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Sean: Hello and welcome. Thank you for joining us for another episode of SolarWinds TechPod. This TechPod episode is reviewing the IT Trends Report for 2022, Getting IT Right: Managing Hybrid IT Complexity, and we’re going to be exploring the challenges of more complex IT management and its impact on the IT teams and their abilities to support the business. As shown throughout the IT Trends Report, which I think is very important, it’s storytelling, right, a report is telling a story. So throughout that, we’ll be looking at how IT professionals share their lack of confidence in managing today’s hybrid IT environment due to the increased complexity and reduced visibility across their apps and infrastructure.
Sean: While we’re going through this today, we’re going to be joined by a special guest. So just to give some quick introductions, this is your host, Sean Sebring, joined by my co-host, Chris Bowie.
Chris: Hi, everyone.
Sean: And today, our special guest is Professor Sally Eaves. Thank you for joining us today, Sally. To get us more familiarized with you, can you give us a little bit of introduction about who you are and where you come from?
Sally: Oh, lovely to be here with you both. Thank you so much for having me. So I’m Dr. Professor Sally Eaves. I work right across emergent technology, so, CTO by background, and now more advisory, right across different forms of technology and how they converge and integrate together. I’m also a Professor in emergent tech and also specializing in things like culture and skills uplift as well, and I run a non for profit called Aspirational Futures. It’s very much about inclusion and diversity and sustainability in tech, and I really love to build community and talk about these themes on podcasts, and writing, and online. So yeah, really building up that community of interest in shared value.
Sean: I definitely hope we get an opportunity to talk a little bit more about that. It’s something that’s not often brought up, is the social part of tech, and I think some of those things that you brought up, I’m personally super interested to hear a little bit more about. Some of the questions that we’re going to be going through with the IT Trends Report, we’re going to focus on a few pillars, we’ll call it, rising complexity, visibility matters, and barriers in investments. Before we get into those specific pillars, though, we did want to start by just asking you a pretty general question. Did any of the findings in the report surprise you?
Sally: I think, for me, one of the biggest surprises, but also I was heartened to see the focus on it, was the focus on skilling and reskilling and that link to confidence. So a lot of the results were showing that IT pros were lacking confidence, and it varied on organizational size as well, to tackle these big challenges around complexity, around visibility, around investment and observability as well. So for me, that focus on confidence and skills, it’s not just access to them, it’s their confidence to apply them, too, I think is really, really important. So I’m really pleased to see that it’s being acknowledged as a challenge but also an opportunity area, and again, that focus on organizational size matters in dealing with these different types of challenges. So we have to tailor our support, whether it’s technology, culture, or skills, or process towards that organizational size as well. So as an opening gambit, that would be my first response.
Sean: That kind of transparency, talking about visibility, visibility into your confidence level is definitely something that I think is important, because it’s not something that we need to keep under the table. It’s an honest analysis, even if it’s just your personal confidence, but it’s an honest analysis of where you feel you are as an organization. “Are we confident as an organization?” That makes sense. We have one other general question for you. Chris, did you want to ask?
Chris: Yes. So which areas in particular would you like to focus on in this report? I know that we’re going to be covering some of the pillars, rising complexity, visibility matters, barriers in investments. But given your background, and I really liked what you said about diversity and inclusion and sustainability in tech, are those some areas that you’d also like to bring in throughout?
Sally: Yeah, I’d love to do that. Absolutely, and things may be about smart measurement to support some of this, and things around ESG as well, because I think there’s an interesting link around other things that we need to be looking at as well and the benefits that they can have for IT pros. So yeah, I’d love to naturally tangent into some of those areas, too. That would be perfect.
Chris: Great. Just for any listeners out there who are not familiar with ESG, do you mind giving us some context as to what that is, how that fits in?
Sally: So yeah, absolutely. Great question. ESG applies to environmental and social governance. It’s linked to the broader SDGs, the sustainable development goals. I think it’s a great opportunity for IT pros to contribute, not just business innovation and the benefits that brings but also innovation that benefits society as well. As an example, if we can better manage, measure, and reduce consumption, particularly given the energy crisis we have, particularly in EMEA, that can reduce operational costs and increase efficiency, and it can also reduce carbon contributions as well. So, again, it’s a shared value benefit, so I’d love to kind of tangent into some of these areas, too. I think they’re increasingly resonating with conscious consumers but also conscious ecosystem partners, too.
Chris: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s hugely important, so thank you for bringing your expertise on that topic. We really appreciate it.
Sally: Pleasure, pleasure.
Sean: And being the expert, Sally, we’re going to rely on you to know when to best plug that information and knowledge in there. But thank you.
