A day in the life of TENET’s Service Support Centre

TENET's Service Support Centre management and maintenance of the SA national research and education network which provides the higher education and research community with Internet connectivity and various value-added services
A day in the life of TENET’s Service Support Centre

“Each member of the Service Support Centre (SSC) team is integral to successful client service. For us, passion for our clients and a continuous improvement of client service is mandatory,” says Lynette Wood, manager of the SSC at TENET. Considering that the main role of Wood’s team is the management and maintenance of the SA NREN (national research and education network) which provides the higher education and research community with Internet connectivity and various value-added services, this client-centric ethos is vitally important. This network connects over 450 sites (primarily belonging to universities and research councils) across all nine provinces with extensive bandwidth capacity.

One of the primary tasks of the TENET SSC is to monitor the network and respond to any problems that arise, liaising between it’s clients and service providers, to ensure the network remains reliable and that outages are kept to a minimum. While there are a number of redundant links in place to make sure a single broken link does not cripple the whole network, the team responds quickly to any problems to reduce negative impact to our community, both individually and collectively.

The SA NREN network is built to, and through, its client’s sites. This means many institutions act as points of presence (PoPs) on the network and so serve as a point of connection or an onward link to a different institution. This is different from a commercial provider where the PoP is usually in a centrally-located data centre. Communication in this model is critical as universities and research councils need to take an active interest in making sure the equipment at their site is up and running, not only for themselves but to ensure the flow of data traffic to the next site, which may be a completely different institution. Fortunately this system works because there is recognition in higher education and research that all are working together towards a common goal.

How this works in practice, explains Wood, is that a problem on the network will be picked up, be it from the SSC side through monitoring, or from a client contacting TENET directly. A key part of the SSC work is the liaison between service providers and clients to ensure that the latter are kept informed around what action is being taken to fulfil a request or fix a problem.

Problems or requests handled by the SSC can vary widely, ranging from break-fix network link issues, device hardware and software misbehaving, or clients requiring assistance in troubleshooting internal issues, among other issues which occur,” explains Wood. “Sometimes expertise will be drawn from a client’s IT contact or team on site or at their main campus who have experience in resolving a particular issue, or it may encompass leading a non-technical user at a site through troubleshooting steps to arrive at a suitable conclusion in order to restore connectivity. If success is not forthcoming, the SSC team will either engage a particular provider or senior internal skill to assist further in remediating any issues.”

Innovation in response to pandemic

Much changed in the world of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and not necessarily all for the worse. For the SSC the switch to working remotely meant new innovations and tackling the same problems from a new direction.

“What we began to do really successfully in 2020 was use WhatsApp groups to communicate with our individual institutions,” says Wood. “We used to struggle to get hold of our contacts at the various sites and this would lead to many delays in remediating problems. Now, we have all the relevant people from a single institution on one WhatsApp group, so everybody is kept up-to-date with any issues, and it makes it easier to get quick responses from a specific site as we can reach out to a few people in one go.”

For major outages or problems that affect several institutions Wood says she relies on the REN-News mailing list to get the message out.

For Wood, the real joy of the SSC and the close communication with it’s clients is the rewarding feeling that comes from being able to provide prompt assistance, along with collaborative dialogue, from different tiers of client and TENET internal expertise around issues and requests.This, she acknowledges, is only possible because of TENET’s relatively small client base, which remains largely static. This allows the SSC to engage with institutions and research councils in meaningful ways.

“We are in near constant communication with our clients, and the WhatApp groups have gone a long way to strengthening these relationships and building a sense of camaraderie,” says Wood. “The support team knows that when there is an issue, they need to make sure our client is always in the loop. In doing so, we are relaying the message that we care, and that we are there for them.”