We need to talk about Kevin..(or whatever your key application is called)
How well do you know your critical business applications…I mean really know them?
When I talk to customers and ask them what their top 5 applications are – the ones that either generate the most revenue for the business or the ones that would cause the company severe reputational risk or make the headlines if they were unavailable – I normally get a response within seconds. They can immediately reel off the names of the key applications, and even tell me their nicknames, codenames or pet-names, but what comes next is when it gets interesting.
“Ok,” I say, “So let’s take one of them. Can you tell me how it works? What are the application inter-dependencies? How does each component communicate with each other? What are the requirements of the underlying technology platforms, networks, storage and compute layers?” This is when I often get tumble weed. Or a flat “No idea”. Or the admission that they really don’t understand those factors well enough to fully answer my questions.
This may be hard to admit but it’s far from surprising. After all, applications are becoming ever more distributed and therefore complex, as anyone who’s ever done application dependency mapping will tell you. Even the simplest application map will look like a spider’s web of inter-connectivity and that’s before we overlay the security profiles and compliance restrictions.
But why does it matter anyway? After all it seems that there are many customers who are getting by without knowing the answers to these questions at all.
Well, it matters because if you can’t clearly understand the full ecosystem enabling your critical applications, you can’t be confident that you are delivering the best customer experience possible. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Moving beyond uptime
In my 20+ plus years in IT, one of the key indicators by which technology teams are always measured is service availability. Whether it’s the network, storage, compute or virtualisation teams, they all have the same priority: to ensure their technology platform is continually operational and available. To do this they independently leverage their own operational toolsets to monitor system components, ensuring resiliency and performance targets via the telemetry and analytics their platform provides.
When it comes to supporting or enabling a major application, traditional platform teams don’t necessarily consider or understand how their platform function might impact application availability or customer experience. In some cases, their only interest is in proving the platform is ‘up’ or ‘all green’ at the time a customer-facing service outage occurs as that typically exonerates the department during the post-problem autopsy. But platform uptime and five 9s availability don’t give the full picture of performance. Indeed, they tell us absolutely nothing about how customer expectations are being met (or disappointed) as they interact with your brand and its services.
Being laser-focused on an individual technology silo’s availability means you don’t seek to gain insight and deep understanding of the application it enables and its IT component dependencies. Collectively, this means that IT can provide no assurance to the business that it can support the overall customer experience or seek to enrich it further. The result for the business is that you’re missing the most critical measure of relevance to revenue stability and growth – and that’s customer experience.
Customer experience is the only measure that counts
Consistently exceeding customer expectations is no easy feat. After all, as consumers we all have different definitions of ‘good’ and ‘great’. But whether we like it or not, customer experience has become the number one measure by which performance is judged. It’s really the only measure that counts. So how should we think about that through a technology lens?
Let’s start with the reality check. No single technology silo or platform is more important than any other. They are all there to serve the needs of the customer-facing application. Customer experience is far more application-centric than it is infrastructure-centric. All of this has been driven by the wave of digitisation that’s impacted how customers consume services and information.
Digital service provision and consumption breeds highly demanding and fickle consumers – it’s easy to find, compare and consider alternatives, and it’s easier than ever to switch providers. These days every consumer is also an influencer in the market as it’s easy to tweet/blog/post about your experience – satisfied or otherwise. This means your brand reputation is always at risk. If a company is not considering its customers’ experience there’s a high chance they’ll lose them and take others away at the same time.
As I discussed earlier, there’s a spider’s web of contributing technology elements that work together to ensure that the application might meet customer expectations. Organisations need to consider how to profile their key business applications and baseline the performance and security requirements holistically and measure the experience that the end user is getting in real time.
Fortunately, real time performance reporting is no longer a manual activity. Technology has advanced significantly in the area of sophisticated analytics, cognitive machine learning and the automation of environment provisioning and management. Automation allows a faster diagnosis and remediation of root problems when experience falls below a set threshold.
Introducing Application Assurance
Application Assurance is a capability that surfaces whether your business-critical applications are meeting the defined performance, security and throughput requirements in real-time. Measuring the performance of critical applications an ongoing basis ensures they provide the best customer experience. Here’s how it works.
Step 1 – Identify
An in-depth understanding of the critical business applications’ components, application flows, security posture, location and performance is the key objective at this stage. Application dependency mapping allows us to produce a thorough map of how the various strands come together to make the service work, surfacing telemetry data to build an application profile.
Step 2 – Understand
This stage seeks to confirm whether the application is meeting performance, security and even location requirements. Once the application is mapped and visualised, it’s critical to get a real time view of the application’s characteristics. At this stage the placement of components can be analysed to determine whether location effects performance, enabling intelligent workload placement and optimisation of business-critical applications to ensure that these consistently perform in the best way possible.
Step 3 – Assure
The final stage of the process sees the transition to a phase of continuous application assurance, where telemetry and performance metrics and thresholds are measured and provided in real time. Anomalies against a known baseline are identified and alerted to the right technology or application team for targeted remediation steps to take place.
All of this contributes to peace of mind for the business, plus increased agility and empowerment to the technology departments that contribute towards a high-performing application. We see a departure from the ‘blame game’ if things go wrong and a commitment to solving problems collectively to deliver superior customer experience.
Ensuring that your business-critical applications are meeting the needs of your customers is fundamental to achieving ongoing revenue growth and increased digital wallet share.
Taking an Application Assurance approach to this need provides you with fundamental insights into the performance of technology components in real time, allowing you to respond to the needs of the customers with agility. And if that’s the end to an obsession with up-time, then I’m sure it will ultimately be to the benefit of your customers.
If you’re interested in exploring how Application Assurance can transform your customer experience, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, please continue to stay safe and wear a mask.
Written by Neil Dearman, Head of Technology, HighPoint, UK