Lost In Translation

For more than ten years, OmniTI has been making large-scale critical Internet infrastructure work. It is, obviously, not black magic or voodoo. Perhaps not so obviously, it is not technical competence that leads to success here. I like to think our team has technical competence in spades as we have an impeccable track record, authored books and a laundry list of speaking engagements to justify it. However, technical competence alone would fall short of the mark— far short.

Without exception, it is expected that proper monitoring and trending are as much a part of the process as setting up networking, backups, and more recently, change management. And yet, when you ask someone to explain why monitoring and trending were vital, you’d be lucky to get a response other than “to be sure things are working”. Something here is lost in translation.

Disconnected Viewpoints

Every business owner knows that watching the books is part of the job. You need to know P&L, you need to understand the outputs and costs of your various business units and you track efficiencies everywhere. All of these metrics play a part in both strategic and tactical decisions made every day. Each business unit reports these things and while in good organizations each manager knows what is important to each other manager, something is still lost in translation. Far too often, managers don’t understand that what they produce, what they consume and how they work changes the game for other business units. While the word is overused and abused, every business is an ecosystem. It is obvious that a new marketing campaign will increase resource utilization on the sales teams. It should be obvious that a new marketing campaign will increase resource utilization on IT infrastructure as well.

Every systems administrator knows (or should know) that monitoring your architecture is fundamental. On the other hand, very few can explain in any detail why this is so important. “Because you lose money when systems are offline”, they’ll quote disparagingly. Ask how much and you might catch them at a loss. From my own experience in operations, as well as countless conversations with customers and vendors, very few individuals recognize the relationship between IT and Business. Systems people know that they have to keep systems and services running to support their business, but rarely do they understand that relationship completely.

Owners that foster a transparent and cohesive organization around key performance indicators in every business unit (even those that are cost centers) will change their organizations in two critically useful ways:

  • Efficiencies between business units. With increased transparency, staff in all positions will see the effects of their actions across the business as a whole. This produces an atmosphere of self-reinforcing efficiency.
  • Accountability to the overall business. The hokey old question: “Is what you’re doing good for the company?” changes form. With increased cohesiveness, the answer to that question is a more obvious outcome to every action and no one can call it hokey, because it is always answered without being asked.

A Call To Arms

Technology is no longer underneath the products you sell and the process in which you deliver them. It is, for at least the immediate future, intertwined. Creativity on the technology side doesn’t only deliver cost savings, it creates new audiences and increases interaction with your customers. You have to do more than embrace technology, you need to leverage it and let new opportunities catapult your business forward.

As intertwined as technology is, we can no longer afford to have its operational details hidden away in the bowels of the “tech ops” or “web ops” group. We need visibility and we need cohesion. Infrastructure/application engineering and other business units are now, more than ever before, on the same team marching towards success. Communication and accountability are critical to success.

Here is where I leave you and hope that you will think about the metrics you monitor in a different light. They represent something more. They are there to make the business run, increase shareholder value, make your customers happier and more prosperous.