[EP 18] Data-Driven Decisions in a Pandemic

Jayne Groll, DevOps Institute CEO, and Splunk’s Chief Technology Officer, Andi Mann, discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly affecting the organizations and making them realize their need to transform digitally to adapt quickly.

The lightly edited transcript can be found below.

Intro:

You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the SKIL framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.

Jayne Groll:

Hi, everyone. It’s Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. And welcome to another episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m particularly excited today because I have a good friend of mine, Andi Mann, who is the chief technology advocate from Splunk with us today. Hey, Andi.

Andi Mann:

Hey, Jayne. Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to spend some time with you today.

Jayne Groll:

As always. Andi, before we get started, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about you, your background, and of course, some of the work that you’re doing these days with Splunk?

Andi Mann:

Sure. So, I am what they call an IT veteran. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. So, I’ve come out of an IT operations background. Historically, I was working with printers, and tape drives, and running batch work overnight in old data centers and such. Found my way into the vendor world through my love of automation. Love to make the machines do more work, automated myself out of multiple roles before someone else did to me. And so, I ended up with a couple of software vendors over the years. I was an analyst for five years, actually advising some of the biggest software vendors in the world.

Andi Mann:

More recently I’ve joined Splunk. So, at Splunk, chief technology advocate, funny title. And what it means is I advocate for both my company. So, I tell people about Splunk, and what we do, and how awesome I think we are, and stuff. But I also advocate for our customers. I listen a lot. At Splunk, we have this idea of, we have two ears and one mouth. And we should try and use them in that proportion. So, I try and listen to as much or more than I talk. You won’t notice that today, Jayne. And so, I listen to our counselors and I give that feedback into people like our product teams, our strategy teams. And I work on things like strategic acquisitions, product planning, and roadmap development, to make sure that we’re always keeping our eye on making our customers as successful as we possibly can.

Jayne Groll:

So, that’s a good segue to talk about customer success, and not necessarily specifically one segment or another. But, before we started recording, we talked a little bit about what do we think is happening during this really unchartered time? And I don’t want to use the word unprecedented because everybody is using that. But really looking at kind of pre pandemic, mid pandemic, post pandemic, particularly in the tech space. I’ve said this to you and others. I think the unsung heroes of the pandemic is the tech community. But I also think that this whole situation has amplified the need for doing things differently. Right? Many organizations had to transform very, very quickly.

Jayne Groll:

So, I know that your special area, your special passion is really in looking at data, ML, AI ops. And I think that, as we start to move out of this situation into whatever new normal looks like, and whenever that happens, organizations are going to recognize they need to transform very quickly. But you and I both agree that it’s going to be intelligent transformation that’s going to drive success, not transformation for transformation’s sake. And automation is going to underpin that. So, based on what you’re seeing, we’re both rooted at home, so we get to kind of watch a little bit more than participate, what do you see happening out there right now?

Andi Mann:

Yeah. I see a lot of rapid transformation being forced. It’s something I’ve seen on Twitter and I can’t credit who wrote it. I don’t know. It’s something along the lines of, who’s driving your digital transformation? Your CEO? Your CTO? Your CDO? Or your COVID? Right? COVID is driving digital transformation. I’m seeing that everywhere.

Andi Mann:

So, we’ve all talked about the Zoom, and the backgrounds, and it’s all good fun. We’ve done that on telly. We’ve had our kids and our dogs walking into our teleconferences with our boss. This is the new normal. Oh, by the way, when we say things like, in these unprecedented times-

Jayne Groll:

Yes.

Andi Mann:

I need you to do it with like a Don LaFontaine voice. It was unprecedented times.

Jayne Groll:

In these unprecedented times.

Andi Mann:

Exactly. I can’t do it just, of course. But, yeah. And so, what I’m seeing is that people are realizing, leaders are realizing that IT and digital makes a huge difference in situations like this. Now, I’ve done a lot of study around business continuity and disaster recovery. And of course it does. I worked with desktop virtualization companies to do disaster planning and stuff like that. I’ve actually run my own disaster plans out of data centers worldwide. And digital is creating the opportunity to continue to work and, in some cases, work harder than you did before.

Andi Mann:

I like that you don’t call this the new normal, Jayne, because one thing I think is that doing a conference call with your customers from a closet should never be thought of as normal. Right? And these are the things that we’re finding people are doing.

Andi Mann:

So, what I think, there’s going to be a move amongst, especially IT leadership, but business leadership in general, to start adopting some of the patterns that they’ve seen working through this period that they didn’t expect to work as well. They’re also learning lessons about what’s not working and how to maybe fix that. And so, work from home, occasional work from home, office sharing, hot desking, this is all going to be very normal in a very short amount of time, I believe. There will be a lot fewer in person meetings. Some of the conferences that we know and love will disappear. Some of them will deserve to pass away quietly. Some of them will be very, very dearly missed.

