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Observability data finds its way into BizDevOps

The digitize-or-die catalyst of the COVID-19 pandemic forced enterprises toward BizDevOps, and IT observability data has begun to inform cooperation with business users.

As BizDevOps finally arrives at mainstream enterprises, observability data acts as the glue between business users and IT teams.

BizDevOps refers to the alignment and deeper collaboration among business leaders, product managers and DevOps pros that has accompanied digital transformation. The concept was talked about for years before it moved from buzzword to real trend, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. As in-person interactions were restricted because of the virus, companies had to quickly move to digital business models to survive, and those that had already begun such a shift fared best through the pandemic's upheavals.

Now, the growing alliance between product managers and IT pros -- the earliest phase of BizDevOps to mature -- is drawing on IT observability tools for insights into digital customer experiences. But feeding such data into back-end business intelligence (BI) systems that keep upper management informed is still a work in progress for some, according to presenters at this week's Dynatrace Perform virtual event.

One presenter cited a passage from The Phoenix Project, a seminal book that laid out Agile and DevOps principles, as an inspiration for his BizDevOps approach.

"The outcomes are what matter -- giving insights to the business and allowing the business to be successful," said Bill Scheuernstuhl, senior performance monitoring engineer at health insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (BlueKC), in a presentation. "We plan to expand our SRE [site reliability engineering] role in 2022 to better work with the business and developers."

Some of this expansion has already begun at BlueKC; Scheuernstuhl and other engineers curate monthly reports for business users, including the company's CIO, based on Dynatrace's Apdex application performance rating.

BizDevOps presentation
Klaus Enzenhofer, principal product manager at Dynatrace and users Jennifer Berner of M&T Bank and Bill Scheuernstuhl of BlueKC presented information on using observability data to support BizDevOps.

User experience monitoring focuses BizDevOps work

For other companies that presented at Dynatrace Perform, BizDevOps draws most heavily on IT observability data when business and IT users must troubleshoot mobile and web applications for customers.

Ford Motor Company, for example, used Dynatrace's mobile application and user-experience monitoring tools to address application crashes in its FordPass app last year. The app for iPhone and Android devices earned bad customer feedback initially because of frequent crashes, prompting Ford to assemble a small team of product managers and mobile engineers to improve its reliability.

Mobile application monitoring and user experience data guided the team's work to address spikes in crashes as they occurred, said Michael Martinez, senior product manager at Ford, during a Dynatrace Perform presentation.

"Within one year, we were able to reduce the number of application crash-affected users by more than 50%," Martinez said. "We were also able to decrease [the time it took to fix software issues] to a single release."

While Ford brought together a specialized team for BizDevOps, a regional bank has opened up Dynatrace dashboards and data analytics tools for business managers to use directly.

"All of us use our Infrastructure Command Center routinely, or the problem dashboards it drills down into, as do our business partners," said Jennifer Berner, vice president and product owner for enterprise monitoring at M&T Bank, based in Buffalo, N.Y.

The Infrastructure Command Center pulls together synthetic monitoring data from Dynatrace to show the health of the company's most critical apps. Another tool shared by business and tech users at the company, the Branch Dashboard, pulls data from Dynatrace and the company's IT service management tool to highlight tech issues at the bank's retail and branch locations to support troubleshooting. This year, M&T plans to allow business administrators to create their own synthetic monitoring configurations for applications, Berner said.

DevOps pros work on back-end BI integration

Eventually, BlueKC's Scheuernstuhl hopes to cut the IT middleman out of the reporting process and feed observability data directly into the company's Microsoft PowerBI system. He and his team are also considering creating custom Dynatrace dashboards for business managers to access directly.

"We've also thought of using the [Dynatrace] API to feed an Apdex score to a company-wide dashboard or monthly digital publication," Scheuernstuhl said in an online interview.

Scheuernstuhl's team laid the groundwork for this among business users when it brought in Dynatrace to support Medicare Open Enrollment for BlueKC in 2021.

It was reassuring when the business started looking at what Dynatrace was providing and having positive dialogue around the metrics.
Bill ScheuernstuhlSenior performance monitoring engineer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City

"The success factor with what we did in 2021 was more of getting the business to understand and use these new metrics and to change their mentality around that," he said. "It was reassuring when the business started looking at what Dynatrace was providing and having positive dialogue around the metrics."

Dynatrace officials have been outspoken about their ambitions for the company's tools to become a single source of data analytics for business, IT and cybersecurity teams, but at least one user has been frustrated so far in his attempts to link Dynatrace's log monitoring tool with back-end BI systems.

"The reporting just isn't that mature," said Ken Schirrmacher, senior IT director at Park 'N Fly, a travel services company in Atlanta. "With the log viewer, I was like, 'Guys, you're right there -- just give me the ability to do some advanced modeling and reporting and be able to do my own drafting on this. And you'll completely phase Sumo Logic out of our environment.'"

So far, that hasn't happened, Schirrmacher said. A Dynatrace spokesperson said the company has further enhancements to its log monitoring tools on its roadmap but did not specify whether they would relate to Schirrmacher's request.

"If you don't pre-bundle the dashboards or reports, that is an administrative nightmare for any IT department to have to custom create the content for [the BI system]," Schirrmacher said. "So, it just tapers off and dies on the vine."

BlueKC's Scheuernstuhl said he has a different impression of Dynatrace APIs for integration with PowerBI.

"The integration is pretty smooth" in his experience, Scheuernstuhl said. "You do have to configure the API request for the type of data you want, but in some areas, log analytics is actually better in the long run. On [Linux and Unix] systems, a customized integration is necessary for Splunk, but since Dynatrace runs as root, getting logs from Docker or Kafka into Dynatrace is much easier."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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