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The IT industry likes to talk about the idea of end-to-end service. It absolutely makes sense to figure out what impact a particular bottleneck is having on users of an IT system. With digitisation, it is now possible to join the dots, enabling IT to provide metrics on each and every part of a customer or end user journey from the front end through to back-end systems.
But in complex, highly interdependent IT environments that support digitisation, it is now harder than ever to grasp the overall impact of a glitch. There is also a change management impact, with the importance of ensuring people are taken on the digital transformation journey.
According to a study from digital adoption platform provider WalkMe, business leaders are concerned that the evolution of digital transformation is so rapid they are unable to keep pace, leading to potentially increased costs and risks. Of the 1,475 business leaders polled, 60% believe change management programmes – such as user manuals and training classes – are no longer fit for purpose and 63% claim a one-size-fits-all approach to technical support and training does not work.
Earlier this year, Forrester Consulting conducted a survey for ScienceLogic, which reported that many organisations are mired in manual IT processes. According to Forrester, if organisations continue to rely on manual processes to resolve critical incidents, the number of resources required to identify, diagnose and resolve problems will increase in tandem with the number of critical incidents.
The survey, which polled 459 managers responsible for enterprise observability covering areas such as data architecture, data science, analytics, ITOps, DevOps and SecOps, discovered huge inefficiencies due to manual processes in ITOps. Forrester found that the IT managers polled lost three to seven days of productivity trying to identify root cause (70%) and three to seven days of productivity on resolving incidents (69%).
More than half of the IT managers surveyed believe their organisation is wasting time and resources on manual workflows and processes (57%), and their lack of successful artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation results in poor customer and employee experiences (58%).
While automating ITOps may be the destination the IT industry is heading towards, there are a number of other elements of IT management that can help to streamline this journey.
Joined-up service management
One of the first areas IT leaders should consider is having joined-up service management. This is a subject Harmeen Mehta, chief digital innovation officer at BT, discusses with Computer Weekly in a podcast.
According to Mehta, service management needs to be part of a digitisation plan: “If digitisation has paved the way to new products and platform thinking and AI, why would service management almost cease to exist? Why would I not understand the failures inside the technology stack and inside the organisation, and also have the data to tackle these problems?”
Mehta believes organisations often take a product-led or business-led view of the digital service they deliver. While plenty of effort and emphasis is put on the front-end and customer-facing aspects of digitisation initiatives, the back end, which impacts the end-to-end customer experience, is sometimes an afterthought.
“Coming from a lens of being customer-first or truly being customer-obsessed during the lifecycle of a customer is not only about how the customer interacts with us, it’s also how we interact with the customer,” she says. Equally important is when this interaction with the customer is broken.
According to Mehta, all the technology to achieve this exists today. She says organisations need to consider using the technology they have available through digitisation to manage the tech running customer-facing services, to predict if something is likely to fail and understand how that will impact the customer experience.
“When we are digitising the customer journey, we’re taking the human out of the loop and getting a very good customer experience where the customer interacts directly with the tech instead of interacting through a human,” says Mehta.
In her experience, organisations spend more time on things that are visible and less time and money on things that are not visible – but such an approach misses an important aspect of digitisation, which is to provide a joined-up, seamless experience.
Rather than focus on the front-end customer or user experience, Mehta says: “[Organisations] need to be doing exactly the same thing in the case of failures or any glitches that happen behind the scenes. It’s the same thinking and the same thought process.”
Focus on SRE
Site reliability engineering (SRE), invented by Google, treats IT operations as a software problem. Rather than aim for a 100% reliability target, Google recommends that SRE teams define a mutually acceptable availability target that will meet the needs of users. The amount of unavailability an organisation is willing to tolerate is known as the error budget.
Electricity provider EDF used site reliability engineering to improve software development. EDF selected Dynatrace to enable its in-house software development teams to make more informed decisions about how they optimise applications to build better services for customers and support a more collaborative DevOps culture.
Explaining the move to use Dynatrace, Steve Bowerman, principal software engineer at EDF, says: “It has been a core catalyst and enabler for our software engineering maturity, which is shifting from DevOps to SRE, so we can build highly reliable, scalable services.
“We can innovate faster and improve the digital services that enable our customers to interact with us in new and more convenient ways. Ultimately, that’s what our transformation initiatives are all about – finding ways to make our customers’ lives easier through technology innovation and digital enablement.”
Automation and AI
Artificial intelligence operations (AIOps) is another tool IT leaders can deploy to improve the efficiency of IT operations as the workload increases due to digitisation initiatives.
Retailer Very recently selected Kyndryl Bridge to improve observability and build out AIOps for supporting integrated services. The product from Kyndryl is designed to monitor and track data from all software, infrastructure and business applications in one location through a single dashboard, which helps decision-making and reduces complexity.
Explaining the reason for selecting Kyndryl, Matt Grest, CIO at The Very Group, says: “We’re amid a tech transformation that will allow us to offer our customers an outstanding digital experience, improve the ways our teams work together, and deliver efficiencies for our business.”
Recognising the opportunity to help their customers improve digital transformation initiatives, IT firms have focused on putting AI and automation into IT operations.
Read more about ITOps for digital transformation
Tech Mahindra, for instance, recently developed an ITOps tool called Ops amplifAIer, which is powered by generative AI. Hasit Trivedi, chief technology officer for digital technologies and global head of AI at Tech Mahindra, says the company built the tool to help support engineers, who frequently need to log into multiple tools and toggle between them to analyse and resolve tickets.
“Enterprises are looking for technology that addresses modern workplace issues quickly to accelerate value and bring efficiency,” he adds.
In 2022, when analyst Gartner looked at the use of AI in IT operations platforms, it found that as organisations continue to undertake digital transformation, IT operations staff no longer have the luxury of responding to issues after they occur. Instead, according to Gartner’s Market guide for AIOps platforms, teams must become proactive, get more involved in the entire value stream and, at a minimum, work to address potential issues before they affect user experience.
Gartner recommends that IT leaders strive to make digital business initiatives observable. In terms of observability, monitoring of the IT systems that make up a digital business needs to be correlated across the full stack, including infrastructure, applications, digital experience, business key performance indicators and social sentiment.
Gartner says observability also includes active interrogation of systems for information required situationally. Gartner defines AIOps as a platform that helps in the discovery of patterns, relationships and dependencies among these elements, making digital business observable for the relevant personas.
In any conversation about digitisation, keeping back-end systems running optimally may not seem the most exciting topic, but for IT leaders, it is an essential part of the end-to-end customer experience, which needs to be taken into account. Service management, site reliability engineering and observability are key ingredients. Without it, digitisation will remain incomplete, which needs human customer service staff to apologise for “IT failures” when a customer complains it is unable to do something.