Getting proactive: Driving continual performance improvement through analytics

For many IT operations teams, performance analytics are used to detect and correct live or predicted problems. The time horizons are often relatively short, with the primary objective of restoring service or guarding against projected failures. Often, there’s no longer-term view: i.e. a deliberate and focused program of continuous performance improvement.

If this looks like you, don’t worry! – you’re in good company, most organizations use their performance management data primarily as an operational support tool. It will always be one of the most important uses of the technology.

However, there is so much more value that can be extracted from performance data. There’s a more strategic approach to the continual optimization of system performance that can yield huge benefits, and that is what I’d like to discuss in this blog.

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Playing the long game and why it matters

Imagine an IT operations organization deciding that it would target an annual 20% improvement in server utilization rates across the top 5 business services. Their aim being to pursue that capacity improvement target until the physical constraints of the underlying infrastructure were reached.

Maybe they also decide to extend the mean time between failure (MTBF) on those same key services by 20% annually as well, thereby making sure any efficiency increases they were driving through higher utilization weren’t impacting availability.

They may also choose to include latency and end user experience improvement targets too and then aggregate all of these into a more holistic continuous service improvement program.

The benefits of shifting the perspective of performance management to one of continuous and proactive intervention are considerable. Instead of reacting to alarms and thresholds, using an advanced performance analytics solution to support this kind of shift in thinking can transform the impact and value the IT operations group delivers.

Adopting the continuous improvement philosophy

Making the transition to a continuous improvement approach can be challenging for many teams. For some, this way of working is new and unfamiliar, and it can be very difficult to introduce an improvement program if your key operational staff members are not supportive.

Developing some clear objectives and use cases for the project is an essential step in convincing people to embrace a new philosophy of performance management. You need to carefully and clearly articulate the positive outcomes for the team and the business more generally.

Another critical success factor is not to rush into a broad and far reaching transformation (unless things are really dire and everybody wants to do it!). Constraint and restraint are the watchwords of an effective transition; learn how to use performance analytics in this mode on a trial basis before pursuing a broader strategy.

Prioritizing your goals and defining the measurements performance2.jpg

As I mentioned above, “boiling the ocean” is not a great way to approach continuous improvement. You need to prioritize your goals first and focus on the key areas of performance shortfall.

 

Often, organizations instinctively know where attention needs to be directed first. You know the kind of thing: those annoying, troublesome and recurrent problems that you never quite seem to get ahead of.

 

If there are a large number of these issues, pick the top 5 that have the greatest impact on the business. I suspect your internal customers won’t be shy about telling you where poor performance really hurts.

 

Define what the challenge is in each case: e.g. massive system latencies at peak times or poor utilization rates in expensive and power hungry server infrastructure. Then set progressive and realistic goals for a continual improvement in the key performance measurements.

The trick is to ensure that in each case your passion for improving a specific aspect of performance is not to the detriment of other key indicators. A classic example is server utilization – an 80% utilization rate is not much use if the resulting service availability is poor and latencies have gone through the roof.

Developing a balanced scorecard for each performance improvement project is essential, and you might be surprised by how often it’s neglected.

Getting a helping hand from technology

There’s a great deal that performance analytics technology can offer in supporting a continuous improvement approach. Lots of IT operations organizations find it difficult to break out of reactive, firefighting mode simply because they don’t understand the patterns and trends of system performance. When you consider the frequency and rate of changes made to IT services, it’s no surprise that they are constantly fighting fires, because few organizations can accurately assess the impact those changes might have on performance.

This is entirely forgivable because many are difficult or impossible to spot without powerful analytic algorithms. It is however, an essential step; earlier I talked about how important it is to focus on your biggest challenges first; and for many, even knowing what these are is a real challenge.

The functional scope of modern performance management tools is extensive and the value they can provide to a business is significant. In a recent report from EMA on advanced performance analytics, 3 principal use cases of the technology were considered:

  • Change Impact and Capacity Optimization
  • Business Impact Management
  • Technical Performance Management

 

The role and impact of solutions in supporting these use cases is clearly articulated in the report. We scored very well in the analysis; BMC technology was consistently among the highest scoring across all 22 vendors in the study, and the clear leader in Change Impact and Capacity Optimization.

 

If you’re interested in taking a more pro-active approach to performance management and want to see how BMC solutions can support the approach, you can learn more here.

I hope you found this blog useful and I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the art and challenges of continuous performance improvement!

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       EMA Radar for Advanced Performance Analytics (APA) Use Cases: Q4 2012 by Dennis Drogseth

http://media.cms.bmc.com/documents/EMA-APA_Q4_2012_Radar-BMC_Profile.pdf

These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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