Why observability needs a seat at the boardroom table

As we edge closer to 2022, observability as an organisational capability is still seen by most companies as a technical concept that should live within the realm of IT and engineering. For those who see it as a crucial business concept, they value its ability to deliver quality digital customer experiences. Unfortunately, the companies that have elevated observability to a company-wide capability are in the minority, and there can be a significant disconnect between senior management and IT decision makers as to the importance and impact of observability.

The only way to truly create a data-driven organisation that grows both top and bottom line performance is by raising observability to a level of conversation that the C-Suite can understand and appreciate.

The 2021 Observability Forecast revealed that 90% of IT decision-makers globally viewed observability as “mission critical” to delivering a clear, positive business impact. Despite this, only 29% of organisations in Asia Pacific (APAC) expect to implement observability within the next year, with 13% having no roadmap or strategy whatsoever.

One of the top barriers cited was a lack of understanding about observability’s benefits, with 22% of APAC organisations saying that they had been held back by this, as well as not being able to see the value of prioritising observability. It’s no wonder, then, that only 8% of ASEAN organisations are seeing observability strategies pushed from the C-suite down, and this figure is even lower in Australia, New Zealand and India.

Conveying business impact

Given the almost unanimous view of engineers and IT leaders that observability is mission critical, it’s incumbent upon us to clearly and compellingly articulate its benefits to the rest of the organisation and senior management so this gap can be closed. What does this look like? A good place to start is translating complicated technical concepts into analogies leaders outside of the realm of IT can understand. Additionally, it’s important to highlight how observability links directly to digital product development, customer acquisition, retention and experience, and both top and bottom line financial performance.

For example:

Traditional monitoring is like tracking the heart rate and blood pressure of a patient, getting alerts from abnormal patterns, but not knowing the root cause of a problem. Observability is the equivalent of taking these inputs in addition to metrics such as: what they’ve eaten, how much they’ve exercised, what medications or vitamins they are on – and outputs: such as how they feel and what they’ve accomplished. From there, it’s about being able to identify, correlate, predict and isolate issues around the patient’s health and identify inputs that drive better outcomes. Talk about creating a holistic and clear picture of health!

When implemented to its full potential, full-stack observability provides real-time linkages between business, product and financial performance, customer experience, engineering, operations and partner systems, allowing organisations to efficiently drive desired objectives company-wide in concert. The ability to identify a customer experience problem in seconds and identify the root cause in minutes – versus hours – is critical to retaining customers. The ability for systems to proactively detect anomalies before any impact, or bringing additional correlations between business and tech metrics to the forefront, brings companies closer to the goal of zero down-time, and supports better alignment between tech investments and business outcomes.

Accelerating digital transformation

The top use case for observability globally is to support digital transformation efforts, with 42% of respondents of the Observability Forecast saying that this was the case. Other leading reasons included: optimising cloud resource usage, and spending and supporting organisational IT’s move to DevOps.

The need for such an approach has been brought to the fore by complex, distributed microservices-based applications where the variables are so numerous that it can be an impossible task to know exactly what metrics need to be collected for the gamut of potential events that could potentially arise. Observability powered by AI and ML enables an approach to making sense of this sea of data in a way that was not previously possible.

Delivering exceptional (digital) customer experiences

Customer experience is now overtaking price and product as a key brand differentiator, according to the Customers 2020: A Progress Report by experience management firm Walker. Additionally, research by Portent found website conversion rates dropped by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time. Nearly 70% of consumers admitted that page speed influenced their likeliness to buy in a survey by Unbounce. Conversely, exceptional customer experiences fuel company innovation and growth, and observability is vital to delivering this. By detecting issues early and resolving problems before they escalate, outages can be prevented.

Observability also identifies if an issue is beyond an organisation’s direct network: for example, a problem with a payment partner. This is vital in a digital environment where a customer will simply move to another vendor if a page won’t load, or a transaction fails. Fixing or preventing problems quickly translates into an improved digital customer experience and a direct competitive advantage for businesses who grasp the opportunity with both hands. 

Driving positive business impacts

The top-ranked benefit of observability in the Observability Forecast was an increase in development, speed, quality, and agility. Long development cycles are costly and risky, but with observability, the speed to market for new products is significantly increased. Developers can also be confident that their apps and systems are resilient: one in five businesses saw this as a top benefit of observability.

The high cost of outages and downtime is an issue for many organisations. Outages are on the rise, but monitoring remains fragmented, which means that engineering teams are wasting business-critical time learning about incidents through multiple tools and manual checks. Full-stack observability improves uptime and reliability and drives operational efficiency.

Ensuring that the C-suite understands the direct relationship between full-stack observability and an organisation’s revenue and growth is crucial. IT leaders need to uplevel the value of observability and acquire champions across their executive team. The evidence is clear: there’s a breadth of benefits to observability. From improved development speed, quality, and agility, to cost-effectiveness, improved user experiences and enabling strong employee morale. There’s a massive opportunity for organisations to expand and mature their observability practice to deliver a clear, positive business impact.