Sally: No problem.
Sean: Yes, yes. Thank you so much. I guess, for now, we’ll jump straight into one of the specific areas of the IT Trends Report, rising complexity. So I’ll just give a little bit of introduction to what this section of the IT Trends Report’s looking at. Twenty-nine percent of IT pros surveyed cited that the acceleration of hybrid IT and specifically new tools and/or technologies, increased technology requirements, and fragmentation between legacy technologies and new technologies is a top driver for why it’s rising in complexity. So when I read that, really what I’m seeing is it’s new tools, it’s new technology, and fragmentation between legacy and new tech, which is very, very common from my perspective. I see this a lot. We’ve got some technology we’re stuck on to keep the business moving and then some technology we want to move to to make things better and more efficient. So this is the rising complexity topic. In your experience, which of the three that we just brought up in there, which of the three poses the greatest challenge to an organization?
Sally: Great question again. I would go for new tools and technologies as my number one out of those three highly cited challenges there. One example of that would be tool sprawl. I was involved in some other research recently as well, and it was showing that around 90% of organizations a day have added at least one security tool or new service to their environment just in the last year, and then 45% have added four or more technologies, as well. So I think you get to this tipping point situation where when you have this escalation in tools, actually, ultimately, you can end up increasing risk, increasing complexity, without improving your outcomes, and it can actually then reduce return on that investment as well.
Sally: So it’s making sure you’re not having multiple, multiple tools and techniques, different vendors, all adding different complexity, and then you lose the benefit of what those tools could bring. So you need to look for that consolidation in integration, so it supports you, and it’s that meaningful partnership rather than becoming so much data it’s overwhelming and you end up losing things in the noise. So yeah, getting that right, I think, is really important.
Sally: Also, on top of that, particularly looking at the new technologies, is the integration piece. I think we are living in an age of convergence, at the moment, of different technologies and how they come together, but many organizations, particularly enterprise, can be dealing with legacy tech, and legacy skills for that matter, too, particularly with the acceleration we’ve had over the last few years. So those things coming together is that integration of visibility piece, and again, making sure you’re not adding in so many things that you start losing the benefit of doing so.
Sean: I like that. It makes me think of getting the newest iPhone for the sake of, there’s a new iPhone out there, without an actual need, then you’re just generating cost without net-new value. Not saying, “Don’t go get the new phone,” but it’s something that, I like to relate things. I like to use an analogy, and when you brought it up that way, we’re doing it because it’s trendy. Funny, this is called the Trends Report. It’s becoming trendy to get a newer piece of technology. For what purpose, though? So I like that you chose new tools and technology, because I do see that, right, there has to be a purpose for the purchase.
Sally: Absolutely, absolutely. I think sometimes, as well, we forget that you can pragmatically reuse older tech sometimes as well, and that can still have new life and a purpose, as well. Again, thinking about circular economy principles and things, too. So yeah, I think it’s a huge one. So yeah, glad we’re on the same page, and I love an example too, it brings it to life, doesn’t it?
Chris: One of the other questions that I had, to flip this on its head, as one of the reasons that was not cited but in my opinion is also a contributing factor to complexity, is cloud migration. So, Sally, how does cloud migration, and how do cloud migration initiatives specifically, cause added complexity for companies?
Sally: Absolutely. Again, I think that word, “legacy,” springs to mind with this question, and particularly enterprise level. There can be a lot of legacy tech to deal with, and sometimes we don’t talk about this enough, I think, sometimes, but the legacy skills that go on with that, I’ve seen many situations where there can be that one single person point of failure when it comes to older technology.
Sally: So that integration piece and managing that migration in the right way is absolutely huge, and again, it comes back to that audit and benchmarking, that building tech in with purpose. Make sure it is the right thing to do. For organizations to really understand the risk, the complexity, and what potential solution is best for them to effectively migrate to the cloud. I think you have to start with that in-depth analysis, for example, surveying all the databases as part of an intial discovery phase. You get that right, you get the foundations right, and then you evaluate your choice of solutions and vendors, linked to what your mission is, what your purpose is, what you want to use that technology for, you’re going to be on the right pathway.
Sally: Again, doing it right so it can grow with you. It doesn’t have to be incredibly one-stop, massive transformation. It can be incremental innovation and look at something, it can be a pay-as-you-go, for example. It can grow as your organization does, but making sure, as well, that you don’t have issues around tie-ins, for example, and interoperability. It’s that seamless transition that we are looking for. So, again, if you get those foundations right, you’re going to be on the right trajectory.
