The Tech Stack You Need to Build Robust and Effective Virtual Operation Centers

Discover the essential tech stack required to establish a successful Virtual Operation Center (VOC) for efficient remote operations.

I. Introduction

All types of operations centers play a critical role in industries like construction, utilities, and oil and gas, as they help coordinate and monitor various aspects of the business, including production, maintenance, logistics, and safety. Virtualizing these centers enables companies to adapt to changing work environments and incorporate remote or blended workforces; in many industries, a remote workforce is already a necessary part of the work.

A Virtual Operation Center (VOC) is not a centralized platform but a flexible set of tools and a repeatable approach that allows companies to coordinate and manage their work and processes remotely, providing real-time access to data and resources to a geographically dispersed workforce.

There has been an explosion of cost-effective cloud-based resources, collaboration tools, and connectivity options in the last few years. However, only some companies have moved to adopt them in a meaningful and cohesive manner decisively. Now may be a good time to rethink old strategies and establish a tech stack to build and support these initiatives.

"A technology stack, or tech stack, is the collection of tools, platforms, apps, and pieces of software that a company uses to build its products, carry out its business operations, and monitor its performance metrics. A tech stack can also include coding languages." 

Having a solid tech stack is crucial for building a Virtual Operation Center (VOC) for several reasons:

  • Efficiency and productivity: A well-designed tech stack ensures that the tools and systems in place are optimized for efficient and productive operations. It enables remote workers to access real-time data, collaborate effectively, and make informed decisions quickly, resulting in increased productivity.
  • Scalability: A solid tech stack is built with scalability in mind, allowing the VOC to grow and adapt to the changing needs of the business. This is particularly important for organizations that experience fluctuations in demand, partner changes, or rapid growth, as it ensures that their VOC can accommodate new team members, projects, or clients without compromising performance.
  • Security: A strong tech stack includes robust cybersecurity measures that protect sensitive data and maintain business continuity. This is particularly important in a VOC, where remote workers access company resources from various locations and devices. Implementing a comprehensive security strategy minimizes the risk of data breaches, cyberattacks, and downtime.
  • Reliability: A reliable tech stack ensures that the systems and tools in place are dependable and can withstand unexpected challenges or disruptions. This is crucial for maintaining smooth operations and minimizing downtime, particularly in industries that require 24/7 monitoring and coordination, such as oil and gas.
  • Integration: A solid tech stack consists of tools and software that can seamlessly integrate, simplifying workflows and reducing potential errors or miscommunication. This is especially important in a VOC, where remote workers rely on multiple tools and applications to complete tasks and communicate with their team members.
  • User experience: A well-designed tech stack provides a positive user experience for remote workers, increasing their job satisfaction and engagement. This is particularly important in a VOC, where employees may work from various locations and must navigate different time zones, languages, and cultural contexts.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Investing in a solid tech stack can save businesses money in the long run by reducing the need for expensive on-premises infrastructure and minimizing the risk of costly downtime or security breaches. It also allows organizations to use their resources better and focus on their core competencies.

In summary, a solid tech stack is essential for building a successful VOC, as it enables efficient operations, seamless collaboration, secure data management, and a positive user experience for remote workers.

II. Network Connectivity

It is now possible to get cost-effective, reliable, high-bandwidth internet connectivity across 95% of the planet's surface. The need for being close to land or to haul fiber to the site has diminished as low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity from Starlink and OneWeb has become a practical reality in the last few months, and other services (like Kuiper) will become live in the next few years. Multiple providers in this space(!) means you have redundant capability to provide reliability and scalability.

Using Starlink for most high bandwidth data operations with OneWeb as backup for critical data feeds and emergency response when there are issues will help keep costs under control. Even if you rely on other services such as Line of Sight microwave or cables in the ground, something like Starlink can provide a cost-effective backup option.

Remember to scale to the needs of the situation. We are not proposing full "remote operations" here, which require bullet-proof connectivity and sub-second, real-time data feeds. A VOC is primarily concerned with people collaborating effectively to support operations using "within the hour" data feeds, so consumer-grade solutions are often an effective and practical solution.

Being stationary is no longer an issue; ships, drilling rigs, planes, and even road vehicles can all have cost-effective multi-megabit connectivity bypassing the limitations of traditional VSAT providers.

VOCs require all users to be always connected, with broadband-level connections (at least in the 5-20Mbit range). From a technology or cost perspective, there is no reason that this is a "hard problem" anymore. Home and office users need readily available broadband (copper is enough if fiber is not available), and remote or mobile users can use LEO satellite connectivity, which is no longer prohibitively expensive.

