The Tooling Abyss (2021)

By Joann Shumard, Comcast Cable

System support tools can be a vast ocean of internally-developed and externally-purchased groups of software solutions. This paper will focus on drivers and solutions to an organizational problem, the tooling abyss, that centers around the dual impacts of pace and sprawl of tools created and utilized to keep in stride with the innovation growth of the technology of our industry. This document will clarify the definition of what a tool is for our industry, identify the business impacts of our decisions, and recognize the perspectives of the user community.

“Just build a new one” is a typical response to developing tools to support new technology. This mantra has defined many aspects of the transformative technology growth in the industry. The “build a new” strategy, without a plan for the old, has led to an exponential growth of complex tools required to operate the business. This methodology increases user complexity and causes operational inefficiency.

Technology innovation has unlocked an expansive sea of data and knowledge, but this simultaneously created a myriad of tools making it more complex for the user communities. Increasing complexity can result in inefficiency, such as when a single team member must reference multiple interfaces to troubleshoot a single problem. This complexity creates and exacerbates perceptions of information overload. The concept of “adding new to old” has also shaped new challenges, like a sense of searching through an abyss of information when trying to find critical troubleshooting data. The influx of added information and operating multiple interfaces causes challenges for teams responsible for managing the customer experience, maintaining the plant, and monitoring system events.

The persistent launch of new technologies in the industry has driven a constant change in the tools needed to operate them. This paper will focus on building a strategy around making instrumental tooling decisions, concentrating on when to develop new, when to integrate, and when to sunset tools. Tooling culture will be discussed to delve into the psychology of change, and the navigation of managing evolution, including the emotional attachment to tools team members, have historically known. This paper and presentation will review strategies on tool development that are based on operational efficiency while supporting new technology and driving overall business strategies.

The purpose of this paper is to understand how more effective development methods can lead to improved team performance across multiple technology tooling systems. Evaluating real-world organizational problems provides a pathway to investigate a specific business problem and seek opportunities that shape future business goals or strategies. The information will enhance the understanding of how business evolution, financial requirements, and consumer needs have led to the multitude of systems utilized in today’s operations. The paper will focus on the history of how the tooling abyss has been created and the impacts on the user community. It will propose new opportunities in managing tooling systems to support the development of plausible and implementable solutions.

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