This article, written by Vincent Bieri, Nexthink Co-founder, first appeared on Forbes on March 21, 2018.
IT operations has gone off the rails. It’s not the fault of hard-working technology professionals — in fact, it’s just the opposite — but as noted by Tech Republic, a recent study found that 62% of employees reported “broken IT processes” within their organization, and just 24% said they received “very prompt service” from in-house support.
What’s going on? With analytics, automation and end-user monitoring technologies racing their way up Gartner’s Hype Cycle and other business departments — from HR to marketing to the C-suite — enjoying the benefits of on-demand analytics and actionable information, why is IT operations left out in the cold? It’s easy: IT professionals are so busy rolling out analytics for other business silos they often miss the opportunity to apply these solutions to their own processes. How do IT pros get back on track and leverage the analytics advantage?
IT is sitting on a big data gold mine. But it’s useless in the ground — technology professionals need a way to unearth this information, sift it for patterns and apply it to existing problems. Seems like a big ask, right? Take a look at other departments: Business intelligence (BI) solutions now power everything from content management systems (CMS) to enterprise resource planning (ERP), allowing HR pros or marketing geniuses easy access to mission-critical data tailored to their needs. IT pros, meanwhile, are often stuck with outdated tools and solutions — and yet they’re expected to provide better services at a lower cost that are highly reliable and tailored to individual employee needs. This kind of all-encompassing employee digital experience is critical to keep staff engaged and productive — according to Nintex, 86% of workers looking for a new job said they jumped ship because of broken corporate practices (registration required). But it’s one thing to tell IT they need to step up their game; it’s another to provide the right tools.
First up? Implementing solid analytic processes across the IT operations board. This starts with a focus on “shift-left” solutions that help analyze and identify IT issues users can remedy themselves (or with the help of an online forum), in turn reducing the amount of time IT pros spend troubleshooting. Next are tools capable of delivering predictive insight rather than simply reactive observation. Predictive analytics have already shown their worth in verticals such as preventative industrial maintenance; IT departments need access to the same level of sophistication.
How many network engineers are managing your servers? Typically, companies employ one engineer for every 250-300 servers, and on its face, this seems like a decent number. Now consider social media giant Facebook: According to Data Center Knowledge, one engineer manages 20,000 servers. What’s the difference?
It starts with automation. Everything from climate control to destroying failed disk drives is an automated process for Facebook. More critically, this automation decouples the problem from the solution by failing over servers before they’re impacted directly and then escalating the issue for IT engineers. The result? Staff can tackle their task queue without panicking since the problem isn’t getting worse — it’s just waiting for a fix. There’s also a secondary aspect to the Facebook process: abstraction. Given the sheer number of servers in operation, the social giant opted to abstract most admin-server interaction, providing an easy way to scale up specific outcomes.
Some processes don’t lend themselves to automation, and some tasks are better handled by humans. Many companies use this logic to avoid analytics in IT, citing the need for the deep expertise and experience only IT staff can offer, but this isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario.
Consider the now-dominant role of software as a service (SaaS) solutions for the enterprise. As noted by Tech Target, while vendors often promise a hands-off experience for IT admins, the truth is that SaaS presents unique challenges such as cloud-based resource drains or application oddities that seem to happen at random or only affect specific users. Here, automation tools only tell part of the story — by augmenting these processes with IT-led end-user monitoring solutions, it’s possible for administrators to bridge the gap, delivering both immediate resolution and developing long-term fixes for SaaS issues.
Making The Shift
The current state of IT operations has it falling behind other departments, more focused on meeting other needs than serving its own interests. A shift is necessary, but how do CIOs and CISOs jump-start the process? Begin with the business case: An empowered IT department is one capable of providing better service, reducing downtime and delivering innovation. It’s also a good idea to show both employees and C-suite members what’s in it for them — leveraging the right combination of analytics, automation and end-user augmentation provides the foundation for user-centric, immediate-response IT support that arrives before systems go down. IT automation and analytics can be provided by a wide-range of companies, including Servicenow, Ivanti, Wipro, Cisco, BMC and Splunk.
Analytics empowers businesses, but IT operations are often left wanting. Implementing process-driven analysis, system-driven automation and user-driven augmentation, however, can help leverage this critical competitive advantage.