III. Hardware Requirements

We are not discussing the hardware required for the data and applications to run a VOC, as this likely already exists in the organization. We are not discussing the hardware in a "center," as it only exists virtually now. This section deals with the hardware required to interact with the VOC, effectively the "users' desktop," whether they are on-site, in the office, at home, or in a remote mountain cabin.

The overwhelming impression anyone gets when they walk into a physical operations center is the sheer number of screens present. These provide an array of use cases:

  • Passive rolling information for all staff to absorb as they work within the center. This is the "big picture" view, seeing KPIs as a group responsibility, longer-term plans, potential threats like weather, current "top-down" priorities, etc.
  • Passive rolling information related to their role. This is the "role-relevant" view, detailed real-time data feeds, current constraints, outstanding actions, etc.
  • Active use of screens to collaborate within your team and with other teams and sites.
  • Active use of screens to carry out day-to-day work.

These needs remain relevant, but this capability is transferred to everyone's desktop in a VOC. Decent-quality computer monitors are very cost-effective. Even ultra-wide screens are decreasing in price, and almost every 4K TV screen works well as a PC monitor if placed at the right distance. In the grand scheme of Operations Centre costs, desktop screens are negligible. In addition, most PCs can support 2 screens without issue, and more modern PCs and laptops can drive 3 to 4 screens with the appropriate hardware, docks, or adapters.

We need this screen real estate to replicate an operations center on every desktop. Users should have at least one primary screen focused on current work activities. Ideally, this should be large enough to open multiple documents and applications at once, and it needs to be located ergonomically as it will be the focus. In addition, at least one secondary screen should be provided for passive and occasional active use. This will be used for passive rolling information or Video Conference(VC) windows and presentations during meetings. This can be placed higher up, to the side, or on a wall as they are not used so intensely.

We recommend a high-quality web camera (just a fixed-position USB), a USB-based desktop microphone/speaker combo, and a good-quality wireless headset for VCs. Being able to interact will remote colleagues without strapping on headphones is most natural, but sometimes you need the additional privacy offered by a headset.

IV. Software Requirements

Software to fulfill the needs of a VOC falls broadly into 4 categories:

The software and data you need to do your day job:
This is unlikely to change for a VOC. Each organization involved in a VOC will have tools and data that can be used locally or on remote sites as a normal part of business or because of the pandemic. Access to these tools and underlying data is likely provided through a combination of cloud-based services, VPN, or remote desktop.

Collaboration tools:
You will have an established videoconferencing and instant messaging system in place already. Ideally, the same set of tools needs to be utilized by all partner organizations to an equal level of functionality; i.e., in a VOC, if you share a document via chat – it needs to be accessible to everyone in the VOC, not just those participants from within your company. If this is not the case, then see the additional software discussed under VOC-specific software below.

Screen management software:
The new screens added to your users' desktop setups bring their own issues. Dividing up available screen real estate into usable chunks and targeting those with information will mean they are utilized far more effectively. Despite the rise in resolution and number of screens, the basic tools for handling windows on a PC have mostly stayed the same since the '80s.

Thankfully Windows 11 finally brings some additional capability in this area with its "Snap windows" functionality. These tools make screen management more effective, but the content on the screen differs from what you find in a physical operations center. Epsis has created a tool called Enify that can help here and recreate the physical centers' capability on your desktop. For a deeper discussion of on-screen management options, see our previous technical blog article here: A guide to screen management and why it matters (

New VOC specific software:
Don't worry; this is a shortlist of expensive software! Some of it may be in place already, and it just needs to be repurposed to support the use cases.

A VOC needs to have the following:

  • A "hub". Like a physical facility, a VOC needs a single place where people can go and work. This portal-type solution should bring together; conversations, data, documents, actions, plans, current activity, and work guidance into a single coherent place to make the user experience as seamless as possible. It would be better if this also included links to all the information screen content. Ideally, it is a place where you can start planned and ad-hoc meetings and a place where you can carry out much of the work. (MUST HAVE)
  • A dedicated and secure file & data storage area that is accessible to everyone in the VOC, whether they exist in your organization or a partner. Cloud-based technology is essential here. (MUST HAVE)
  • A tool to unify your ways of working so different teams, shifts, or rotations can all work in the same way with the same tools and datasets to provide a level of consistency. This tool could ensure everyone sees the same information screen content in the same way on their screen setup. (SHOULD HAVE)

This may seem like a tall order, but it can be quite straightforward:

  • Microsoft Teams actually provides the first two as out-of-the-box functionality. By utilizing a Shared Channel, which comes with its own secure SharePoint site for data and documents you have created;
    • A hub. The team you create becomes the core hub where people can collaborate; they have access to historical discussions, can start VC meetings within the tool, and additional channels can be added for action tracking and planning.
    • A dedicated secured SharePoint site created with the team can act as a document repository for the VOC. Placing content and information here means everyone in the VOC can access it. If the information exists elsewhere just now, it can generally be moved or copied to the team automatically using simple Power Automate scripts.

