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How To Create Effective Real-time Alerts (Step-By-Step Guide)

April 19, 2023
6 min. read
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How To Create Effective Real-time Alerts (Step-By-Step Guide)

Introduction

Proactive detection of issues or opportunities in business operations is crucial for companies to stay ahead of the game. Real-time monitoring involves the continuous monitoring of data streams to detect anomalies or deviations from expected values.

Setting up a proper alerting process for detected incidents is essential for effective communication and collaboration between teams. However, many companies fail to do this, leading to a lack of trust in alerting and turn, limited usage.

Despite the challenges in setting up an effective alerting process, there is a huge business potential in alerting if done well. Effective real-time alerting can help companies to prevent issues before they escalate, improve response times to critical events, and enhance collaboration between teams. It can also lead to increased efficiency, cost savings, and better customer satisfaction. 

5 Most Common Challenges With Alerting

Creating an effective real-time alerting system can be challenging. After working with both business operations as well as data teams across the globe for 10+ years, we have collected the most common challenges that hinder the effective utilisation of alerting. 

  1. Coming up with monitoring ideas is not straightforward

To come up with useful monitoring ideas, you need to have a deep understanding of your business operations. This involves understanding the workflows, processes, and systems that drive your operations, as well as knowing what are the actual priorities in the business. Another similarly important filter is understanding if the relevant data points are existing in the database or data warehouse for the business events or metrics that require monitoring. Teams often face that the requested monitor is not feasible due to not having the data in the right place or format to support real-time alerting.

  1. Creating the conditions for real-time alerts requires SQL knowledge

Creating the conditions for real-time alerts often requires SQL knowledge, which usually only a smaller subset of the team members have (primarily business analysts or engineers). That can create a barrier to entry for creating and maintaining data alerts. This can lead to bottlenecks in the process of setting up effective alerts, as team members need to rely on a small number of colleagues who can set up the conditions. 

  1. Sending too many alerts can generate alert fatigue

Sending too many real-time alerts can be overwhelming for team members, leading to alert fatigue. When team members are receiving too many notifications, they may find it challenging to prioritise which alerts are most critical, leading to confusion and delays in responding to critical issues. Furthermore, receiving too many notifications can disrupt workflows, resulting in frustration and decreased productivity. Knowing exactly which alerts are relevant is difficult and requires constant feedback from the business teams and iterations on the queries. However, if there is a bottleneck in the team members who can modify those alerts, this iterative process cannot work. 

  1. Alerts shall be received real-time to make them relevant

If alerts are not received in real-time, team members may not be able to respond quickly enough to prevent or mitigate issues. If an alert is received too late, then it becomes irrelevant, and only contributes to the alert fatigue mentioned in the previous point. However, running real-time alerting has several technological and infrastructural challenges that companies need to cope with.

  1. Alerts shall be received by the right people at the right channel

Sending alerts to the right people at the right channel is critical to ensure that the alerts are addressed promptly and effectively. The right people may vary depending on the nature of the alert and the department involved. The right channel for an alert may vary depending on the urgency, criticality of the issue, or team preference. Setting up these workflows requires lots of integrations with different communication channels and 3rd party systems that software engineering teams have to develop and then maintain.

Step-By-Step Guide To Create Effective Alerts

Given the challenges above, most business operations teams have tried alerting in the past, but gave up using them as they couldn’t generate the expected results. We argue that this is not because alerting cannot bring significant results, but rather that they were not implemented in the right way. 

Below we summarised the 5 steps that business operations teams can follow - with some support from their data teams - in order to create an effective real-time alerting system. 

  1. Define the 10 most important monitoring ideas

Defining the most critical areas that need monitoring in your business operations is crucial for change management. We recommend that you create a 2x2 matrix based on impact and effort (data availability & readiness) and try to focus only on the high impact and low effort segment first. This will show quick results and facilitate the change management process.

To do this, you need to understand their business operations thoroughly and identify areas that are essential for your business's success. One way to identify critical areas is to use dashboards and KPIs/OKRs. Ask yourself, what are some business events or granular KPIs that drive the currently prioritised KPIs? Another way to identify critical areas is to analyse the most common incidents that take most of your operations teams' time. 

As part of this process, you should be able to come up with a longlist of ideas that you can categorise into the 2x2 matrix mentioned above.

  1. Generate the data views needed

Once you've identified the areas that need monitoring, collect the relevant data sources needed for monitoring. This is the part where you’ll need your data teams’ support. If you prioritised  the right monitoring ideas, they should understand the importance based on the potential value at stake.

