Christmas shift 2020.
I walk out for my unusual lunch break. Unusual because I’m taking my lunch break at 2 p.m. This is, however, the norm at Digital Network Operations Centre, Safaricom’s Situation Room based at Safaricom Care Centre (SCC).
Because we can’t leave a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year network unmanned, we take turns getting lunch.
Sarit Center is packed! It feels like we’re back in March: pandemic hysteria, tissue paper hoarding, long queues, only this time it’s festive season last minute shopping before people rush to the countryside.
Every shop has a lot of people traffic, and I was really praying Carrefour would be an outlier. It would be simple: I’ll walk in, grab my snack from the deli and head back to my desk. 10-items-or-less counters normally move quickly, and besides, with STK-Push now integrated in the Point of Sale (POS) systems, checking out should be a breeze.
STK-Push is the development that enables a merchant to initiate the transaction and all the customer has to do is to enter their PIN on their phone to make the payment using M-PESA.
I’d never thought I’d see election-day like queues in a supermarket. Carts were lined up and parked like traffic on Nairobi’s Uhuru Highway on a Friday evening. Everyone seemed exasperated, customers and staff alike.
“Mbona line haisongi?!!! Tuko na haraka!! (Why aren’t the lines moving? We are in a hurry) We are travelling tomorrow!”
“Pea watu wa M-PESA queue yao! (Assign those using M-PESA their own queue) Some of us are paying cash!!”
It’s always disheartening hearing someone complain about where you work.
I tried calling the M-PESA desk back in the office to enquire if there was a fault on PIN on App or STK-Push.
My call drops.
I try calling someone different.
I formulate a quick theory: The Small Cell Base Transmission Station (BTS) that serves Carrefour must be out of service. This means even if they try sending M-PESA transactions on the till, they will not complete. Worse still, since there’s no network, they can’t even contact the call center for assistance.
I move to a location inside Sarit where I could place a call to the Nairobi West Desk at NOC, to ask if the small cell in Sarit was down.
“It’s down. There are some power alarms there. FO was at a different site… He’s heading there now but there’s a lot of traffic because people are travelling. It will take him almost two hours to get there.”
Two hours is too much time. Customers are frustrated. People are hungry (me included!). Some were even returning items to the counters, maybe to try a different supermarket.
I reach out to one of the till operators and enquire about what problems they are having, and he confirms my theory.
“Hatuna network, imekuwa hivi from around 1pm (There is no network connection. It has been this way since around 1pm).”
“Manager wa hapa ako wapi? (Where is the manager?) Maybe I can assist, I work at Safaricom,” I replied as I brandished my work badge. He took me to the manager, who asked whether I could help with their situation.
“Ukiweza kutusort utakuwa umetusaidia sana (It would be very useful if you could sort out the issue for us),” he said.
Within no time, we were at the location of the base station that serves Carrefour, a big server room that houses most of the systems that keep Carrefour in operation.
I placed a quick call to the field engineer for directions to where our equipment might be, amongst the many installations that serve other providers in the location. The network in this room was good so it must be served by another In-Building Solution (IBS) or small cell within the building. With his guidance, I located our rack and got down to business. Meanwhile, the manager was on the phone with one of the till operators, hoping for a miracle.
“Ebu angalia kama imerudi (Check whether it is back on),” his constant question.
I felt like I had all their hopes resting on my shoulders.
Sometimes, the simplest of things can cause the biggest of pains. All the frustration back at the supermarket floor could be traced to one of the simplest electrical fail-safes known to technology: Tripped Circuit Breakers.
The tripping of circuit breakers is essentially a self-protecting mechanism that prevents damage of equipment whenever there is an electrical fault. These electrical faults would include circuit overloads or short circuits (a live wire coming in contact with neutral wires) and ground fault surges.
For this particular scenario, we had utility power (mains power) fluctuations, which resulted in circuit overload, with the circuit breaker tripping to prevent damage to our equipment.
Remedial action includes resetting the breakers (assuming the mains fluctuations is not sustained), increasing the circuit breaker rating as well as fixing the mains fluctuations.
I did a quick reset of the breakers and a few seconds later I could hear the cheers and celebrations from the staff on the other end of the manager’s phone. Their devices had started working again! The manager gave me a quick “Ahsante sana boss!” but with eyes that seemed desperate for a hug.
Shortly after, I began the walk back to SCC, snack in one hand, customer satisfaction on the other. I admit it felt really good to have “saved the day” as they say, more so doing something that was not in my line of work. I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and with the right kind of mindset: Notoriously Customer Obsessed.
This story is part of Safaricom@20 celebrations. For 20 years, Safaricom has developed new technologies and innovations to support and enable Kenyans to communicate, connect and to go beyond.
By Paul Kamau Mwangi