloran April 02, 2019

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Being on-call sucks. But it’s a requirement for any effective DevOps or IT team – no matter the size. While your infrastructure and applications get more complicated, issues come up more often. From the ground up, teams need to be thinking about the scalability, reliability and security of the products they’re building, not just the development speed. On-call scheduling software integrated with your monitoring and alerting systems will lead to more efficient teams.

And, especially for smaller teams, developers and IT operations need to start taking accountability for both the code they write and the services they support. On-call software can help facilitate tighter collaboration and shorten feedback loops between IT and development for post-deployment workflows. Agile and DevOps teams are constantly focused on reducing the time from idea to deployment. But, what about the reliability and speed of operations post-deployment?

With developers willing to own their code and help respond to issues in production, alongside integrated IT alerting and on-call scheduling software, your team will release reliable software faster. Let’s dive into some of the specific features and benefits of comprehensive on-call software:

Required features in on-call software

While every team is built differently and on-call responsibilities look different across every organization, there is basic functionality you should find in any effective on-call software. Check out some of the alerting and on-call features every DevOps and IT team should be leveraging:

  • On-call schedules and rotations

Of course, on-call software has to come with scheduling and on-call rotation management services. Admins should be able to easily maintain and move shifts around the calendar to ensure there are no gaps in coverage. The main differences between purpose-built on-call scheduling software and homegrown solutions are alert automation and flexibility. Teams can set up and change an individual user’s on-call shifts without alerts getting dropped. Through alert automation alongside integrated on-call schedules, you can optimize both human and technological workflows at the same time.

  • Automated and manual escalations

Efficient escalation of alerts is one of the best ways to improve on-call quality of life and limit alert fatigue. On-call software should provide capabilities for both manual and automated escalations – offering flexibility and agility to everyone on-call. For frequent alerts that require escalation, you can use automation to ensure the notification is routed straight to the person or team that needs to respond. And, for additional flexibility, people should be able to manually escalate alerts to individual users or teams – in case they’ve created a manual incident or automatic alert routing didn’t serve the incident to the right person the first time.

This way, on-call users spend less time swimming through a sea of alerts and more time working on the remediation process. Escalation functionality built directly into your on-call scheduling software allows team members to see who else is on-call and helps responders know the best ways to escalate issues in real-time.

  • Workflow and calendar visibility

With single-pane-of-glass visibility into on-call calendars and incident response workflows, teammates become more collaborative. On-call software should allow team members from both development and IT to easily communicate during an incident and share applicable alert context with each other in real-time. A lot of homegrown alerting and on-call solutions force users to find information in disparate tools – leaving them feeling confused and alone. On-call software offers a single source of truth for all incident operations and allows you to see the entirety of every team’s on-call calendar – helping teams to immediately loop in other SysAdmins or engineers when it’s necessary.

Without a purpose-built tool, on-call teams can have a hard time working with different internal teams when they need to (e.g. data engineering, web client, middle tier, security, QA, etc.). A few additional minutes to corral the proper people may not seem like a big deal, but every second counts when the costs of downtime can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. Improved visibility to everyone’s on-call calendar and the workflows associated with those schedules can drastically reduce MTTA/MTTR and driving rapid incident response in DevOps and IT.

  • Real-time collaboration

Oddly enough, applications and services rarely break at a convenient time. And, with more distributed teams and increasingly complex software, on-call users need to be able to communicate at any time from any place. On-call software shouldn’t only help you maintain on-call schedules and set up alert rules but it should allow teammates to collaborate in real-time across multiple channels. Then, you should be able to centralize your communication around incident details and workflows to optimize your system for incident detection and engagement.

In today’s world, people work in different ways and communicate across numerous digital channels. Allowing teams to communicate through their preferred channels while keeping detailed, accurate documentation will lead to better collaboration before, during and after an incident strikes.

  • Contextual alerts

Without context, an alert is nothing more than a notification that you need to do something. What is it you need to do? Well, without any attached alert context, you can likely see what tool or service initiated the alert but that’s it. Then, you’ll have to dive into your monitoring tool(s) to try and figure out what the issue might be. Also, you can’t tell the difference between a SEV-1 incident or a SEV-3 incident. If you can provide more context at the source of an alert, you can immediately surface pertinent details, logs and charts – and sometimes instructions in the form of runbooks – to your on-call responders.

Additional alert information helps teams understand which alerts are most important, how those alerts came into the system and, most importantly, if a user needs to get up at 4 AM and open their laptop to start responding to an issue. Context, visibility and collaboration should be key concepts built into any on-call software – creating the trifecta for efficient incident response and remediation.

  • On-call analytics

Of course, to close out any argument when discussing on-call software, you’ll need access to helpful incident management KPIs and analytics. By pushing all of your monitoring and alerting data to a single source of truth, you can analyze on-call teams and processes more thoroughly and conduct deeper post-incident reviews. On-call software should be able to help you identify where problems exist in your incident management workflow – whether it’s with your people, processes or technology.

If you find your team in a repetitive cycle of simply detecting, responding and remediating incidents – you might need to look deeper into your post-incident analysis. Without a strong analysis phase of the incident lifecycle, you’ll never be able to silence redundant alerts and reduce on-call fatigue. Purpose-built on-call software should work for you – helping you manage everything from schedules to alert automation to the analysis of your key incident management metrics.

DevOps & Incident Management

Benefits of on-call software

As you can see in many of the points listed above, there are numerous benefits to using on-call scheduling and alerting software. DevOps and IT teams everywhere can save time and money by leveraging a pre-designed tool instead of building a homegrown solution. Not only does the process of building your own alerting and on-call system take time away from development but it slows down incident response and remediation in the future. Advanced on-call software will not only help with basic IT alerting and schedule maintenance but it can help teams shift left and bring visibility to every part of the SDLC.

The benefits of investing in IT alerting and on-call scheduling software greatly outweigh the risks. If you look into the amount of time and money spent on monitoring and observability projects, you’ll start to realize effective on-call incident management and alerting workflows will actively add value to your monitoring practices as well.

As DevOps adoption increases, complex microservice architectures and CI/CD practices become more commonplace, it’s impossible to avoid incidents completely. Well-built on-call software can help you protect the investments in your people, processes and technology. Don’t depend on tools alone to deepen service reliability and create a culture dedicated to collaboration but use them to realize both financial and operational benefits.

A mixed approach to IT alerting and on-call scheduling

A divided approach to IT alerting and on-call scheduling will simply cause gaps in coverage. On-call schedules should be tied directly to alerts, services and the teams related to those alerts and services. On-call software can serve as a tool for connecting your people and technology through highly integrated workflows and transparency. When you build your on-call scheduling and IT alerting systems in the background, you can’t see exactly what’s happening and how the team is working on an issue.

See what on-call software was meant to be. VictorOps helps DevOps and IT teams centralize monitoring and alerting data with collaborative on-call workflows. Sign up for a 14-day free trial or request a personalized demo to see exactly how we make on-call suck less.

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