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Business Intelligence: Article

Rebuilding QA Brings Good Results for Waste Management

How Waste Management builds a powerful services continuum across IT operations, infrastructure, development, and processes

It's only been a few years since Waste Management's IT organization began rebuilding their quality assurance processes from the ground up.

"Our availability scorecard was pretty bad. Our services were down. At times, we didn’t know that our services were down. Our first indication of a problem was from customers calling us," remembers Gautam Roy, Vice President of Infrastructure, Operations and Technical Services at Waste Management in Houston, Texas.

"Now, fast-forward a few years -- with making the appropriate choices and investments in technology, such as in people and processes -- and our scorecard is very good. We know of the problems rapidly. We proactively detect problems and fix the problems before they impact our customers," he says.

To learn how Waste Management came to deliver 4 9s availability for its critical applications, BriefingsDirect sat down with Roy at the recent HP Discover conference in Las Vegas. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Roy: Water Management is an environmental services company. We have primarily three lines of business. First is waste service. This is our traditional waste pickup, transfer, and disposal. Our second line of business is renewable energy or green energy, and our third is recycling.

Roy

What makes Waste Management different from others in the waste industry is that we also invest quite a lot of effort in next-generation waste technology. We invest in companies like Agilyx, which converts very hard-to-recycle waste, such as plastic, into crude oil. We convert organic food waste into natural gas. We pressurize, scrub, and dry municipal solid waste into solid fuel, which burns cleaner than coal.

And we're quite diverse, a global company. We have operations in the US and Canada, Asia, and Europe. We have our renewable energy plants. There is quite a large array of technology and IT to support these business processes to ensure consistent business-services availability.

Gardner: As with many organizations, gaining greater visibility into operations -- having earlier detection of problems, and therefore earlier remediation -- means better performance. What were some of the drivers for your organization specifically to mature your IT operations?

Business transformation

Roy: I'll give a few business reasons, and a couple of technology reasons. From the business side, we began business transformation a couple of years ago. We wanted to ensure that we unlocked the value for our customers and for us, and to institutionalize the benefits for Waste Management.

Customer care, providing outstanding, world-class customer service is aligned completely with our business strategy. Business services availability is crucial, it's in our DNA. Our IT business service availability scorecard a few years ago wasn't too good. So we had to put the focus on people, process, and technology to ensure that we provide a very consistent service set to our customers.

Gardner: Moving across the spectrum of development, test, and operations can be challenging for many organizations. You have put in place standardized processes to measure, organize, and perform better across the DevOps spectrum. Tell us how you accomplished that. How did you get there?

Roy: That's a very good question. For us, IT business-service availability is really not about having a great monitoring solution. It starts even before the services are in production. It starts with partnership with our business and business requirements. It starts with having a great development methodology and a robust testing program. It starts with architecture processes, standardization, and communication. All those things have to be in place. And you have to have security services and a monitoring solution to wrap it up.

We try to approach it from the front end, instead of chasing it from the back end.

What we are trying to do is to not fight the issue at the back-end. If a service is down, our monitoring software picks it up, our operational team and engineering team jumps on it, we are able to fix the problem ASAP before it impacts the customer. Great. But, boy, wouldn’t it be nice if those services aren't going down in the first place? So we try to approach it from the front-end, instead of just chasing it from the back-end.

Gardner: So it’s Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Business Service Management (BSM), not one or the other, but really both -- and simultaneously?

Roy: Exactly, ALM, BSM, testing, and security products. We also want to make sure that the services are not down from intentional disruption. We want to make sure that we produce code with quality and velocity, and code that is consistent with the experience of our customer.

With our operational processes, ITIL and Lean IT, we want to make sure that the change management and incident management are followed to our prescription. We want to make sure that the disaster-recovery (DR) program, the high-availability (HA) program, the security operation center (SOC), the network operation center (NOC), and the command centers are all working together to ensure that the services are up 24/7, 365.

Gardner: And when you do this well, when you have put in place many of the capabilities that we have been describing, do you have any sense of payback? Do you keep score?

Availability scorecard

Roy: A few years ago, when we were not as good at it, we started rebuilding this all from the ground up, and our availability scorecard was pretty bad. Our services were down. At times, we didn’t know that our services were down. Our first indication of a problem was from customers calling us.

Now, fast-forward a few years, with making the appropriate choices and investments in technology -- such as in people and processes --  and our scorecard is very good. We know of the problems rapidly. We proactively detect problems and fix the problems before they impact our customers.

We have 4 9s availability for our critical applications. We're able to provide services to our customers via wm.com, our digital channel, and it has been quite a success story. We still have work to cover, but it has been following the right trajectory.

Gardner: Here at HP Discover, are there any developments that you're monitoring closely? Are there some things that you're particularly interested in that might help you continue to close the gap on quality?

We want to provide optimal solutions at a right price point for our customers and our business.

Roy: Sure. Things like understanding what's happening in the world of big data and HP’s views and position on that. I want to understand and learn about testing, software testing, how to test faster and produce better code, and to ensure, on a continuous basis that we're reducing the cost of running the business. We want to provide optimal solutions at a right price point for our customers and our business.

Gardner: On that topic of big data, are you referring to the data generated within IT, in your systems, to be able to better analyze and react to that? Or perhaps also the data from your marketplace, things that your customers might be saying in social media, for example? Or is it all of the above?

Roy: It’s all of the above. We have internal data that we're harvesting. We want to understand what it’s telling us. And we'd like to predict certain trends of our system, across the use of our applications.

Externally, we have 18 call centers. We get user calls. We also want to know our customer better and serve them the best. So we want to move into a situation where we can take their issues, frame them into solutions, and proactively service them the best in our industry.

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