Sean: One thing I’ve noticed in this that’s different than our last question and how you responded was there’s a necessity in this one. We brought up that there’s a potential single point of failure with the legacy technology, or maybe it’s not even just with an individual but with a capability. So whereas we were teasing at buying new stuff frivolously for the sake of buying stuff, in this scenario, it’s the opposite. There’s a necessity of, “I need to get off of some legacy technology” or “I need to bridge a gap between the legacy technology and the new way that technology interacts with the world.”
Sally: Absolutely. It’s that word, “Imperative,” that’s springing to mind as you’re summarizing that. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think that is the key differentiator between those two standpoints.
Sean: Awesome. So what are some ways organizations can combat this? I think that this will help with that confidence piece that you brought up. That’s a big part of the trending report, is the confidence, right? So what are some tools that organizations can use potentially to battle some of the complexity?
Sally: Absolutely. So first of all, I would start off with benchmarking where you are. So that audit around the technology that you actually have, because, again, the gaps. I’m sure we’ll come onto this a bit later on, there are huge issues around visibility gaps. So it’s that auditing of what you’ve got across your estate, but equally audit of your skills, as well, and not just in tech-facing roles, in non-tech-facing roles as well. Things like data, digital, and data literacy, They affect pretty much every role in an organization today, but there’s not always the accessibility to do that skills uplift unless you’re in a certain type of role. So I think that’s hugely important, and it really builds in that shared responsibility, shared ownership, shared value and understanding across an organization, too.
Sally: Definitely explore solutions that cut through this challenge of complexity. So you want things that are integrative, holistic, simplifying, consolidating. So when you’re looking at monitoring and measurement, it’s that single pane of glass, where you do have that holistic view of what’s going on. Also, don’t forget to explore things around your change management processes. We’re always talking, aren’t we, about agile organization and agile change. To support that, we also need agile change management. So things like continuous integration, continuous deployment, they introduce smaller, more regular changes to your organization that actually reduce risk and don’t increase it. Again, I think there can be a misconception around that. So again, agile change management is huge.
Sally: Again, going back to skills, giving people that toolbox of skills to work with is a great way to improve confidence. So it’s not just about tech disciplines, it’s around steam, as I phrase it, it’s things around emotional intelligence, empathy building, communication skills, so you can help to story tell and get buy-in in your organization. It’s those holistic skills that, again, can help you as an individual be agile and ambidextrous to change as well. So I think we have to look at it from that holistic standpoint, and that could be a great pathway forward, smart technology but with smart learning, too, and I think that can make a huge difference for confidence to apply skills.
Sean: Awesome. Yeah, I like to repeat back to you what you said to make sure I’m understanding it, but one of the things that I really liked about the way you phrased that was definitely about people’s skills, because we’re talking about confidence. Well, that’s not a technology feeling, that’s a person’s feeling, right? So if we’re saying that confidence is one of the major issues, what can fix that? I think that it’s an excellent point. If we’re comfortable in our skills to be able to adapt and adjust and be lean and agile towards these changes, these adjustments, these rising complexities, then I think those skills are definitely going to help with that confidence aspect. I also loved that you mentioned start where you are, and everything you pretty much talked about had to do with continual improvement, which you’ll never not hear me bringing up in any of our TechPods, probably, but anyone who wants to bring up continual improvement, I, unfortunately, see it left by the wayside too much for the sake of operations. So I loved that response, Sally.
Sally: Pleasure, thank you, and I think you’re spot on about continuous improvement. It is the way to go, and it is that holistic piece, it’s continual improvement across the people factors but equally across technology, process change, and cultural change, as well, and what you were saying there about confidence mindset, it’s that mindset to be able to go forward and embrace these types of changes rather than the natural human resistance to change that everybody is almost born with. It’s innate, isn’t it? Particularly when we’ve got the scope and scale of change we’ve had recently.
Chris: Now, I had a question for you, Sally, and it’s specifically, if we imagine companies who haven’t undergone digital transformation yet, and we wanted to sell them on the idea of digital transformation, and encourage them, and tell them about the benefits. If you had to distill down some of the benefits of digital transformation, what would those be?
Sally: Oh gosh. Okay. I will do a rapid-fire, holistic view of what you’ll get from digital transformation. So I think I’ll go for improving user experience, absolutely, but equally, the employee experience, too. I think sometimes we don’t talk about that. I think over COVID, we’ve all got used to the accessibility and seamlessness of different types of devices in our home environment or home-work environment. We expect it now, whether we’re in the office or working from anywhere. So I think that’s a really interesting one. Definitely improved time to market, more agile innovation, so you’re getting those solutions out there faster. Support for developers improving, particularly the rise of citizen developers, as well, so bringing IT and business closer together. Cost efficiency, higher productivity and satisfaction, gain that faster development piece, and flexibility.
