Anne Mitchell, Head of Support for Hutchinson Networks, outlines the importance of a having a team fundamentally based on skills and why nurturing young female talent from an early age is an important step to achieving this goal. As part of her role in managed services, Anne directs the Network Operations Centre (NOC) at Hutchinson Networks, which supports both UK and overseas clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
How can the tech industry be more inclusive for women?
I think it starts early and although things are getting better there's still less women entering the technology industry than men. We need to aim to be inclusive from an earlier stage, such as aiming talks or seminars at schools, before university. Another issue is that many women don't progress into senior management or executive roles. Women often have to push themselves forward into those positions and belonging to a network of supportive women who have done that before successfully is incredibly useful.
If skills are so important, what advice would you give to organisations looking to nurture them?
“I think it's fundamental for young girls to see women in technology and understand that it is a place that's inclusive.”
In a previous role we were very keen on apprenticeships and targeted all the local high schools that surrounded our organisation. I and other women would go out to local high schools and speak to particularly the sixth years.
When I did a schools outreach programme, the amount of apprenticeships and female apprentices who applied that year dramatically increased on previous years, I think in no small part to the engagement that we did with the school.
What do you think are the largest misconceptions about women working in the technology industry?
I've always felt completely comfortable and respected in all the roles I've held because I’ve worked with my peers, sharing my knowledge and skills with theirs, it’s a level playing field. The Network Operations Centre (NOC) is the perfect example of this: despite being a multicultural team it’s very inclusive as and as our skills meld together, we all work together to provide great service.
In your career what's been the most challenging hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
My career has been full of challenges – it's what draws me to roles. I seek out places where I can make a difference and truly relish transformation projects. If you ever hear me complaining about how busy I am in the NOC I've brought that on myself.
Can you briefly tell us about yourself and describe your role?
My role is to ensure that we provide excellent service to our clients through our Network Operations Centre and our new I.T. Service Desk. I've been in the role for just over three months now, after coming directly from setting up a new I.T. service desk for a large UK-based bank. Before that, I managed a busy service desk for several high-profile national organisations.
The main difference between my role here and previous positions is mostly a cultural one. Hutchinson Networks I find is pioneering. It's not caught up with old ways of working or resistant to change. We're constantly striving to do things better and that's really refreshing.
What areas does Support cover?
The NOC is based in Edinburgh and responds to clients’ network requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Our clients range from UK critical infrastructure to global players in the technology industry. That means we look after networks all over the world.
We provide a wide range of support from alerting our clients to fluctuations in the performance of their website to offering a fully managed service where we lead incidents through to resolution, which can involve engaging the engineering team, project managers and third-party suppliers. While the nature of incidents does differ, the constant is keeping everyone up to date using our major instant management process.
Our new Service Desk is the first port of call for our clients. It resolves end-user I.T. issues, ranging from basic things such as password resets to more complex profile issues. We provide Wi-Fi support and requests, software and hardware support, asset management – including building and deploying new machines – and application support.
The team never knows what the client will bring, so collaboration within the NOC is key. Working together, shooting ideas and sharing knowledge is fundamental to approaching the challenges that clients bring. The NOC team is composed of very highly skilled network and desktop engineers with specializations in all the areas their client needs. So, while the range of client issues can be wide, we make sure we have the skills to match them.
They are a diverse team as well – we've got a real mixture of ages and backgrounds. We come from all over the world, because as I said before the NOC has a wide range of expectations and requirements placed upon it. It's the ideal place to both start out in I.T. but also develop networking and higher-level skills. The NOC can be utilised as a path on to things like network engineering or solution architecture, that sort of thing. We're always looking to bring on apprentices or school leavers.
What does a typical day involve for you?
Right now, I'm mostly getting to know our customers and ensuring we're doing everything we can to meet their needs. So, most days I might end by meeting people and delivering service reviews. As the NOC is a client-facing area of Hutchinson Networks, I need to be strategy-focused. I’m working to document all our support processes – adding structure to the team and incident management procedures. Our clients should be feeling these changes already with reduced resolution time and more formalised engagement. But there's much more to come.
How do you tailor support to different organisations?
Our foundation is ITIL, or I.T. Information Library. ITIL is an engagement methodology which aligns IT service management with the different needs of the different organisations that we look after. ITIL ensures that we do not blindly follow general practices but offer a bespoke service directly solving client needs along previous best practice, while also ensuring that you do things efficiently and everyone is informed and kept up to date while they are under your care.
What motivates you?
I'm motivated by doing a good job. There's a lot of personal satisfaction in that and I can be a bit of a perfectionist, so there's always a need to find a better way to do something.
Were you always aware that technology was a space that you wanted to enter?
I've been providing customer service in some form since my first job – working in a corner shop in my teens. But my first role in technology I got back in 2000, providing frontline support around dial-up internet. I discovered that I had a very logical way of thinking that lends itself to fixing things, improving processes, and combining customer requirements with technological capabilities.
What are your plans for the future of the Network Operations Centre?
“The range and complexity of client requirements we face today is matched only by the skills the team bring to the table.”
The Network Operations Centre is the hub to which most of our customers will go for advice and resolution. The work we carry out here is vital to our clients’ businesses. We're banking on more clients and more service requirements all the time, and the NOC is expanding and evolving to meet those challenges. We've got a new home at the Hutchinson Networks’ offices and are in the process of fitting new screens – think NASA's Mission Control but on a slightly smaller scale!
What’s your favourite way to unwind during your time off?
Well I have two young children, so they take up most of my time, but I also try to unwind with pottery. I take weekly local classes and practice sculptural and hand building techniques. I'm also a member of a local book group which is very conveniently held at a wine bar!
What advice would you give to a woman considering entering the technology industry?
Go for wherever you want, not to wherever you’re told.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
The best general piece of advice I’ve ever been given is that our list will never be done. Every time you take something off your to-do list, something else will appear. With that, I think it’s important to not measure your success on how small your to-do list is. There's always going to be improvement and something else to do.
“My advice for anyone working in or with support – if it's not on the ticket it didn't happen!”
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