  • B2B Connect for Teams. This relatively new feature lets you utilize this Shared Team and underlying channels between organizations without having to swap identities or get accounts on the system hosting the VOC Team. The management for who can access the VOC is controlled by the individual partners removing a substantial administrative overhead.
    • NB: Using B2B Connect has been made easy by Microsoft. However, some things could improve usage. Please make sure obligations between companies consider this; the fact you are inevitably sharing commercially sensitive information and abdicating user management to the partner organizations means that NDAs need to be watertight. You need to align policy for each partner organization and need a solid onboarding program to ensure the channels are used in the same way by everyone. In addition, you will need to develop best practices between the business and IT teams. This is an ongoing challenge that should be given careful consideration and included in any long-term support models. It is important to remember that this is not unique to the virtual operations center, as organizations sometimes overlook this aspect in physical centers as-well.
    • As we suggest using MS Teams, if an organization has not fully embraced to the Microsoft ecosystem and Azure AD, there can be ongoing technical issues that need additional management and support.
  • Enify by Epsis. We will mention our software here, specifically designed to support these scenarios;- Screen management, finding, using, and sharing information from all your available apps. - With Enify, you can build information screens that can be started with a single button push and swapped out to another in seconds as needed. In addition, Enify is very good at capturing a work process to make it repeatable across the VOC, satisfying the 3rd requirement above.

There are alternatives to all the tools mentioned above, but we believe the stack detailed here offers the simplest, most cost-effective way to get started quickly, especially if your organization already uses MS Team.

V. Cybersecurity Requirements

We like to follow a "Keep it Simple" methodology to preserve effective cybersecurity controls. By utilizing existing company software and cloud services from respected service providers for collaboration and file sharing, we bypass the need for additional technical security measures. MS Teams, SharePoint, and existing software likely fall within the remit of existing security and support frameworks, ensuring the solution remains deployable and supportable in the longer term without incurring significant new running costs.

When working with partner organizations, there must be a level of established trust and a contractual framework to protect sensitive data and your IP. Again, this likely already exists, but it may have to be tweaked for the VOC.

Each organization will take responsibility for the behavior of its staff and can manage their access to the VOC independently of the primary organization hosting the hub. This should be a net gain in overall security over centralized user management that relies upon user information being exchanged and acted on between organizations. B2B Connect means each organization uses its user accounts which provide no access to data in other organizations. The VOC can only expose data actually held within it. If a user leaves a partner organization and loses access to their resources, they will also lose access to the VOC, as they use their day-to-day account and not one set up by the host organization to access the VOC.

VI. Requirements for Training and Support

Supporting a VOC is similar to a traditional operations center. The VOC tech stack proposed above utilizes software and tools that users will be intimately familiar with and require no specific additional training.

That said, the VOC itself has a series of use cases and will require a short onboarding exercise for how new users will use the tools effectively to deliver the VOC scope; the focus here is more on "how to work in the VOC" rather than "how to use the tools." There will be a natural churn of staff that requires continual onboarding, so it should be built into long-term support plans. IT support should be relatively straightforward, but a "VOC technical expert" who understands the VOC's entire business use case and workflows is essential. This is not necessarily a full-time role and could be part of a wider job function; ideally, this role is established before the first rollout so they can be part of the process and really get to grips with the underlying aims and architecture.

This role will onboard users, sort out queries, write small scripts, and coordinate with IT. In addition, the scope of the VOC will likely develop and evolve. Users will want to capture more and more work processes as they firm up their ways of working and seek to establish the repeatability of quality work. This will require investment in ongoing support but should be encouraged. A well-functioning operations center should be empowered to evolve better working practices and support a self-improving organization. A VOC should not be considered a "project" but a vehicle for organizational change and improvement. Any investment in supporting a VOC in this way should be paid back tenfold with improved efficiencies.

VII. Summary

As you can see, deploying a VOC is not a blind leap into the dark; it should use the tools users are already familiar with but in a more structured and coordinated manner. The advances in technology over the last two years have opened many opportunities to deploy these types of facilities anywhere they are needed, with relative ease and manageable costs. Most of the tools you need are already supported and familiar. Keeping it simple makes a VOC achievable, secure, and cost-effective.

Epsis has been involved in deploying more than 80 physical and virtual operations centers over the years. Within these blog articles, we encapsulate our key learnings concisely and understandably. A lot of detail is missed and needs to be included.

You probably have many outstanding questions if you have made it this far. If you have any questions or need assistance on your path to achieving more efficient operations, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We're here to help and support you every step of the way.

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