Technology is changing the way businesses operate and innovate. But, while it’s opening the door to exciting new opportunities, it’s also bringing with it a new set of challenges and headaches for IT teams.

Two steps forward. One step back.

As well as keeping up with the relentless pace of change, IT teams are now managing an increasingly complex IT environment. With cloud-native technologies running alongside a patchwork of legacy systems, it’s no surprise issues and outages become the order of the day.

With this backdrop in mind, the culture of many IT organisations is inevitably tipped towards failure, focusing on what COULD go wrong instead of what IS going right. So, how can Observability help IT teams break this cycle of negativity and focus on achieving positive outcomes instead?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by Observability. How it differs from traditional monitoring. And, how it can help IT teams take better control of their IT Operations.

What is Observability?

Gartner defines “…Observability as the characteristic of software and systems that allows administrators to collect external and internal state data about networked assets, so they can answer questions about their behaviour.”

In short, Observability gives you a front-row seat view across your IT environment. It enables you to see exactly what is going on at any moment in time and to verify everything is working as expected.

Unlike traditional monitoring, Observability allows you to focus on taking proactive measures like analysing data and trends to prevent or minimise issues across your IT environment. Outages happen. So, when things do go as expected, Observability gives teams a common framework and language to use and explain what happened and why. It’s not there to replace your existing monitoring activities, but instead to complement them. Helping you gain a fuller understanding of your environment.

No news is good news, right?

Not always.

As your technology environment grows and becomes more complex, being able to observe the performance of your systems or apps in real-time is critical. Taking a ‘no news is good news’ approach will mean you are always on the back foot when issues arise. The goal of Observability is to allow you to see exactly what is going on inside a piece of technology so you can build confidence in its stability and reliability. 

Today’s technology can provide a lot of valuable data to assess performance. But, in many organisations, this data is not joined up enough to help teams diagnose issues early and avoid costly downtime. In the absence of reliable data, many IT teams resort to assuming everything is working fine unless they hear otherwise, e.g. a serious outage or incident occurs. Observability acts as  a golden thread of information helping IT teams make informed decisions and to take preventive action.

Discovering the known, knowns, and unknown unknowns

If IT teams are always monitoring for exceptions i.e. known errors (where the root cause is known and a workaround exists), what about the unknown ones (errors that are not yet known or understood yet).

By leveraging Observability to affirm expected outcomes, IT teams can start to build confidence in their IT environment. Adversely, if they can’t affirm that everything is working, they can use this data to detect what is wrong. And. while this data may not tell them exactly what is wrong, it will confirm there is a problem (affirmation monitoring).​​

In summary, Observability helps IT teams to tackle those unknown unknowns, so that over time they become known knowns — issues they know could happen and can start to actively monitor for.

 

<img src="Observability.png" alt="diagram to explain affirmation versus exception monitoring">

 

Everything exists for a reason

Every piece of technology is created with an intended use and/or user in mind. Perhaps it’s there to solve a customer pain point or enhance a process or service. 

But, with continual changes going on across modern IT environments, teams can find themselves far removed from the reason a particular system or application was created in the first place. And, if they don’t know what it is there to do, how can they affirm it’s working? To find the answer, they often need to circle back to the original business stakeholders who requested it.

Don’t tell me it’s broken, tell me it’s working

Once you know what your technology is there to do, you can start to figure out what data you need to observe from it that will help you affirm whether or not it’s working. Although this might seem like an obvious approach to take, in many cases it can involve a complete mindset shift for IT teams. 

It involves having a proactive mindset and asking questions such as; what is this piece of technology here to do? Has its intended use changed or evolved? How do we know if it’s achieving the desired outcome? What data and metrics do we need to observe to affirm it’s working?

Rebalancing the focus from negative to positive

Imagine if you were setting out to break the land speed record, the first thing you have on your dashboard will be the speedo, over time you will add the known errors like oil pressure, fuel etc., to give you the complete picture. But generally, you will start by measuring the positive outcome you are seeking to achieve — speed.

For IT teams, Observability helps rebalance the focus, not just on what could go wrong, but also being able to say I know that this piece of technology is achieving its expected outcomes. By positively affirming the right outcomes, IT teams can quickly pinpoint and resolve issues that may not always be detected through their regular monitoring activities.

Using Observability to continuously improve

“...if you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it..”  Process improvement expert and author; Dr H. James Harrington

When development teams are building a new system, they will naturally be optimistic about its potential. Perhaps not giving too much thought to what could go wrong. So, while they are coding the system to deal with known errors that they know might happen, no provision may be made for unknown errors. But, what if your development team could say, great, I’m building something new right now, let’s use Observability to identify the positive signs that prove it’s working as expected. 

Taking this important step from the outset, will not only help you to identify problems faster and avoid being on the back foot with business stakeholders. It will also help identify areas for improvement and where you can increase capacity if your systems or applications are performing well. So, there’s this additional layer of business intelligence and insights you can glean to drive continuous improvement.

A positive mindset paves the way to success

It’s no secret high-performing teams focus their energy on achieving success not avoiding failure. Yet, a lot of IT teams today are still stuck in a cycle of negativity, obsessing over everything that could go wrong without recognising or understanding what is going right. 

Building Observability into your culture as well as your tooling can help liberate your teams from this trap of negativity to build confidence in their IT environment. Changing the focus from avoiding failure to achieving success.

Building confidence with knowledge

Being able to observe your technology environment in real-time brings you confidence that what you are doing is working. It also makes it easier to be proactive, spot small issues and resolve them before they become big problems. So, the process of making changes to your IT environment is no longer fraught with uncertainty and risk.

If you want to spend less time dealing with the aftermath of unplanned outages, and more time focusing on delivering positive outcomes for your customers, get ready to embrace a culture of Observability.

Keen to unlock the many potentials of Observability for your business? Read our white paper on ‘Driving business goals with Observability‘ (created in collaboration with our partners DRYiCETM).