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RESOLVE ’22: Best in class

RESOLVE ’22: Best in class

Our RESOLVE ‘22 event Best in class, moderated by BigPanda Vice President of Value & Adoption Craig Ferrara, took a slightly different approach than most other panels during the event. Where most focused on a given topic and allowed our expert panelists to weigh in, this one was all about storytelling.

Meet our panelists

  • Rachael Bailing, senior director of IT service management at Honeywell
  • Jennifer Stern, executive VP and head of site reliability engineering at Wells Fargo

Specifically, panelists talked about the ways their companies “arrived at a better place than they were previously” (in Craig’s words) with the help of automation and a better outlook. This piece will break down some key concepts and similarities from each tale.

Honeywell and Wells Fargo: historic and current operating models

Asked to describe her company’s present operating model to that of years past, Jennifer said one core difference was apparent. Wells Fargo was much more beholden to waterfall-style development tactics than it is today.

“If you know about the waterfall methodology, you know some of it was born in the federal sector, and it’s quite change-resistant,” she said. “Well, fast-forward to digital, and companies have to basically deliver products and services at the speed of light to enable customers, business partners and so on.”

It created a present-day atmosphere in financial services where “agile transformation has taken shape to deliver products and services,” Jennifer said. In turn, this creates a “product aligned IT operating model.” One in which cross-functional teams “respond quickly—whether it’s resolving an issue or providing a new service customers will be delighted by.”

The description prompted a question from Craig: “How are teams working together if they’re managing separate services and may be related or dependent on top of one another?”

“We’re secure from the start,” Jennifer said. “We have things like logging and tracing enabled for our customer journeys so we know where our customers are, their experience and their quality of service.”

In terms of beginnings, Rachael said Honeywell’s story sat “on the other side” to a degree.

“My model’s more about the service,” she said. “Getting it back up and running when there’s a service that has an outage. So we have very heavy manufacturing. And historically at our sites, our assets, our infrastructure… all of that was not always very well inventoried.”

It led to a situation in which different teams needed to “jump in and help” almost at random when something went bad, Rachael said, resulting in an unpredictable environment where “it was sometimes hard to know which part of the big Honeywell beast was going to be able to help with” a given issue.

Today, things are quite different because of the directed effort of people such as Rachael at the Honeywell camp. The company has instilled what Rachael called a “service-owner mentality” instead of a “business- and IT-owned” one.

“And we’re all there to support the business and just let them keep doing what they do wonderfully, which is manufacturing,” she said.

Likewise, Rachael said Honeywell had installed a “command center model that doesn’t replace the existing service desk.” Instead, it complements it.

“If, for any reason, one of our manufacturing sites across the globe gets stuck at the service desk for more than 15 minutes, they have a place where we can go put it into a command center” where a number of teams analyze the incident, she said. This gives the company a faster means to recover in the moment. It also supplies them with the sort of sculpted, actionable data that could prevent the same issue from disrupting operations in the future.

Building boundaryless teams to drive IT Ops innovation

Like other presenters at our RESOLVE ’22 events , both Rachael and Jennifer had a lot of good to say about site reliability engineering (SRE). The practice puts an extreme emphasis on service reliability and flexible, autonomous response to various incidents.

“I started SRE here out of frustration because I’d walked into a high severity incident,” she said. Fortunately, her storied past at IBM and Google gave her the right kind of insight, and she turned it into a learning moment for the business. “A lot of the time SRE is born out of that reactive phase where something was missed due to the quality of the monitoring of the observability.”

Showing the flipside of the experience again, Rachael told the audience the story of how Honeywell—at this point fully invested in its service-owner mentality—used its innovative approach to pivot its manufacturing operations at a vital time in human history: the pandemic.

“We had manufacturing sites that had to move from producing manufacturing items and aerospace parts to producing masks,” she said.

Getting such a task done “in an industry that’s decades and decades old” was no easy feat, Rachael said. The company had to “step back and say, ‘how do we get sites up and running if there’s even a smell of a major incident?’”

Here, the company was only able to react so effectively because it’d built upon a philosophy of smart reaction—and having the tools in place to autonomously address issues.

“Forget who you are, forget what your title is,” she said. “At Honeywell, the rule is ‘if you have a possible option to support, jump in and support.’”

Keeping an ear to the ground

In her closing comments, Jennifer again praised the benefits of SRE. She encouraged all companies that “have incidents or are passionate about fixing things once and for all” to “just start” with the practice.

Jennifer further advised that companies can learn a lot about their customers, friction points at the frontline and their overall models by “keeping an ear to the ground” with regard to monitoring.

“A great place to learn about the customer experience is in operations,” she said. “You get to hear everything. And that keeps you anchored in what you do to your products and services.”

“Jennifer and I can talk about models, tools and strategies all day long,” Rachael said in agreement. “But at the end of the day, it’s the humans that tell you the simplest way to solve the problem. And they can usually tell you how it needs to be fixed.”

The goal of that statement is not to turn people away from the power of automation. Instead, it’s to encourage them to augment their human decision-making with data-backed practices like SRE and time-tested philosophies like the service-owner mentality.

Link to the full Best in class panel and more

We encourage readers to view the whole seminar—and the full slate of talks—at the following link.