If you ever have been to a fancy restaurant, chances are that multiple chefs and kitchen personnel have worked together to compose the dish you ordered: the chef, the sous-chef, the sauté, the fry cook... In a control room as well, there are many different roles and responsibilities, and everybody is working together to reach a common goal: maintaining the overview on operations and performing a swift reaction when things get critical.
A restaurant’s kitchen can only function well when it has a well-organized structure and when all people involved are effectively communicating with each other. Usually, kitchen duties are well defined and, depending on the restaurant’s seating capacity and menu diversity, several chefs could be working on the dishes.
The same is true for managing critical operations. Critical-decision making is a collaborative effort of several stakeholders, one that is based on timely communication of the available information. Of course, we cannot put all control rooms on the same footing. Operators in a Network Operations Center (NOC) clearly have other worries than dispatchers in Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) have. Yet, the roles and responsibilities are often quite similar.
In this article, we’ll present you with the five essential roles in managing critical operations.
The control room operator or dispatcher is probably the most visible role in the control room. And rightfully so, because the role of the operator in keeping operations up and running cannot be overestimated. Be it in a Traffic Management Center (TMC), a Network Operations Center (NOC), or a Healthcare Operations Center (HOC), an operator’s job is to monitor the process, manage alarms, maximize responsiveness, and minimize downtime.
Operators always need to be on guard, ready to react to unexpected events and solve problems. This can either be a minor event, such as planning the replacement of a component as part of a company’s asset maintenance program, or a more pressing emergency, such as a detected road incident.
To make the right decisions faster, both for day-to-day monitoring and for unexpected events, operators rely on an increasing amount of data. Managing these different content sources (OT and IT) can be stressful, and operators are being attributed with more responsibilities and higher workloads, which put more pressure on the operator role. For example, in many control rooms today, operators also need to monitor social media, because these channels have become a way for customers to report outage and request service. For operators, it is also a way to report on an incident firsthand when field teams have not arrived on site yet.
Control room operators might be the ones who try to triage problems, but they need people in the field to execute the solution. Sometimes a single person, sometimes an entire team, the field worker or field engineer often has a direct line with the control room operator. Again, the nature of the field operator’s work can range from installation maintenance to incident response. Other names for this role are maintenance engineer or first responder.
Although the field worker is not physically located in the control room, she or he is a crucial part of control room operations. To be able to solve problems efficiently, control room operators need to maintain a constant and reliable communication flow with field operators, and they always need to be able to see the bigger picture.
When a crisis or unexpected event needs to be escalated, that’s where the control room manager or supervisor steps into the spotlight. A control room manager leads the control room staff, so that work is performed efficiently and in accordance with policies and procedures. A control room manager will also need to react quickly and calmly to adverse situations. A manager can oversee the tasks of multiple operators inside one control room or in multiple control rooms.
A control room manager or supervisor needs to:
Control room operations are increasingly sourced as a cloud-based service, making it easier for remote agencies and sites to collaborate. An increasing amount of data sources (IT and OT) is being processed by control room and workflow software. At the same time, the pressure to keep control room networks up and running and secure is rising.
As a result, control room IT and security specialists have an increasingly important role to play in today’s control rooms. IT and security specialists are not involved with monitoring the application in and of itself, but they keep an eye on network technologies, architectures, and control room network traffic, so that control room operations remain up and running. Naturally, IT and security specialists are crucial for preventing cyber security breaches.
Control room operations are increasingly about understanding all the different sources that come in and knowing what to do with that information. That’s why control room teams today often include business and workflow analysts who need to make sense of it all, and who support operators and managers in the decision-making process.
In process control for example, data-driven analytics provide the input for predictive maintenance programs. Analysts support control room operations by processing the growing volumes and types of data and use that data to produce valuable insights. Manufacturers today already add profitability control solutions to their ERP systems that help them detect and visualize potential process improvements and enable them to measure the financial performance of a process in real time. Analysts are usually part of larger organizations or companies that want to keep an eye on trends and KPIs.
Depending on the application and size of the operation, some of the above-mentioned roles might be combined into one role. On the other hand, larger organizations might want to add more layers and specialized roles to the team.
Although the names and job titles may vary depending on the application or market, the roles in a critical operations team are often quite similar. Usually, the team’s challenges are centered around keeping an overview of the incoming information flow, making sense of the content that is presented, and then making the best possible decision based on collaborative insights.
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Segment Marketing Manager of Control Rooms
Jordan focuses on control rooms at Barco utilizing her multi-industry knowledge and experience in sales, product marketing and strategic marketing to bring dynamic strategies to control rooms. She is based in Atlanta, GA.