Sally: So again, a lot of these are tying back to agility to make a difference in your business, and again, I would also argue, to make a difference to society, as well, because a lot of these benefits of digital transformation can benefit community and can benefit things, again, around carbon capture, for example, and reducing sustainability impact. So yeah, I’m really interested in that holistic wheel of impact. So yeah, amazing benefits from digital transformation when you do that at scale.
Sally: The other thing I would say is the way different technologies come together. I think we’re at a point of time now where we are moving into this hyperactive intelligence that allows organizations to not be reactive to change, to be far more proactive, to identify it, and to identify those opportunities, and equally, challenges, at a much earlier point of view.
Chris: That’s fantastic, and I could not agree more, and I especially like your vantage point of bringing in the human factor. I think that that’s something that I, sensing a theme already, and it’s something that you’ve already brought up, but I really enjoy you bringing that up and identifying employee experience, specifically, as an area that could benefit from that change as well. I think that’s hugely important.
Sally: Excellent, thank you.
Sean: I also have something to say all the time, so to comment on that, one, I love that you brought up something that, again, feeds into the continual improvement aspect of it, but one thing I want to specifically call out for it is, when I think about digital transformation, I want your opinion on this, Sally, it doesn’t have to be a global organizational transformation. It can be one piece is being digitally transformed, and I think, unfortunately, sometimes, people focus too much on the “everything all at once,” aspect, which is against the lean, the DevOps, the more agile approach, and digital transformation can happen at a smaller scale, too. So it doesn’t have to be “everything is being digitally transformed.” Taste a little bit of digital transformation in one technology shift.
Sally: I totally agree with that, and I also think it applies to organizations of different sizes as well, because I love the way, in your research, that you did split it down to three different types of organizational sizes. So, for example, thinking of security, one challenge I often see with smaller businesses, particularly SME to SMB, is there can be a misperception around resources available to support you, and that can challenge the benefits of digital transformation. It can cause confusion. I like to talk about digital transformation, we use security as an example at any size, and there is this facilitation piece across technology, across educational opportunities, to support organizations at all levels and sizes. So I think it is important to show that digital transformation can be a particular area of your business. It can be [inaudible] the technology, but also it’s available to businesses of all sizes, too. It’s not enterprise-only.
Sean: So, for sake of time, actually, the next question, which is part of this, can be a segue into looking at skills and tools. This question is to what extent does skills, and mapping those to the job at hand, have a part to play in rising complexity? I think this is an excellent question for you, Dr. Sally, because you’ve done such a great job of talking about the human element in all of this rising hybrid complexity, right, is there’s a human behind it. So, to what extent do those skills, and mapping them to the job at hand, play in this complexity?
Sally: I think they’re huge, and one of the reasons so is that we’ve also got a lot of supply and demand gaps around specific skills and technology at the moment. So, top of my head, I would say security, testing, and architecture, and cloud skills, will probably be the top four. Within that, as well, we’ve also got other gaps, and particularly around the diversity of those people who are occupying those roles at the moment and bringing new people in. I mean diversity in its broader sense, including neurodiversity, as well. So we need to address those gaps. I think one of the challenges is the way we describe certain types of role opportunities.
Sally: I’ve worked with an organization recently to redesign their CVs and their onboarding process and bring out the full holistic range of skills that makes a difference to those roles. So going beyond specific technology disciplines to looking at the more holistic “what you would want, school soft skills, which I think needs completely renaming, and I say that with a low voice, really, but skills for life, the ones that will help you get buy-in in your team, to communicate your idea, to build relationships with your customers and clients. So things around empathy, emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, but equally, creativity as well, to think of that best idea and in the future, too.
Sally: Also, the other thing we’ve done with job descriptions is look at what impact you can make, what agency you have in that role, to make a difference towards mapped SDG outcomes as well. So again, I think it’s a really interesting time at the moment because people are looking for different things in their roles in the first place. They want to be able to make a difference, and so, again, the way we map these skills and show all the ones that make a difference will open up more people to be interested in them in the first place, and we’ll also get a better alignment fit. So I think it’s a really interesting time at the moment, the amount of innovation we’re having around roles and identifying new talent, looking for new sources and new talent, but equally, describing what that role really entails, and what can be learnt on the job, and what is more innate, and cultural, and instinctive types of skills as well. So I think it’s a very, very interesting time. It’s a great question.
