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4 secrets of high-performing IT Ops organizations

John P. Mello Jr. Freelance writer

Coping with change is challenging for all organizations, but it has been especially hard on IT operations.

According to a new research study, "The Roadmap to Becoming a Top-Performing Organization in Managing IT Operations," by Digital Enterprise Journal, the amount of change in IT environments has increased at an annual rate of 86% a year since 2016. But the effectiveness of tools for managing IT has declined 29% during the same period.

There is a cadre of top performers from which others can learn how to improve their IT operations. The Journal study identified those high achievers—20% of the more than 900 analyzed for the research—and created a roadmap for becoming one of them.

Here are the key takeaways from the study.

1. Take a proactive IT Ops approach

The study warned that organizations shouldn't be learning about IT performance issues from their customers.

Top-performing organizations know that. On average, they detect 79% of performance issues proactively, compared to 39% for their peers. That translates into customer and employee dividends, since high-achieving organizations are 66% more likely to experience improvements in customer and employee engagement.

David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting, said the proactive approach would be welcome.

"For the most part, IT is passive. They're waiting for something to occur before they initiate a fix. In essence, they're putting out fires."
David Linthicum

He explained that proactive tools are starting to appear, but their capabilities are not being leveraged by many IT shops. The tools can tell them when something fails, but they can also tell them when things are about to fail, "and they're not listening or they don't have the features turned on," he said.

Bojan Simic, analyst, entrepreneur, founder of the research firm Cognanta and Digital Enterprise Journal, said the No. 1 challenge for IT operations in their report was inability to prevent performance issues before user impact.

"You need real-time visibility into your systems and a culture that's looking for potential problems and wants to nail them before the phone starts ringing."
Bojan Simic

Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research, a research and advisory company, added that if IT teams want to remain relevant to their lines of business, they have to be proactive in identifying needs and improving operations.

"LoBs have too many options today to leave their critical needs unmet."
Eric Hanselman

2. Deliver the right IT data 

Monitoring data is effective only if the data can be delivered in the right context—in other words, having meaningful insights about what the data means.

The Journal study found top-performing organizations with this strategy reaped significant rewards. For example, their average mean time to repair an incident was 6.3 times shorter than their peers.

In addition, the highest performers issued 57% fewer trouble tickets, had 66% fewer IT full-time staffers involved per incident, and had a 91% success rate in preventing problems before they affected users.

"For years people were told they need to collect more and more data, but we found there is zero correlation between the amount of data you can collect and your performance. That's not to say you shouldn't monitor your infrastructure, but the game-changer is having insights into your data."
—Bojan Simic

What the correct metrics look like

451 Research's Hanselman explained that for IT teams to achieve greater levels of efficiency, they've got to be able to build improvements with data-driven insights.

"If their metrics aren’t aligned with the business, they can’t be assured that they’re moving in ways that will have a positive business impact."
—Eric Hanselman

Old IT metrics, such as availability and uptime, are no longer sufficient, added Bhanu Singh, senior vice president of engineering and DevOps for OpsRamp, maker of an AIOps platform.

"The metrics have to be driven by the context of the business and have to break through organizational boundaries."
Bhanu Singh

Those organizational boundaries can be formidable. We've had tools for years to analyze data and come up with business value and operational value over time and improve that value, Deloitte Consulting's Linthicum said.

The challenge is getting into all of an organization's applications, cloud servers, off-premises servers, and IoT and edge computing devices and "pulling data off those things in real time," he said.

"It's getting the political will within the organizations to open up those interfaces despite internal resistance to it."
—David Linthicum

3. Use quality of experience as a key indicator of IT performance

As demand increases for more clarity about the impact of IT operations on business goals, having full visibility into the quality of customer experience has become more important.

That's apparent among top-performing organizations. They are 3.1 times more likely to be using the quality of user experience as the top indicator of digital service performance. As a result, top-performing organizations are 66% less likely to experience revenue-effecting performance incidents.

"It’s critical that IT teams understand user experience so that they can more accurately direct resources in ways that will have the greatest impact in improving it."
—Eric Hanselman

Customers don't care if the system is up or down, or if all the lights are green on IT's dashboard, Cognanta's Simic said. They want what they're using to work, and they want it to work fast, he added.

"If users don't have the same experience as the people managing the system, that's a disconnect that makes everything else worthless."
—Bojan Simic

A high-quality user experience is as important for internal customers as it is for external customers. "Those are IT's clients, even though they work inside the company," Linthicum explained. "It's IT's job to make sure they're as productive as they can be with the systems you're providing them. The only way to do that is to monitor all aspects of the system, including user interfaces."

4. Consider scalability when choosing IT Ops tools

Top-performing organizations are 84% more likely to select monitoring solutions by predicting future amounts of data to be processed, the study found. As a result, they are reporting, on average, 58% fewer trouble tickets issued than their peers.

"When an organization is looking at a new solution, it always has to think of how it grows with the enterprise's vision. I mean not only system growth to accommodate more users, but how it grows to deal with large volumes of data."
—Bhanu Singh

While an organization may take scalability into account when buying a solution, getting that scalability after deployment can be a hang-up.

"When things fall down is when they don't validate the scalability. They just assume the numbers that the provider is giving them are correct."
—David Linthicum

Scalability claims have to be mapped to the organization's resources. One size doesn't fit all. Organizations need to make the vendor demonstrate how its solution scales with the organization's specific resources, not in some general way. In addition, scalability should be tested early in deployment so if problems exist they can be exposed before a solution is fully deployed.

Mind the widening gap

The gap between the highest achievers and their peers continues to widen. Following the practices of top-performing organizations takes more than adopting new technology, Simic said.

"If you look at the attributes of those folks, a lot of it has to do with processes in place, their strategic approach, and changes to their organizations."
—Bojan Simic

That speed of change has been accelerating every year, "so for folks trying to play the catch-up game or the wait-and-see game, it's really hard for them to get ahead of the curve and be on the same success level as their peers," Simic said.

But catch up they must, the report maintains, because they're paying every day for their failure to modernize IT operations. Those costs include:

  • $2.13 million: Average monthly revenue losses due to performance-related slowdowns in application release times

  • $126,000: Average revenue lost for every hour of downtime 

  • $10,700: Average IT labor cost per performance incident

Managing change is key for modern IT

As new technologies are introduced into operations and the rate of change accelerates, IT must recognize that managing change is a key part of its job. You can't do that with the old ways of thinking about IT, which is why you need to emulate the practices of top-performing organizations.

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