Best Practices

Alerting 101: How to Set Up Effective Alerts and Triggers

November 14, 2023

Banner image introducing Realtime Alerts that drive Faster Incident Response

TL;DR

In this article, we understand what is an actionable alert, why they matter, how setting good alerts will make your teams life easier and processes more efficient. Actionable alerts notify the right recipients with contextual information to address issues promptly. Best Practices:

  1. Monitor critical and actionable metrics.
  2. Set proper thresholds and notification systems.
  3. Prioritize alerts by severity.
  4. Use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for resolution.
  5. Ensure alerts are relevant and avoid overload.

Steps to Implement:

  • Centralize data.
  • Align alerts with business goals.
  • Continuously review and refine alerts.

Manually creating and managing custom alerts is complex, time-consuming, and relies heavily on scarce engineering resources. With Locale you can do all of this and much more very intuitively.

Implementing alerts and triggers for your business KPIs and events is the key to proactive operations. These triggers watch over critical indicators and events, intimating you when things go awry. They promote accountability and collaboration, aligning everyone in your business operations team with your business goals. They are your secret weapon for achieving operational excellence and giving your customers a great experience.

In this article, you will:

  • Learn what actionable alerts are and why they matter
  • Discover tips for creating effective, actionable alerts
  • Understand what to monitor and what not to monitor
  • Get steps for setting up a self-managing alerting system
  • Explore real examples of effective alert creation
  • Discover how to easily set up alerts without relying on cron jobs or depending on your engineering teams.

What is an Actionable Alert?

Meme on a trigger using gunshot

An actionable alert is a notification that provides contextual and relevant information to the right recipients to take immediate, purposeful actions and address a problem effectively.

Just like a flare illuminates the darkness and captures attention, demanding an immediate response, an actionable alert is designed to stand out and prompt immediate action.

Nobody said creating an alerting system for your operations is straightforward. If alerts are not actionable and not set up correctly, they cause alert fatigue, causing people to completely ignore them instead of helping them resolve issues proactively. Why?

Overwhelming Volume: An excess of alerts overwhelms employees, making it challenging to distinguish critical alerts from less important ones.

  1. Poor Prioritization: Lack of effective alert prioritization leads to constant interruptions, causing employees to ignore or disregard alerts altogether.
  2. False Alarms: Frequent false alerts erode trust in the alerting system, causing employees to become desensitized and less responsive.
  3. Vague Alerts: Alerts that lack actionable or critical information can frustrate employees because you need to use other dashboards and reports for added insights.
  4. Notification Overload: Alerts delivered through multiple channels, such as email, text, and chat, can contribute to sensory overload, leading to fatigue.
  5. Siloed Data Sources: Data sources are scattered across various tools, making it challenging to find the information needed to diagnose and resolve problems effectively.

What makes an alert actionable?

How can we strike a balance between timely alert delivery and minimizing both false alarms and missed issues? Additionally, how do we ensure that our response teams aren't disturbed by unnecessary alerts during late hours? Actionable alerts are generated when necessary, contain concise information, and are appropriately handled.

1. How to set alerts

1.1 Set up the right monitoring frequency

Not every alert requires real-time notification because some issues may not have an immediate impact on operations or may not warrant immediate action. Real-time alerts are crucial for critical and time-sensitive events, but for less urgent matters, delayed notifications may suffice, reducing alert fatigue and ensuring that responders are only engaged when necessary.

1.2 Define correct thresholds

Ensure you have a good understanding of what constitutes normal conditions and consider testing different thresholds for alerts. Historical data can be valuable for this. If you're configuring a new alert, it's okay not to have this information initially, but make it a priority to gather it over time.

1.3 Set the right notification system

Avoid sending multiple alerts for the same problem, whether they originate from the same rule or different rules detecting the same core issue. This practice prevents alert fatigue and ensures that non-duplicate alerts are more likely to receive attention. Consider batching alerts when appropriate to consolidate similar notifications into a single message, reducing unnecessary redundancy.

1.4 Establish Priority Levels

Teams engage in various efforts to enhance customer experiences. Create a system where alerts are categorized based on their severity and impact. This way, teams can easily identify and address the most pressing issues. Define distinct priority levels such as P1 for critical outages, P2 for high severity, and P3 for lower-priority concerns.

1.5 Define a SOP/Playbook to solve the issue

Each actionable alert should come with a clear Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) outlining the step-by-step process for resolving the issue. This practice ensures consistency in how alerts are addressed throughout the organization, fostering clarity and a collective focus on delivering the best possible customer experience.

2. How to manage and resolve alerts

2.1 Send notifications to the user’s preferred channel:

Every actionable alert should meet your users where they are so that they see them quickly and can respond promptly, making the alert system more effective. The channels could include email, Slack, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, SMS, or Google Chat. What’s more important is that the messages and collaboration layer gets synced across these channels.

