How Seeing The Future Helped NCR’s IT Leaders Do More

by drjim on June 10, 2010

Turns Out You Don’t Need A Fortune Teller To See The Future

Turns Out You Don’t Need A Fortune Teller To See The Future

“Think outside of the box” is what IT Leaders seem to be hearing more and more every day. Well that’s great advice, but how do you actually go about doing it? It turns out that IT managers over at NCR seem to have come up with a way to do this. Maybe we should all take a moment and listen to what they have to say…

The World Of Information Processing Systems

NCR (once upon a time known as National Cash Register) is a company that these days makes all sorts of electronic devices: ATM machines, data kiosks, software to run data warehouses, etc. It turns out that they are very, very successful.
Samuel Greengard had a chance to sit down with some NCR IT managers and find out what makes them tick. They’ve actually run into a bit of a problem: they’ve almost been too successful.
When you can count 19 of the top 20 banks as customers for your ATM machines, you clearly have a lot of electronic products out in the field. NCR’s issue is that with that many devices out there, a reactive approach to handling repair and maintenance (you call, we come) just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The company needed a new approach.

Out Of The Box Thinking

The IT managers who work for NCR were aware of all of the data that they had on hand. They connect to each of their products out in the field and get a steady stream of monitoring data sent back to NCR’s data centers all the time. This would explain why they have a 24PB data warehouse.
The NCR IT managers realized that they probably had enough data on hand to start to try to predict the future. For example, if a particular type of ATM machine had a historical record of failing after 100,000 operations, then as this type of machine started to approach 100,000 operations, they knew that a failure was coming up.
It’s really no breakthrough thought to realize that with this kind of knowledge, NCR now sends its repair teams out to service equipment in the field before they break – sorta like seeing the future.

Fortune Telling Equipment

Although the concept might be simple, it takes teams of dedicated IT staffers to make it happen. Specifically, although NCR has reams of data on their deployed equipment, turning this sea of information into usable knowledge requires some serious IT horsepower.
Very large storage systems, ultra fast servers, and complex algorithms are required to make sense of it all. However, the value that the IT teams are bringing to the table doesn’t stop there. NCR field technicians now carry Blackberrys that are used to tell them where to go next. The NCR IT managers have just about automated the whole process.

What This Means For You

Just making sure that servers stay up and that the company’s email system is available is no longer enough for an IT team to do. Innovative thinking is required in order to find ways for the IT department to help the rest of the company compete in the global marketplace.
Over at NCR their IT managers have found ways to leverage their IT systems and data in order to boost customer satisfaction. By mining data collected from customer equipment and running it through IT systems, NCR’s IT managers have been able to predict when equipment will need service so that outages can be prevented.
Novel thinking is nothing new in IT teams. However, applying that thinking to finding ways that the company can move faster and do more is what IT Leaders need to be doing these days.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Knowledge

Question For You: Do you think that developing fault monitoring algorithms is a good use of IT resources or should you buy them off-the-shelf?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As an IT Leader it can be all to easy to become focused on just what your immediate team is working on in terms of projects and goals. The problem with this is that doing this allows you to take your eyes off of what’s really important: the success of the company. There’s got to be a way for you to do your IT job while still helping the overall company move forward…

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