Sean: I like that you brought that all the way back to the job description. Before the job is even taken, before the role is even employed, it’s all the way back to a job description. I also appreciate that because what Chris and I are doing here today, our TechPod, this is one of my favorite things about working with SolarWinds is that it’s an extracurricular to my role, and I think that that’s an important part to recognize about a job description and a role is that it’s not just that role, it’s your contribution, and that’s something you mentioned is what is your contribution? Beyond just what your role is, what is your contribution to the organization? Those things, I think are very important, right, recognizing that human element.
Sally: Absolutely. I think, particularly when you’re looking at bringing in Gen Z or Gen Z into your organization as well, specifically what they’re looking for. I’ve just been judging a big hackathon in Zurich, and a part of that was creating amazing ideas, using technology to make a difference but also helping to identify new talent as well. It was so clear they’re looking for roles that also have purpose embedded by design, so that needs to be reflected. Right from that, let’s look at what this role is, and what it can contribute. So yeah, I think it’s a great area to focus on for organizations right now.
Sean: Awesome. Okay, so I actually wanted to jump down to one of the pillars we hadn’t even mentioned because we’re talking about skills and tools, and I think that it’s a best opportunity to take advantage of your knowledge and expertise. So we’re we’re going to jump into this. Almost half of the respondents, about 44%, said that the best solution to manage increased complexity is to adopt IT management tools. But as the result from this report shows, many organizations only plan to invest a fraction of their budget in new IT management tools to help address that visibility and complexity. So, when I see this, I think from an IT management tools perspective, a lot of it is about service management, which isn’t just responding to an individual’s issue but something you brought up, change. It’s the activities of recording what work you’re doing, not just the monitoring the metrics but actual management of IT. What are your thoughts? What are some ways organizations can tackle these? Of course, I would imagine that part of that response is going to be you do have to invest, but what are your thoughts? How can an organization manage that?
Sally: Yeah, so investment absolutely matters, and I think one of the ways we can address that challenge is the narrative. I have an expression that I use quite a lot, actually, about “Change the narrative.” But I think in securing buy-in about why it’s important to do that, we need to showcase the difference it makes. So things like improved app performance, visibility, customer experience, product resolution, all of these have a knock-on effect, they have that contagion of change on business growth. So bringing these aspects together, again, why those rounded skills really make a difference, you need to be able to show that.
Sally: I also think that needs to be accompanied by better measurement in organizations, as well. We often have very clear KPIs about very specific turnaround times and resolution fixes, etc. but less around what you’ve contributed to business growth more broadly or, for example, customer sentiment. Again, there’s a new metric that’s coming out soon called, “return on social impact invested or evaluated,” and that is helping to address exactly that. So bring all those things together, you’ve got better visibility of the impact you are having, and then it’s far easier to benchmark that, show progress, and get more buy-in to secure that missing investment. So I think that’s one way to look at it, position that narrative.
Sally: Also, more practical things. I think, for example, tying in observability to incident response can make a huge difference. Another one, I’m going back to something you mentioned earlier because I’m totally on the same page about how we improve organizations, I also think, for example, using observability as a driver for continuous improvement and ensuring that link is in place is another way to help tackle that problem, too.
Sean: So not to talk in circles here, but continual improvement, we got to get some benchmarks, we got to get some baselines, and then let’s continue to improve.
Sally: Absolutely. I might add in another word, in fact, we could say, “continuous circle improvement,” so bringing in those wider impact pieces as well. That, for me, is the Holy Grail of how we do this right.
Chris: Yeah, and you actually already answered the next question, which is fantastic, and you had referenced observability and how companies can benefit from leveraging observability solutions or even observability as a concept because they consolidate, they help simplify, the reasons that you provided earlier. Are there any other obvious benefits, Sally, that you’d like to touch on when thinking about observability?
Sally: So absolutely. Great question. I think, for me, I’ll do a little round robin again, in terms of the “why” around considering observability solutions. So, one, we’ll go back to the headline about making sense of complexity. It’s right up there in enabling some sense-making around that. It can help detect hard-to-catch problems, so that’s a really important one, as well. It is speeding up troubleshooting, so reducing things like MTTI, for example, MTTR, MTTA. Definitely reducing alert fatigue. I think that’s a huge problem at the moment. We’ve seen quite a lot of research, and just from practical experience as well talking to a lot of people on the ground, ITOps in particular have suffered a lot around burnout and anxiety. One of the contributory factors is getting through that noise. So much data about how you get the value from it, and alert fatigue was right up there as a contributory factor, so I think that’s a huge one.
Sally: Always about improving user experience, it definitely supports that. Again, things like increasing automation, reducing time to market, helping reduce costs, increasing developer productivity, I think that’s a huge one, and also supporting other forms of development as well, like citizen developers in your organization. Again, I’m going to say it again, driving continual and circular improvement.