Screenshot of an alerts notification sent to Gmail

2.2 Make alert title very contextual:

The alert title being contextual implies that the recipient immediately knows why he received the alert, what the issue at hand and its effects. They should be able to act on it without having to open another report or dashboard. You do this by ensuring alerts are not missing critical details. One way to do this is to include links within the alert to resources on how to fix the issue or access debugging data.

Screenshot of a Locale alert with a contextual title

2.3 Tracking status and activity on every alert

A mechanism for incident resolution is essential. This can involve automatic resolution based on incoming data or manual resolution by users once they've taken the necessary steps. It's crucial to have a tracking system in place to monitor how alerts are addressed and the outcomes of their resolution, ensuring accountability and a clear record of actions taken.

Screenshot of a checkout alert

2.4 Set SLAs on resolution and give ample buffer time

Establishing Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for issue resolution is crucial in ensuring timely and efficient incident management. However, it's equally important to provide sufficient buffer time within these SLAs.

Screenshot of notification of uptime alerts on Locale

2.5 Follow escalation protocols

When a member of the operations team is unable to resolve an issue within the defined Service Level Agreement (SLA), an actionable alert should trigger an escalation to their manager. If the problem remains unresolved, it should further escalate to the leadership level. This guarantees that issues are directed to the appropriate authority level at the necessary juncture.

Screenshot on following the escalation protocols on Locale

What do you need to get started?

Here’s all you need in order to get started:

Data

  • Data Centralization: Data should be centralized in modern data warehouses like Snowflake and Redshift are evolving to store not only analytical but also operational data.
  • Accessibility: Ensure that you have the necessary permissions to access these data sources.
  • Data Quality and Reliability: Implement data pipelines to maintain clean, properly formatted data that can be readily acted upon.
  • Timeliness: Keep the data up to date at a frequency that aligns with the operational aspects you are monitoring and managing.

Business goals

Effective data management hinges on aligning metrics with business goals, involving stakeholders like business users, product managers, and engineers. It requires a responsive staffing plan for alert monitoring and a strategy for long-term system maintenance. To prevent fragmented logic, use a versatile tool for rule management, ensuring seamless coordination and optimization across processes and tools. Ultimately, successful data management centers on ensuring that the data strategy evolves with business growth and delivers a seamless customer experience.

Deciding what to monitor

Here are your decision criteria for what to monitor in a more concise format:

  1. Criticality: What aspects should we monitor that are too critical to overlook, directly influencing our business or operations?
  2. User Impact: Which metrics should we prioritize to ensure a smooth user experience without negative consequences?
  3. Actionability: What elements should be monitored that we can take immediate action on when issues arise, allowing for effective problem resolution?
  4. Uniqueness: What items should we monitor that have no other triggers or cannot be integrated into existing alert systems to prevent redundancy?
Flowchart on deciding what to monitor when tracking and managing incidents
A sample decision tree showing how to decide to monitor your checkout success rate.

Continuous Review and Iterations

To maintain an efficient alerting system, consider streamlining multiple alerting systems to gain a clearer view of their combined impact. It's also essential to track alert accountability over time, refining alerts with high false positive rates and consolidating those with significant overlap.  Treat monitoring as a structured process, incorporating version control for changes and rules, restricting alert setup to authorized individuals, implementing peer or manager review for alert updates, and thoroughly testing the impact of alerts on representative datasets. These practices ensure that your alerting system remains effective, manageable, and adaptable to future business needs with minimal maintenance.

What Should Not Be Setup as Alerts?

Informational Reporting Use case

Before creating an alert, make sure it is not a reporting use case. Knowing what not to alert is equally important. Informational reports help in:

  • Providing insights, trends, or data for long-term decision-making or monitoring
  • In-depth reference and analysis which is not time-sensitive
  • Offering a comprehensive view of historical data or performance over time

Tasks/Process Use Case

When there's a need for timely but not urgently addressed tasks, like customer support requests or account onboardings with a 1–2 day timeline, consider creating tickets and assigning them to your operations team. For setting up tasks, here are the guidelines:

  • Consolidate related requests into single tickets for efficiency.
  • Employ a specialized system for tracking tickets to ensure comprehensive resolution.
  • Clear out outdated tasks monthly to prevent accumulation and optimize workflow efficiency.

Conclusion

Implementing effective alerts is essential for achieving proactive operations management and delivering amazing customer experiences. However, manually creating and managing custom alerts is complex, time-consuming, and relies heavily on scarce engineering resources. There has to be an easier way for teams to set up and leverage the power of alerts tailored to their unique needs

With Locale, you can:

  • Set up SQL-based alerts in minutes with an intuitive UI
  • Get real-time notifications to proactively address issues
  • Streamline collaboration across teams and tools
  • Reduce alert noise through flexible delivery rules
  • Ensure accountability with robust tracking
Illustation depicting how quickly users can connect their data source to quickly setup alerts on Locale's platform

Locale simplifies building, managing, and monitoring alerts so any team can easily realize the full potential of alerts to transform operations.

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