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Operations / Software Development

How to Improve Operational Maturity in an Economic Downturn

In uncertain economic times, it can be tempting to do the bare minimum and wait things out until better times arrive. But that’s a risky strategy.
May 31st, 2023 8:30am by
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Times are changing. The buoyant technology markets of the past few years could be set to take a dip. High inflation, rising interest rates and skills shortages are adding to the economic pain for many businesses. But this doesn’t mean they should go into survival mode as the storm clouds gather. For one thing, their customers won’t let them.

Instead, they must do more with less. When it comes to the digital systems on which so many organizations now depend, efficiency is the name of the game. And improving digital operations maturity is how organizations can win.

What Is the Digital Operational Maturity Model?

The pandemic has done much to change the way we live and work. It’s also taught businesses some hard lessons about the need for operational maturity and addressing mission-critical, urgent work. The hybrid cloud and microservices-based architectures that enable so many to adapt with agility during the pandemic have introduced more IT complexity. That’s made it all but impossible to manage everything using traditional, centralized tools and processes. As has the trend toward decentralizing teams by different lines of business, each with their own toolchains and workflows.

The result is that when incidents inevitably happen, teams can be slow to coordinate and respond, potentially hurting the customer experience and bottom line. And as systems become more complex and interdependent, and users put more pressure on these systems, more failures will occur.

Operational maturity is the key to improving the speed at which organizations respond to mission-critical work. It defines how prepared ITOps teams are to detect, triage, mobilize, respond and resolve outages or system failures, and other critical, unplanned work. The lowest state of operational maturity is manual — where teams deal with incidents using slow, manual processes — and reactive, which sees teams constantly in firefighting mode.

Next up is “responsive.” Half of organizations are at this stage, with many in a state where they resolve issues as they occur. Few organizations are further along in the “proactive” and “preventative” states. While research shows that teams are improving, with most agreeing they’re better at resolving incidents now than they were 6 to 12 months previously, there’s room for growth. Doing so will not only help protect revenue and reputation by enabling more efficient incident response. Digital operations maturity is also linked to improved workday consistency and more even distribution of work among team members.

Why Does This Matter Now?

Improving operational maturity matters for several reasons. Firstly, when teams work more efficiently, they spend less time on firefighting incidents and more time on value-adding tasks such as innovation. You don’t want your technical teams wasting time on incidents they aren’t needed for or exerting energy on manual tasks that could be automated.

Second, digital Ops maturity helps to prevent burnout and resignations. Research shows that across all sectors, 54% of responders are interrupted outside of normal working hours — rising to 62% in retail. And 42% of responders worked more hours in 2021 than the previous year. That’s due in part to the fact that over 60% of responders had to respond to off-hours alerts at least once a week or more. These are all red flags for possible team burnout, and with the effects of the Great Resignation still being felt, organizations can ill afford to spend more time and money on recruitment and onboarding. If budgets are frozen, they will come under even more pressure to do more with less.

Finally, digital maturity means teams fix incidents more quickly, reducing impact on customer experience and bottom line. In preventative organizations, they will even be able to predict and address issues before customers become aware of them. That matters today more than ever in a world where a third of consumers would stop doing business with a brand they love after just one bad experience.

How Can Organizations Improve?

The first step toward improving digital operations maturity is understanding what level your organization is currently at. That will help benchmark against best practices, identify goals and metrics, and build a strategic roadmap for future success.

If your organization is at the most basic level of the maturity curve, “manual,” digital operations will be characterized by manual incident response and queued workflows such as ticket-based systems. There’ll be virtually no way to reach subject-matter experts (SMEs) in an urgent and timely manner. To become a “reactive” organization, you’ll need to establish better communications and notifications so that there are clear lines of escalation to SMEs that don’t require an intermediary. Also important is having visibility into what your current incident response process looks like. Empower your teams to codify tribal knowledge and, to address knowledge gaps, encourage certifications to make teams more efficient and effective.

To become a “responsive” organization, the focus should switch to standardization. That means consolidating onto a single digital operations platform to handle mission-critical work and ensuring all stakeholders can use it. This platform should help to provide a single source of truth for responders to gather information and communicate.

Moving from a “responsive” to a “proactive” organization requires optimization. This means identifying real-time work that can be automated so teams can work as efficiently as possible, reducing incident response times, and ensuring SMEs are free for high-value work.

How does an organization do this? A good place to start is by automating the event stream via enrichment techniques using machine learning and event rules, and connecting it to runbook automation. Then it’s time to map business services and dependencies, and standardize priority service responses. Understand which technical services roll up into critical customer-facing functionality and develop processes and protocols to manage these when something goes wrong.

The ultimate goal is mastering digital operations to become a “preventative” organization. To get there, you’ll have to be able to predict team health to prevent burnout and attrition. The key to doing so is collecting and analyzing data on which teams and services are under the most and least strain so you can better use in-house resources.

Finally, align technical metrics to business objectives, which should help you connect business goals to the way your technology operates. In doing so, it will be easier to encourage all stakeholders to be part of the improvement and goal-setting process.

Not Surviving but Thriving

In uncertain economic times, it can be tempting to do the bare minimum, to wait things out until better times arrive. But that’s a risky strategy, especially if your competitors use that time to improve their digital operations.

That’s why smart businesses plan for success during economic downturns. By enhancing your organization’s digital operations now, you will be best placed to capitalize when the market returns to growth. To learn more about digital operations maturity, check out what analysts from 451 Research have to say about PagerDuty.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Pragma.
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