Chris: That’s fantastic, and I’m biased because I support the Hybrid Cloud Observability solution at SolarWinds. I’m one of the product marketing managers for that solution, so I am all about all of the benefits that you cited there.
Sally: Awesome, fantastic. Great role. Brilliant.
Sean: No need to be ashamed. Plug those shameless plugs in wherever you can. Speaking of observability, to take it and change its meaning in this sense, we’re going to look at the visibility matters pillar now. So again, just taking observability and visibility and looking at it from a different perspective. So this is about less on the technology itself and maybe anomalies or the behaviors of the technology and looking at the visibility between the different teams, the apps in their conversation. So 54% of respondents stated that they had visibility into half or less of their apps and infrastructure. This especially seems to impact enterprises or large corporations, which makes sense. The more apps you have, the more infrastructure elements you have, the harder it is to gain visibility into all of them, whereas you scale down, you might manage all of them as one person. So as the infrastructure increases, the apps complexity increases, it looks like visibility is being reduced. Why do you think that larger organizations, even if I just almost answered, it in my opinion, why do you think larger organizations face that challenge more than smaller businesses?
Sally: Yeah, absolutely. You set the scene I think really well there. I’d also go back to my point about legacy tech and legacy skills affecting enterprises more. I think that’s right up there as part of the visibility challenge. But more than that, I think if we focus on where we need visibility the most, so it’s three pillars, really, data center, cloud services edge, and the client edge. If we think about what’s common across all those different edges, it’s where the traffic is altered as you cross from one domain to another, and by its nature, that can create these blind spots or these gaps in visibility. The further away we get from a data center out to the edge, it’s more complicated for IT to face the infrastructure challenge, that it doesn’t own or control it, if you see what I mean.
Sally: So again, that’s another factor why enterprises can suffer from this more. It’s harder to manage, and it’s more difficult to provide this end-to-end experience, regardless of where the user might be. So if you put those all together, I would say that’s why you’re seeing the results you did around the enterprise challenge being higher.
Chris: I think a good segue there is just to really think about distributed workforces, and I always like to tie back the human element. So how do you think that hybrid office environments have a role to play in some of these visibility challenges? I know you mentioned blind spots.
Sally: Absolutely. So definitely the decentralized distributed workforce change that we are seeing recently is a contributory factor to complexity challenges and particularly around the visibility one. I think it’s also heightened a trend that we were already seeing, even before COVID. Some of these challenges are very people-orientated. For example, I did something recently about middle management and them feeling quite particularly squeezed. Lots of agency to affect change but actually feeling maybe they didn’t have the right support to be able to make that change happen. One example of that is how leadership has changed. You’ve got new onboarding challenges when you’re not physically proximate, and that affects how you deal with that from a cultural point of view and how you really instill those values of your organization. So it has implications for leadership and line management, and you have got that lack of physically proximate visibility from a people point of view.
Sally: From a different point of view, security. The decentralization, this kind of work from anywhere approach has introduced new challenges around cybersecurity. I think “bring your own device” would be a great example of that. Again, making sure you’ve got visibility and integrated visibility of all these different assets, and different types of devices, and devices being used in different ways. Again, you might be using something from home that’s being used partly from a schooling point of view as well as a work point of view. So ensuring you are tackling that not just from a tech point of view but from a shared responsibility, cultural point of view, I think is huge.
Sally: But also, I think we need to look at what might happen next. A lot of organizations have been going through this transition and reflection phase. I know so many that are introducing a three-two working week in terms of working from home, or working from anywhere, and working in the office. But now, we’ve got things like the impact of the energy crisis, and how much electricity you might be using from a home work environment, and that, I’m already seeing some information coming through that people now want to go into the office more. So there’s a real flux and transition here. We’re not quite sure where we’re going to go, but absolutely it does have a role in all the challenges I think we’re mentioning today.
Sean: Awesome. Thank you, Sally. We did have a couple more questions on this topic, but I’m going to summarize them into things that we’ve already talked about because I think that they’re going to lead into the next one, which is barriers in investments. So just to recap what the next couple questions would’ve been, it’s about adopting solutions with integrated anomaly detection, which has been a theme, we’ve been talking about observability and how that can increase time to restoration or diagnosis. Then, a next question is about the decreased visibility, and how it can further delay an ROI. If you don’t know what your problems are, how can you increase your return on investment? So lack of visibility into those can impact that. I think these both, one, have already been potentially brought up and answered to a degree but also lead into barriers in investments, which I think is still somewhat of an unanswered question as part of this trend, right? Investment is going to be necessary, I feel like, for some of these complexity issues to be addressed.
