The word “onboarding”
usually brings to mind the comprehensive human resource process where new
employees are integrated into a company. When this happens, several different departments
within an organization execute various processes to set new employees up with
email, computers, phone, tax paperwork, payroll, benefits and relevant training
enrollment.

Similar to
employee onboarding, device onboarding for communication service providers
entails several groups across Network Engineering and Operations executing multiple
processes to bring new devices such as routers, switches, servers and other
elements into a network. With a process
includes activities such as updating the Configuration Management Database
(CMDB), verifying the correct functioning of the
device, checking compliance with security requirements and so on, the orchestration of these steps can be quite complex. The
hope is that when the device is activated, that it performs to the specified
expectations.

However,
stuff happens, and sometimes the manual device onboarding process doesn’t go as
smoothly as it should, which could result in the device not being monitored
correctly. This can cause significant issues. Errors caused by manual device
onboarding are the largest contributor to network outages, and enforcing
compliance with best practices can be difficult to impossible. Some of the
fall-out from device onboarding errors can include:

  • The number of events and alarms that
    are generated by onboarding devices in the Network Operations Center (NOC) due
    to a deployment or change can be very high and thus, overwhelming for the NOC. Some
    environments have as high as 75 percent change event pollution.
  • If there is an issue with an
    unmonitored device, an alarm won’t be triggered and operational teams will not
    know to fix it. 

  • Inventory systems don’t match the
    actual network devices deployed.

A more advanced method to bring new
devices into the network environment smoothly and seamlessly is to leverage an IT
process automation (ITPA) solution. ITPA software today can be the single most
impacting solution to free up resources, eliminate human error and ensure
compliance. Effective ITPA solutions for device onboarding integrate with
existing systems and devices to communicate bi-directionally with both new
devices and EMS’, orchestrate end-to-end process automation across disparate
groups and systems, automate both the onboarding and offboarding of devices, and
provide on-demand compliance reports on existing devices.

This was
the experience for one Fortune 500 company, one of the five largest cable
operators in the U.S. which delivers video, high-speed Internet and telephone
services to approximately 5.5 million residential and business customers.

Prior to
implementing an ITPA solution,  this
company’s users logged into five to seven systems, depending on the device
type, to add a new network component in order to make sure that the operations
team was ready to deal with issues that might come up with that component later
on. The pre-automated device onboarding system looked something like this:

  1. A change ticket was manually created
    to get new the device added to network.
  2. The change ticket was then forwarded
    to the various EMS and NMS administration teams for process execution, each
    unable to confirm that the previous process was executed properly without
    additional verification steps. 

  3. The change ticket was then forwarded
    to the configuration management administration team that would save the initial
    configuration.

  4. The change ticket would be then
    forwarded on to several other groups until the device was up and ready.

By
leveraging an effective ITPA solution, the Fortune 500 company was able to
automate the end-to-end process of device onboarding and offboarding, eliminate
room for error and minimize bottlenecks. Another key outcome was the ability
for the cable operator to easily conduct audits after the processes were
executed so that they could verify that the associated device was handled
correctly. 

There were
many tangible benefits to the cable operator. Not only did they reduce network
support costs through the decreased time associated with device onboarding, but
also drastically cut costs related to security compliance and audits through
standardization. In addition, they experienced measurable improvements in
productivity by providing one single point of entry for all devices entering
the network environment. Additional benefits included:

  • Improved IT service availability through faster resolution
    of onboarding issues
  • A “future-proofed” and scalable process, achieved through a
    dynamic enterprise collaboration platform where new onboarding processes could
    be quickly designed and automated without the requirement for coding skills

  • Reduced potential points of failure by removing the manual
    execution of processes

Bottom
line: Device onboarding has many moving parts and spans several silos across an
organization. Accomplishing device onboarding accurately and consistently is
critical, and using manual processes is outdated and both time-consuming and
costly.

Automating IT processes is nothing new, but process
automation solutions that provide true end-to-end orchestration through a
collaboration platform is revolutionary. Thanks to advances made in IT process
automation technologies, manually onboarding and off-boarding new network
devices can now be archived along with 8-track tape players and pagers.

Jim
Van De Casteele manages the Product Engineering team at gen-E.