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    April 29, 2021

    Why Monitoring the Customer Experience is Critical for IT

    Are teams in your organization specifically monitoring the customer experience? With a career that spans over 20 years in IT support, I can assure you that, if the answer is “no,” you are not alone. One reason is that teams already have their hands full simply keeping an eye on the infrastructure. Even in IT organizations that have been conservative in their adoption of new technologies, there will still often be hundreds or thousands of virtualized servers spread across multiple data centers. Each and every one of those servers has an application, database, or both running on it that needs to be monitored.

    This adds up to tens of thousands of health checks across the organization, which all need to have alerts and be known to the systems that handle ITIL processes like incident and problem management.

    With all these existing health checks covering every aspect of the infrastructure, it’s easy to see why the existing way of doing things seems comprehensive. It effectively tells when a system or service is negatively affected, but does that service even matter? On one hand, it does matter; it is probably tied to a service level agreement that requires greater than 99% uptime.

    On the other hand, does the customer experience change when that service is offline? Is it just a background system that handles archiving, or is it the search function that everything relies on? These are the types of questions that teams relying purely on infrastructure-focused monitoring just can’t answer. At least not without a lot of manual cross-referencing of software architecture documents and service management documentation.

    Start Monitoring from the Outside In

    The first step to having a customer-centric view of the world is to start watching, from the customer’s point of view, the applications IT runs and supports. This often involves adding an application performance management (APM) suite into the portfolio of observability tools that are currently in use in the organization.

    APM tools have five key tenets. One is real user monitoring (RUM), which adds extra information to each request that goes to or from the customer’s browser or mobile application. RUM tracks all kinds of metrics, including network latency and application response time.

    Even if other components like deep diagnostics and analytics aren’t leveraged from the chosen APM suite, employing RUM will start to provide a true view of how the customer experience changes throughout the day, across the entire portfolio of applications that IT supports.

    Application development and operational staff can determine which applications are used widely and what times of the day different types of activities are performed in each application. This is an improvement over just seeing raw CPU and I/O performance. The additional insight allows teams to work together to find bottlenecks and prioritize which areas they can focus on. Plus, if an incident does occur, teams responsible for problem management will have a good idea of how many users are affected and where they are from.

    Change the Culture to Focus on Customer Experience

    This is not an immediate change. It takes time, and real work, to get an IT organization to fully shift its mentality, and move from focusing on the bits to focusing on the customers using their services. Technologies like RUM can ease the switch by making monitoring easier. But the true value in customer experience monitoring is that IT begins to establish a view of the business landscape. They can see how customers interact with the entire organization.

    The customer experience data gathered can then be used as part of all on-going planning for corporate priorities. What were formerly sticking points between IT and business units, like new budget requests, can now be framed in terms of actual customer activity, which can help reveal which services are best to invest in and which ones can be left alone. Investing allows for innovation to happen, including introducing new capabilities that better support concepts like DevOps and containerization. This will increase the organization's ability to adjust to emerging market realities and target high-growth areas.

    Ultimately, the customer experience becomes the central focus, and IT can have an impact on numbers that the board cares about, like the latest Net Promoter Score (NPS), for example. When IT shows it has a positive impact on those metrics, then it’s easier to demonstrate what IT has been trying to explain for years. It’s proof that spending on technology isn’t just a black box that hurts the bottom line. It can be the seed that all business growth comes from.

    Tag(s): AIOps

    Vince Power

    Vince Power is an Enterprise Architect with a focus on digital transformation built with cloud enabled technologies. He has extensive experience working with Agile development organizations delivering their applications and services using DevOps principles including security controls, identity management, and test...

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