Sean: So according to the results, the largest barrier to improving visibility and implementing observability is actually time constraints. Investments doesn’t have to just mean monetary, it can also mean investing time. So do you think this is due to the complexity of the tools or because most organizations haven’t yet defined what they want to observe?
Sally: So, for me, I think the way I would answer that question is I think where sometimes organizations are struggling are looking at observability from a more holistic point of view. So yes, it is data. It’s about traces, it’s about metrics, it’s about logs, but it’s more than the data, and it’s more than the tools that collect it and the tools that analyze it. I would say it’s a practice, a bit like the way I would describe zero-trust security, too. It’s a way of doing, and it involves a mindset shift in the way that we understand some of these unknown unknowns, basically.
Sally: So to really make the most of this, and this is where I think that gap in your survey results is showing, you need to embrace it as a practice. So this is about culture as much as it’s about technology, and to have that continual improvement, relentless focus on visibility, as part of that. I think that is how you bridge the gap between observability data as a tool, on one hand, and it being actually actionable on the other. So,that’s that bridging, I think, that we need to do. Again, at the heart of observability, we’ve got four main areas. We’ve got instrumentation, data correlation, instant response, but also AIOps, and again, that’s another area where I see sometimes a gap. I think we need more focus on the AIOps point of view and also around having diverse teams that support that, as well.
Sally: So I think for me, that is the fundamental one in terms of how we look at this differently. Again, it’s that holism world about how we address these problems. It’s not just the technology, it’s the culture, and mindset, and skills that support it, and definitely supporting areas, and the AIOps being right up there, for me.
Sean: Very, very consistent with what I would expect. It goes back to the people, the culture, the behavior, and my favorite word in that was “practice.” You have to practice observability, it’s not just a tool. I love that.
Sally: Absolutely. It’s about embedding in the everyday, I think, absolutely. Then, again, it really then becomes something that is part of your everyday practice, to go back to that word. That’s the way to really enable cultural change that lasts.
Chris: Yes, and you actually already answered the next question within that answer. The question was “Do you think it’s wiser to start now with implementing observability, potentially with less defined requirements?” But from what I understood in your answer, that having defined processes are really essential because it feeds into the culture, and the mindset and, like you said, the practice. So thank you very much for that.
Sally: Absolute pleasure.
Sean: So with the time that we have left, we want get to something fun. Not that I haven’t had a blast this whole time, but something we want to do towards the end of the segment, some rapid-fire questions. We’ve got some that are going to be more specific to what we’re talking about today and then some that are just going to be a little bit more fun and whimsical. This is episode-specific because we have you, Dr. Sally Eaves. How can technology be used for good?
Sally: This is all about the purpose to what technology and data is applied. I think we’ve got so many examples out there, and I think the pandemic, one positive thing that’s happened about that, we’ve had better collaboration, better co-creativity. We’ve shown the power of what we can achieve with coming together. So my model example of that would be the HPC Consortium. They’re the biggest tech companies in the world, alongside citizen scientists, individual researchers, bleeding-edge startups, councils, educational establishments, all working together for a common goal with open, secure data sharing, and they accelerated the innovation curve massively for things like vaccine development. Let’s apply that model for other challenges of our time, for example, around inclusion, sustainability, access to education, etc. We’ve shown what we can do with that power of contagion of change. So yes, it can massively be used as that, and the more we can give visibility, so visibility from a different take here, of role models in tech who are making a difference, the stories that can inspire other people to do the same thing, it’s huge.
Sally: Sorry, it gives me goosebumps when I talk about this, but I believe in it so strongly, and I’m actually sharing something. It’s all non for profit, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it, but I’ve got a book, Tech for Good, that comes out early next year, all raising funds for good causes, and the whole purpose of that is showing the people and the technology that’s making a difference. Some you may have heard of, and some are hidden shining lights, if you know what I mean. But I really believe that the time is now to really harness data and technology for good.
Chris: Yeah, I think that’s really fantastic, and it’s hugely important and something that isn’t mentioned enough. So one of the reasons that we’re absolutely thrilled to have you here, Sally, to really shed light on technology for good. I have another rapid-fire question for you, and that’s “What’s your favorite tech invention or innovation?”
