Keith Osbourne, Production Control Analyst, Product Operations, Allstate Northern Ireland
1. What is Product Operations?
Production Operations is located in the new Allstate NI Command Centre in Belfast which is a mirror of the Command Centre based in Allstate Head Office in Chicago. We operate 24/7 365 days a year ensuring that Allstate technologies and systems are available for the business. Product Operations are the eyes and ears of the Allstate Enterprise, monitoring and resolving issues before they impact service.
2. What does your job entail?
I work in Production Control Distributed Systems in the Workload Management team which is based in Dallas, Hudson and Belfast. We are responsible for monitoring the UNIX and Wintel batch and backup processing using mainly Tivoli monitoring tools.
An example of one of the roles we fulfill Monday to Friday is monitoring the Investments batch jobs and dealing with any issues that may arise such as jobs running long or failed jobs. Any issues that arise need to be resolved in a short time frame to ensure the daily Investment Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are met. Successful completion of the Investment batch schedule provides Allstate Investment traders with the critical information they need to undertake trading in the financial markets at the start of day.
General responsibilities include:
- Workload Management — We monitor the status of batch jobs and ensure that they are executing in line with critical path checkpoints.
- Incident Management — When a job aborts an incident ticket is produced. We can either resolve by following documented procedures or escalate to the client and wait for instructions on what action they want us to take.
- Request Management — We receive requests from clients for specific jobs e.g. to hold a job and release at a later time in the day or to rerun a job.
- Systems Management — This includes monitoring tools and servers for activity and health. It includes checking that incident tickets are being produced, that backup jobs are picking up bytes continuously and are backed up to completion.
- Problem Management — We follow up with the client on jobs that abort on a regular basis. This ensures that the batch processing executes efficiently and effectively.
3. Is it 9-5?
No I work on 3rd shift and start at 4.45am and finish at 1.15pm which is a little different to the norm, but for me this is a good thing!
I travel from Portrush so with the early start I don't get stuck in traffic. As I finish at 1.15pm I can be home to pick up my son from school. Then there are always the things that need to be done within office hours and working shifts means you get a chance to do these in the afternoon! Shift work is also an added bonus in the summer months as you get to enjoy the longer days. Who likes to be stuck in an office working in the afternoon when the sun is shining?
4. How did you get into this line of work?
After completing a degree in Environmental Science I was faced with the task of finding work or returning to further study. I came out of University at a time when jobs were scarce and the economic outlook was somewhat bleak. I decided to use my degree for jobs that would accept a degree from any discipline, rather than focusing solely on the environmental sector. Allstate NI stood out to me as it was a company offering good long term opportunities as they were growing and expanding in Northern Ireland and they had a reputation for looking after their employees.
5. What qualities are required for your job—personal and professional?
It is important to be able to work as part of a team. I am fortunate to work with a great bunch of people. Everyone in the team supports and helps one another and this is what gets the job done.
Punctuality is crucial with shift work; you have to be in work on time to take the handover from the previous shift. For me this is never a problem as there is very little traffic on the roads during my early morning commute!
Good analytical and problem solving skills are also needed along with attention to detail to keep everything on track so we can meet our SLAs.
6. What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?
The biggest challenges for me are when complications arise with the tools or servers we use when SLA's need to be met. However, overcoming these situations, coming out the other side and getting the job completed within timeframes is rewarding and gives me a great sense of achievement that I have made a contribution to Allstate ensuring that our systems and applications are available and ready for business.
7. What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I get the opportunity I like to travel; I have always enjoyed visiting different countries and experiencing different cultures. Working in an office environment I like to get outdoors as much as possible in my spare time. Rather than always going to the gym, I often go out on my bike which helps me unwind. Horse riding and clay pigeon shooting tend to be reserved for special occasions as they are expensive hobbies! I plan each year to go fly fishing but never seem to get around to it. With two children my life outside work is always pretty busy, there is always something that needs doing or someone who needs a lift somewhere, but I wouldn't be without them. The Production Control team also meets up to show off their skills in a game of indoor football from time to time!
8. Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?
A lot of people may do it, but as you get older the thought of it becomes more daunting; I always wanted to enhance my qualifications to avail of work opportunities and so took the plunge and went back to full time study and completed my degree as a mature student.
9. Who has inspired you most in your life?
My colleagues inspire me to be the best that I can be and give me inspiration from the work they put into charity and community work within Northern Ireland. They volunteer and raise money to help the local community through different Allstate NI run programmes. I myself have been lucky enough to be able to participate as a volunteer in Business in the Community's 'Give and Gain Day' earlier this year where I did a bit of gardening for a local community centre.
10. What does the future hold for Product Operations?
Allstate NI is committed to promoting the IT sector in Northern Ireland. The sector is growing rapidly here and we are expanding our operations meaning there are a number of opportunities to get into this line of work. This paints a positive picture for the future of Product Operations and Allstate NI.