Today’s software industry is full of innovative products that make life easier for people – as individuals – and for groups of people such as crews, teams, and even entire companies. Whether these products are delivered in the form of Apps or fully packaged enterprise software is irrelevant: software exists in whatever format to drive efficiency and productivity. And behind every product – and every potential product idea – is usually a situation or story that can be told that defines how the product ever came to be in existence. That’s the subject of today’s blog: to tell the story of the conception of Observato.
Back in 2007, Realise Data Systems was working onsite at British Telecom (BT) in London. The customer was in the midst of implementing ClickSoftware’s flagship scheduling product – ClickSchedule – for around 100 field engineers.
Not a big implementation by any stretch of the imagination however BT runs a high capacity, and super-fast, global network to financial institutes that connects the financial exchanges with investors. Clearly therefore, any service disruption in this multi-billion dollar industry comes with a significant monetary cost so these one hundred or-so engineers perform vital roles.
During the project, one assignment was for us to build an interface between ClickSchedule and the in-house developed work-order management system (WOMS), which was built on the Lotus Notes platform. Unfortunately this was written by a group of business users and not professional programmers therefore integrating the two systems would prove to be a difficult task.
BT’s business also had some operational challenges that originated from the fact that the engineering work itself is very complex.
- A Network Engineer invested several days working on a work order, collecting relevant information, and coordinating activities with many groups throughout the network of global data centers and business locations.
- Engineering jobs needed more than one technician to work on it, often from different locations within the network.
- But for the utmost in inefficiency, the engineers needed to type all information from the WOMS and then switch across to the scheduling product – ClickSchedule – to coordinate the job execution and retype much of the same information. This was time-consuming and error prone.
The problem with this inefficient way of working was that, at some future point, corners are cut and engineers no longer update both systems with the latest information. The manual data synchronization process therefore breaks, so something clearly had to change!
Realise Data Systems developed a simple – but powerful – extensible interface (based on XML/XSLT) that is changeable and adaptable to any system or business change. This development enabled BT to run more efficiently by removing duplicate data entry. But what we hadn’t expected was to find that this development contained a hidden benefit: audits. By inadvertently creating an opportunity to record and subsequently audit data changes made on both sides of the interface, the first version of Observato was born. Having then received the backing of BT to formalize this tool, the first formal design phase of Observato began.
Observato was an immediate success: the business users could simply “look back in time” to see individual changes and who was accountable for them. Recovering data, answering client questions, and correcting or reverting entries became simple and streamlined. But the benefits did not stop there:
- There was no longer any need to restore and recover data from backups to identify what happened yesterday, last week, last month, or longer ago
- It removed any internal debate about “who changed what and when” by giving a clear, concise, and unquestionable data history that’s both clean and accurate
- It increased employee responsibility and accountability for their actions
- And for Systems Administrators, there was no requirement to review endless log files to piece together information to understand any event changes: detective skills were no longer required!
So that is the story behind the birth of Observato and as we continue to develop our product to move into new businesses and industries, we learn more-and-more about what defines a good auditing practice, making Observato the solution of choice for all businesses.