Sally: Oh my goodness me, that is really difficult. Oh my God, you’ve really caught me on the hop, now. I tell you what I’m going to go for, I’m going to go back to my Tech for Good theme. Bamboo bikes. It was a really incredible example of pragmatic innovation. It’s a charity I’ve done a lot of work with, and they looked at how you can use surplus materials and repurpose them, and they had an amazing business model. So they built some incredibly more high-tech bikes, and they used that to fund the project, and I was directly involved in that. Then, this was in Africa, there was a lot of waste from particular factories that involved bamboo, and it was just going to be thrown away, and it was used to actually form the structure of the bikes, and it’s hard-wearing, it’s durable, and it’s relatively cheap, and it was repurposing something that was never being used before.
Sally: So it was an incredible story because it’s reduced the learning gap. Basically, kids who had never been able to go to school any time, really, in their history because of the distances involved had the ability to do so. You could do that 10 kilometer distance, for example, and they were bikes that could self-repair, they were easy to maintain, and they would last for their lifetime of school learning. So I love that example because it’s low tech, and again, I think sometimes we forget what we can do with things that might otherwise be thrown away. So again, that continuous circular improvement.
Chris: Absolutely. Fantastic. Yeah, thank you for that.
Sean: All right. Some non-specific ones here. Fun, hopefully still engaging for you, Sally.
Sally: Go for it.
Sean: Dr. Sally Eaves, would you rather travel to the past or the future?
Sally: Oh God, that’s really hard. Actually, I’m going to say travel to the past for personal reasons about my dad, actually. But also, there’s so many moments in history that have been so pivotal, and I think we can learn so much from the past to go forward in the best way possible. So I think by going back to the future, so to speak, it enabled us to learn from that and really spark the best opportunities for innovation to benefit humanity. So I think I would go back to help us go forward.
Sean: Perfect answer.
Chris: I agree. That was awesome. This is a less important question but one that I’m certainly interested in. When would you say that you are the most productive? Because you seem like a person that’s very busy, always on the go, so I’d love to know, when do you find your most energy? When are you most productive?
Sally: That’s a great question because I do work around time zones and things, but from a writing point of view, I’ll use that as my benchmark because it’s that consolidated time to think. For me, I’m a bit of a night owl, so late evening, early hours of the morning are my writing zone vibe where I really get into that, and it really helps me to flow. Again, we talked about data alerts and things earlier, didn’t we? I find at that time of the day I get less things like that going on, and it helps you to focus and, as I say, get into a flow and get into the zone. So that would be my sweet spot, so to speak.
Sean: Okay, excellent. Another one: what movie do you enjoy quoting the most?
Sally: Oh my goodness. Okay. Well I did a mentoring activity, literally yesterday, with some teenagers, and we were talking about what was holding them back from, for example, going for an opportunity. I had this phrase about “click to commit.” They were looking at, it was actually cloud skills, and they didn’t feel they had the right background or the right existing skills to be able to go for it and to apply. I used Shawshank Redemption, and it was like, “fear can set you prisoner, hope can set you free.” I was saying, “Go for it.” The only thing you’re not going to get by not going for it is you won’t get it. I was helping trying to reframe that narrative, and I ended up quoting that movie. So as I literally did that yesterday, I’ll go for that one.
Sean: Awesome. That’s awesome.
Chris: That’s a fantastic choice. What are some of your passions outside of technology, would you say?
Sally: Well, I’m very much a holistic type of person. I talk about steam a lot, so having all the tech skills but equally things like creativity, I’ve mentioned today, and empathy and skills like that. So outside of this, things like photography, I love that as a form of expression, a little bit of sketching, that type of thing, and definitely music. I wish I could say I could sing, but that would be completely inaccurate, or it would be beneficial for the audience, put it that way. But I do play piano, guitar, and keyboards, and that type of thing. I absolutely love music. I think there’s a genre for every occasion and how you are feeling. It can be super motivational, it can be very calming and help you think, going back to my writing example earlier. So yeah, music is something I think is great for expression and can support you whatever the occasion.
Sean: Beautiful. All right, last rapid-fire question. Well it’s not actually a rapid-fire question, but we want to take advantage of your experience and expertise in blockchain. So assuming I’m a five-year-old, can you explain that to me?
Sally: Okay. If I was going to define blockchain in basically three or four words, I think I would say, “Database on steroids,” actually, and a way of storing value. So,saying it very quickly, that would be my take.
Sean: Perfect. That hits me like I’m five. That’s excellent. Well, I think this was an excellent TechPod episode today, again, reviewing the IT Trends Report. Just to give another quick shout-out to my co-host, Chris Bowie.
Chris: Thanks, everyone, it was a pleasure today, and thank you, Professor Sally.
Sean: My name’s Sean Sebring, and thank you for joining us today, Professor Sally Eaves. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. Catch us next time on SolarWinds TechPod.