Avoid unexpected problems by automating device onboarding

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.

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.