Ideally, these data sources should already be stored in the company's database or data warehouse. If not, you will need to push data from other systems and transform it into the right format, that’s why it’s important to also look at the expected effort in the previous step.

Once you have collected the relevant data sources, the next step is to create a few ready-to-use data views that can be used as the basis for the real-time alert queries. Data views are pre-configured views of your data that are optimised for querying and analysis. They can help you quickly and easily access the data you need for monitoring and alerting.

  1. Develop the integrations to send the data alerts

Understand which channels are commonly used by your operations team, partners, and clients, such as SMS, Whatsapp, Slack, Teams, Zendesk, and JIRA. 

Once you have identified the channels to use, the next step is to develop integrations that enable alerts to be sent through those channels. This may involve using APIs provided by the communication platform or developing custom integrations using webhooks or other methods. For example, if your team uses Slack, you can develop a Slack integration that sends alerts to a specific channel or user. Similarly, if your team uses JIRA, you can develop a JIRA integration that creates tickets for specific types of alerts. 

When developing integrations with these systems, you can decide to integrate with them directly, or use middleware platforms that provide many of these integrations with a single API.

  1. Create the alerts

Creating alerts is an essential step in setting up an effective real-time alerting system. Alerts are triggered when certain conditions are met, and they can help your team stay informed of critical incidents and respond quickly to potential problems. You can decide to set up hard conditions which are basically pre-defined rules or formulas, or just rely on standard anomaly detection techniques that will alert you if there is an outlier in the data.

Besides setting up the conditions for alerting, you should also think about how frequently you want to run these queries. Do you want to monitor the data continuously, to receive real-time alerts, or only at certain times of the day or week? The frequency should differ based on the type of alerts - for instance, you may want to run a delivery delay monitor continuously, but run the stock level monitor at certain times of the day, for instance after the restocking process has been completed.

You should also consider whether you want to retrospectively monitor existing alerts and automatically close them if the conditions are not met anymore. This can significantly improve your business operations teams’ efficiency, as they can get notified if they don’t need to work on a certain alert anymore. 

Once the queries have been created, you need to develop workflows to ensure that the alerts are sent to the right people at the right time. This involves determining who should receive the alerts based on their roles and responsibilities. You should also set up escalation paths so that alerts are forwarded to additional team members if they are not acknowledged or acted upon within a certain timeframe.

  1. Develop a feedback mechanism to improve the alerts

Finally, it's important to collect feedback on the alerts' usefulness and effectiveness and improve the alert settings to deliver even higher business results. You should collect data on how alerts are being received and utilised and empower business operations teams to suggest changes on the conditions or the workflows themselves. It’s really important to respond to these needs quickly in order to maintain the effectiveness of the alerting system. 

You can also use this feedback to create a continuous improvement loop to refine the monitoring system continuously. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the alerts generated by the monitoring system are actionable, reliable, and provide value to the operations team.

Bonus: Do This Without Coding & Powered By AI

As seen above, implementing an effective real-time alerting process for business operations can be a complex and time-consuming task that involves multiple functions within the organisation, including developers, data engineers, data analysts, and business operations stakeholders. It requires alignment between these different teams to ensure that the right data sources are identified, the necessary data views are generated, and the alerts are sent to the right people through the appropriate channels.

The way to simplify this process is to invest in a dedicated solution for business operations alerting and routing instead of building it from scratch. This approach not only saves time and money but also makes the entire process much easier. With a dedicated business alerting tool, organisations can quickly set up and configure the real-time alerting process, while the necessary integrations and workflows can be created without extensive development efforts. 

We’ve built Flawless, a centralised alerting & routing tool for businesses with complex operations, so that they could set up effective real-time alerts in a few clicks.

One of the major benefits of our solution is the ability to connect data sources and destinations in just a few minutes, thanks to the pre-built connectors. The AI Scanner provides personalised monitor ideas to help you detect issues or opportunities quickly and effectively. 

Creating flexible real-time alerts is easy with Flawless and you don't need any SQL skills to do so. Our Excel-like UI allows you to set up conditions that are super flexible, including rules, frequency, and auto-complete features. You can also route alerts to over 10 destinations, as well as set up escalation workflows to avoid alert fatigue.

Collaboration on alerts and incidents is simplified with an in-built event management system, which allows you to work with your own ticketing system or in our Slack application. Additionally, you can gain 1-click insights from all the real-time alert logs, enabling you to improve both your alerting process and overall operations.

If you're interested in trying out Flawless for yourself, contact us for a free trial.

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