What is the top priority for IT execs in 2012, and why?

Why, given a choice of 14 IT concerns, including cloud computing, did application performance management (APM) come out on top?

The results of a recent survey on the top concerns for IT executives are really surprising, particularly the area of IT identified by most of 500 CIOs, CTOs and IT managers polled.

Application performance management (APM), was the greatest concern, and that this is true for companies in the UK, France, Germany and US across all business sectors, according to the survey report by research firm Quocirca.

The survey was commissioned by dynaTrace, a division of Compuware, to identify the top priorities for IT departments across the financial, e-commerce, technology and other commercial sectors.

But why, given a choice of 14 IT concerns, including cloud computing, data centre virtualisation, optimisation of application lifecycle and new customer facing apps, did APM come out on top?

The main drivers are increased use of service delivery applications, particularly online, and increased user expectation, according to Bob Tarzey, analyst and director at Quocirca.

The danger is that if expectations are not met, customers will go elsewhere and internal users will not be as productive or motivated as they might otherwise be, he told Computer Weekly.

Some 82% of CIOs and 66% of all IT executives agreed that internal users and customers will expect better performance, such as faster page loading from their online applications.

But 43% of CIOs are not confident that their organisations will be able to meet this increased demand without improving their current APM capabilities.

In this regard, 80% of executives said their application monitoring should be more proactive to accelerate problem resolution and improve user experience, while 76% said monitoring of their applications needs to start with the user perspective.

"Organisations need to look at the whole transaction chain, but ensuring users are getting what they expect from applications is a good place to start," said Tarzey.

Applications only really come together on the end point device, said Michael Allen, Compuware European IT services management sales director.

"Only on the device do all the elements come together such as browser performance, data transfer rates and third party code execution, so monitoring application performance at the data centre does not give an accurate picture of the user experience," he said.

But, he said, this is not very difficult to do. "The important thing is to recognise the importance of the shift from 'system' management to 'application performance' management." Modern IT architecture has largely solved the problem of availability, he said, so now the emphasis is on performance.

According to Allen, APM is becoming the single metric that is understood by everyone. "It helps businesses understand the contribution their systems are making to the overall experience, and you can't manage something you don't monitor," he said.  

Nearly 90% of CIOs say they need full visibility of all user behaviours, business transactions, complaint resolutions and conversion rates through a single APM system to eliminate time spent correlating between tools.

"APM is not only about performance, but also correlating that with impact on the business in real-time to highlight trends and problems so the business can react quickly," said Allen.

Around 90% of CIOs also said they needed to resolve performance issues to free up human resources to do something more strategic, as businesses demand that IT departments do more with fewer resources.

The research, said Tarzey, supports the view that 2012 will be the year of APM, although the emphasis on this is likely to continue and grow in years to come.

Regardless of title or business sector more than 80% of respondents overall agreed that APM would be more vital in 2012 than ever before.

Most also have a will to see this through, with two thirds of respondents saying they are actively upgrading their APM capability in 2012.

The survey report notes this is often not a one-off investment but a process of continuous improvement. Over one third said they have recently invested in APM, but will still invest more.

"Only the smallest fraction reported that they had no procedures or tools for APM or did not know," said Tarzey.

The survey report includes a table to help organisations evaluate their APM needs, using the same questions from the survey conducted as background to the report.

Organisations that download the free report, simply need to answer the questions, total up the score, and see how they rate on the APM Pain Index, said Tarzey.

"Organisations as a whole can use the report to benchmark themselves against their peers. If they are confident, then they are ahead of the curve. If not, they are in good company," he said.

CIOs can also use the findings of the report to make the business case for investing in APM, said Tarzey, because it shows that by investing now, an organisation could get ahead of its competitors.

According to the survey report, if APM is not top of mind, then it probably should be to meet increased user expectations, achieve competitive differentiation and realise business goals.

"Organisations not investing in APM may be at a competitive disadvantage," the report said. "Although application delivery is complex, it is possible to get a holistic view of the transaction and the user experience, but only if an APM system is in place that is capable of achieving this."

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