Reducing alert noise in modern flexible working

Over the course of 2020, the “luxury” of remote working has now become very much the norm for many. This has forced businesses to adapt and learn a lot along the way. With varying restrictions limiting face-to-face interaction, employees have had to accommodate the daily flurry of notifications and alerts whilst working. With the constant flow of messages and calls, sometimes it can become difficult to separate what is important from what can be dealt with later. 

The task of managing various corporate networks across the world is now compounded by the challenge of remote working. In ‘normal’ circumstances IT admins can find themselves dealing with hundreds and thousands of devices and applications from many different vendors. So when it comes to challenges faced by IT teams, alert noise sits as one of the biggest issues to overcome.

Alert noise is the term used for the unclear generation of alerts and notifications when monitoring infrastructure, network, storage, cloud services and other elements of the business’ IT. When the alerts come in the thousands, it can become very difficult to spot serious issues. This means that some alerts may be ignored, resulting in compromised monitoring efforts and a reduction of the quality of service.

Finding solutions to solve the issue of alert noise is essential, but knowing why it is an issue is the first necessary step to take.

Spotting the causes and understanding the dangers

To manage enterprise IT, a variety of different monitoring tools will be implemented, each of them monitoring separate aspects of your technology infrastructure and each sending a lot of notifications and alerts for every detail within their monitoring range. Because there are so many alerts from so many different sources, it’s almost impossible to match an alert to the responsible team member and assign the correct importance of an alert. All alerts end up in a central IT inbox, and it’s easy to lose the overview. The simple fact is, if you have too many alerts, they can soon become meaningless. Either that, or the noise means that important indications of failure are missed. Or both.

Four steps to reducing alert noise

IT teams are key to ensuring businesses continuity in the current climate, so reducing alert noise needs to be a priority. This takes a combination of careful, strategic planning paired with the right monitoring tool. The below four methods should give guidance on how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

1) Have one tool as your go-to 

Streamlining the way you are alerted by having all devices feeding into one tool is the first step to quietening the noise. This ensures that when alerts come through, you only have to refer to one tool to find the underlying problem. Additionally, because tools handle alerting and notifications differently, a single tool means that you can apply the same philosophy across the board.

2) Set the correct thresholds

Alerts are based on thresholds. For example you’ll get an alert when a device overheats past the set threshold or when storage is lower than the set requirement. To avoid having numerous incorrect alerts being triggered due to standards being incorrectly set, you’ll need to review the thresholds as part of a good alert management process. Set them too low, and you’ll get inundated with alerts; set them too high, and you won’t get notified when there’s an issue until it’s already too late.

Alongside this, when managing multiple devices it is crucial to have a monitoring solution that offers automation and other mechanisms like inheriting thresholds for groups of devices.

3) Inform teams when necessary

Thirdly, you need to have a monitoring tool with comprehensive rights and roles functionality. This way you can easily create roles and responsibilities for specific teams (or even individuals), then filter alerts accordingly.

For your monitoring concept, define the user groups according to the areas that they focus on. Then, you define notifications for failures in those areas to go to the specific teams that need to know. For example, you might have an IT team that handles your online store, and another team that handles the email services. In this example, you would configure that the team handling the online store only receives alerts relevant to that area, and the same for the team handling the email services. This way, alerts get sent only to the relevant teams.

4) Filter alerts for senior management

A key thing to remember is that not everyone in your organization needs to know what’s going on behind the scenes of your infrastructure. Often decision makers, management, and other business stakeholders only need to know the health of the network at a very high level.

Organizing your infrastructure into IT services according to business processes can do this. For example: your company’s email service, the licensing system, or software build processes are all IT services provided by several connected bits of hardware, software and connectivity. If there is a minor failure to one of those components within each service — such as a redundant mail server has performance problems — only the IT teams responsible get alerted about the performance issues of the server. Management does not necessarily need to be alerted. But if there is a service-critical problem an alert can be sent to relevant management members or stakeholders.

Separating the wheat from the chaff for improved business functions

Tackling alert noise requires time and consideration, but dealing with it properly will boost productivity in the long run. It will allow both IT teams and the wider business to know when immediate action needs to be taken and when simple solutions can be put in place. Implementing a simple monitoring tool can overcome half of the battle. But to combat further issues, ensuring alert standards are set and only necessary information is delegated and shared with teams and staff members is key. This will help to streamline IT processes and put the attention back on wider business priorities.

Martin Hodgson, Head of UK & Ireland,