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It’s Time to Start Talking about Digital Operations

IT operations teams have some of the most stressful jobs in IT.

Keeping data centers online, servers running, enterprise systems functioning, and applications performing — all while responding to incidents and requests is hard work. While there are monitoring systems in place to provide visibility and change management practices that give IT some control over the network and environment, IT operations teams without event correlation constantly feel like they are fighting a losing battle.

If that weren’t enough, modern teams are encountering significant increases in the complexity of IT and IT operations, with vastly heightened business value expectations to match.

Technology is driving competitive value. It’s being used to improve customer experiences, enable decisions with real-time analytics, and drive new business models with emerging technologies. Enterprises must empower their workforce with powerful yet easy-to-use applications that integrate with an ecosystem of partners, third party applications, data services, and IoT devices. Businesses not only expect IT to have uptime similar to the uptime offered by billion-dollar SaaS platforms, they are demanding that IT keep up with the intelligence, speed, and security that digital businesses require to be competitive.

In other words, they need IT to be the backbone of their digital operations, and expect IT operations teams to be their digital operations teams.

Digitally transforming enterprises need digital operations

A digital operations team must look at their charter, responsibilities, practices, and tools from the lens of an organization that has embarked on digital transformation.

What are digitally transforming organizations doing? They are

  • looking to improve end-user experiences with new digital initiatives, services, and applications
  • using agile and devops practices to deliver frequent functionality improvements
  • automating more of their business operations to improve services, lower unit costs, and improve safety
  • building data lakes that aggregate data from multiple internal and external systems so that different business units can run large-scale machine learning experiments and self-serve data visualizations
  • putting their applications in multiple clouds and on a wide selection of best-in-class SaaS platforms, using a highly fragmented digital supply chain of APIs, data services, and partner capabilities.

Needless to say, IT operations must play a central, significant role in supporting this transformation initiative.

When an application is experiencing poor performance, there needs to be instrumentation, correlation, and automation in place to detect, respond, and adjust the environment to improve runtime conditions. Developers need detailed feedback on the performance of their applications so that they can make them faster and more robust. There is a greater need for higher data quality and analysis capabilities so that business teams can make real-time, informed, and collaborative decisions.

This requires IT operations to be smarter and faster than it ever has been before. IT operations must be able to integrate operational data from a larger variety of sources, leverage machine learning to identify issues and long-term trends, and then use automation to handle more types of issues — faster than ever before. 

In short, for organizations to transform digitally, IT operations must also transform into digital operations. 

The charter for digital operations

To transform IT operations into digital operations, a new charter must be developed that includes the following principles

  • Customer and end-user centricity to optimize the performance and operational response to primary user personas, and to those users’ journeys through applications (in addition to the traditional focus on uptime, performance, and security)
  • Machine learning leveraged to find anomalies and long-term trends against a growing list of data sources and metrics that people alone can’t process
  • Automated responses to incidents, the ability to guarantee SLAs to the business, and cost-effective scaling
  • Digital operations’ KPIs and analytics reported in terms that enable IT leaders to both communicate performance and identify areas for investment
  • Integration as a required core competency due to an increasingly heterogenous mix of clouds, SaaS, applications, data services, and tools

The intersection of these principles — a strong customer focus coupled with the need for machine learning, automation, communication, and integration — forms the foundation for digital operations. IT operations teams inside large, complex organizations can build on this foundation to transform into empowered digital operations teams that are going to be critical to those organizations’ success. 

Isaac Sacolick, President of StarCIO, is the author of Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation through Technology which covers many practices such as agile, devops, and data science that are critical to successful digital transformation programs. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, digital transformation influencer, and contributing editor at InfoWorld,, and Social, Agile and Transformation.