The DevOps Supremacy – How IT Operations Must Become Like Jason Bourne
December 01, 2015

Pete Waterhouse
CA Technologies

Ok, call me an action nut, but I love the Bourne movies. Great stories, fast paced, edge of your seat thrills – brilliant entertainment.

But apart from the action, what I find fascinating is watching the uncanny abilities of the protagonist – Jason Bourne; his sixth-sense if you like. He can quickly "weigh up" his surroundings and make detailed assessments of all dangers. This acute level of awareness, plus of course his kick-ass fighting skills give him, well - a distinct competitive advantage.

We need this ability in IT Operations, especially with performance monitoring – we need Jason Bourne's situational awareness.

Situational Awareness is a Digital Business Survival Skill

As the term suggests, situational awareness means knowing what's going on around you. It's taught to US marines, fight pilots, law enforcement officers, and yes, covert operatives. But what has all this to do with IT operations – well, actually more than you'd think.

Like Bourne movies, today's digital business is equally intense. It's a case of working "outside-in", quickly understanding the needs of your customers; working faster than your competitors to deliver a high-quality experience. Now more than ever, it's about anticipating and responding to any impending issues that could compromise this experience versus just being obsessive about finding the cause of problems.

Some folks in operations would argue they have great situational awareness since they can monitor all the infrastructure and components underpinning applications. But is this good enough? Does monitoring at a detailed diagnostic level mean you're paying attention to the right things from the perspective of the business and what your customers are experiencing – in this very moment as they engage and interact your business? Maybe if you have spiderman's tingling spider-sense abilities, but probably not if, like the rest of your team, you're having trouble processing all the alerts constantly bombarding a plethora of monitoring tools and consoles.

Understand and Assess Customer Experience – Then Act Quickly and Decisively

While observing infrastructure performance is important, it's probably not enough to claim true awareness. What we also need is orientation, or more simply knowing what information to look for when monitoring and then putting this into context of the all-important customer experience. Only then can we take actions that benefit the business.

But how do we know what to look when we're faced with an ever growing number of events from a new generation of custom apps? How do we put all the diagnostic outputs into context so it becomes meaningful from a business and customer perspective? Like Bourne, it involves IT operations becoming agile and proactive. That's never achieved by waiting for production problems, but working collaboratively across the software lifecycle to anticipate any performance problems that'll impact customers - right from the inception of a new business idea to complete software deployment.

So thinking about Jason Bourne, what are some analogous situational awareness strategies we can adopt in IT operations?

Start thinking beyond simple baselining: Watch Bourne in action – always scanning his immediate environment; working out what's "normal". In IT operations we work the same way. For any particular customer-facing application we start with baselining; establishing normal performance in a given situation. This is fine when load is predictable, but now mobile apps, cloud and uncertain demand make "normal" application performance much more difficult to ascertain. It's important therefore to replace "gut feel" baselining with more modern methods that can sense and respond to any given situation; continuously recalibrating "normal". This not only prevents alert fatigue, but also exposes hidden issues that could be damaging the customer experience.

Gain insights by analyzing performance behavior: Once we've developed a true picture of the performance landscape, it's important to quickly pinpoint all types anomalies – those issues that do not happen and should, or those that do happen and shouldn't. Here, analytics play a critical role in exposing valuable patterns from a vast amounts of data – which is especially useful when presented in context of a user-role or activity. For example, mobile app analytics should have the depth needed to provide business analysts deep visibility into where, how and when applications are being used by customers and how performance impacts this experience – a customer-centric or "outside-in" approach.

Enact responses where they're the most effective: Engaging customers at scale with mobile and cloud is a wake-up call for IT Operations. Not having infrastructure control, and apps literally being in the hands of customers means fixing problems must give way to detecting impending failures. IT Operations must step out from behind the production curtain and become custodians of the customer experience. DevOps means IT Operations becomes Agile Operations, defining new processes to better engage with development during build, test and deployment. It also means ensuring monitoring feedback is shared and incorporated into every software iteration or agile sprint. In this way, customer experience is imbued into everything, rather than being something we attempt bolt on when it's too late.

While IT operations isn't facing the same adversity as Jason Bourne, they must optimize the experience of customers as they interact via digital channels. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, taking an "outside-in" approach to application performance. Only then can you truly collaborate DevOps style to drive improvements in application quality – all without ever having to drop down a gear, or like Bourne, fight your way out of trouble.

Pete Waterhouse is Senior Marketing Strategist at CA Technologies.

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