Andi Mann:

And I believe that we’re going to get more productivity in the long run out of this than we can even imagine with automation, with digital connection, with personal engagement in new ways. And Jayne, I don’t think it needs to be a lift and shift. We don’t need to try and recreate the office meetings and the office workplace in a digital mode. We need to think of new ways that take advantage of digital, the way we have with cloud, the way we have with a bunch of other technologies.

Jayne Groll:

Well, and you know what’s interesting about that? A couple of things kind of come to mind. Right? It’s that, this kind of refocusing, and I think you’re right, it’s not necessarily repurposing, but refocusing or re-inventing, probably would have happened. But it probably would have been three years from now, five years from now. So, I think we’ve been pushed into the future very quickly. But the future was going to happen anyhow.

Jayne Groll:

When we look at business leaders, for example, or you look at CTOs, CIOs, and what they look at as their metrics for success today, do you think that new ways of working, do you think they’re going to start to look at different indicators, look at different sources of those indicators to tell them, not only how the tech is doing, right, not only how the bandwidth or how elastic the capacity is, but really how the business is doing in order to make intelligent decisions. What do you think is going to change even from looking at business analytics?

Andi Mann:

Yeah. That’s actually really interesting. The metrics that we use are… it’s always difficult to know whether you’re using the right metrics. And now we’ve got a whole new business model we’re trying to deal with as a universe. And so, all of a sudden there are a whole bunch of new metrics that we didn’t even know we had to track.

Andi Mann:

And so, one of the metrics, for example, we’re working a lot with our customers trying to provide them with ways to monitor work from home for performance, for response time, for availability, for productivity, these sorts of things. So, when you’re sending all these workers home, how do you know they’re getting a good experience? They’re not running on your network anymore. You may not even own the end point anymore. It might be their personal home desktop. How are they connecting with other people? Historically, in an office space you’d walk around, and you’d see other people, you would have hallway conversations? How do you replicate that? And how do you measure the productivity of that?

Andi Mann:

So, we’re doing things with we have an add on that’s actually free to our customers who have remote work insights, which is actually measuring things like VPN success rates, attach rates, authentication failures, how many Zoom meetings is my business doing? Are they connecting? How long are they? Are teams opening a Zoom for the whole day so they’re getting a sort of a scrum standup kind of feel to their work environment, even remotely.

Andi Mann:

But, when you talk about business metrics as well, then we start to see all of the online work and the digital stores and so forth, they’re your only store now. So, when you used to major things like same store sales, for example, you measure time and inventory, there’s a whole bunch of metrics from the physical world that don’t actually even apply in our new digital world.

Andi Mann:

And so, these are new metrics which we’re going to see measured, things like we’ve seen a lot of the website stuff, right? Bounce rates, and click through rates, and so forth. But I think we’re also going to see a lot more detailed paid to payload data. So, what I mean by that is most popular products, revenue per customer, high value customers, these sorts of things, which actually show you your business results are basically aggregated. We know we want to be very clear and careful about privacy concerns. But this is the sort of data I’m seeing my customers really getting concerned about right now, when they’re doing everything new, they’re working from home, they’re remote, they’re not traveling and visiting the customers, and they’re not doing face to face meetings anymore. It’s how do I measure my business now that my business is fully virtualized? It’s going to be a really fascinating experiment to see where we land.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny, it’s interesting that you use the term experiment because you’re right. In many cases, many organizations are now experimenting in something that maybe a few months ago they wouldn’t even been able to conceptualize as something happening in 2020. Right?

Andi Mann:

Yeah. Because think of it. No. We don’t know what’s going on really. This is brand new. It’s a novel Coronavirus. Right? It’s brand new. We don’t really know so much about it. We don’t know, at this point, as we’re recording, exactly what time or date we’ll be able to reopen. Will we be able to run a conference in, I don’t know, August, November, January? It’s all up in the air. So, we’ll just have to try and use the best data we have to make the best decisions we can and pivot quickly.

Jayne Groll:

Absolutely. It is a transformational age. And that word gets overused. So, sometimes I kind of want to just revert and find other terms. But this is a paradigm shift. Right? It’s a paradigm shift for the individual. It’s a paradigm shift for the organization. It’s a paradigm shift for the customers. And I think that just kind of going back to the remote working thing, one of the things that I think is the most challenging when you start to look at productivity and remote work is, for once, you have absolutely no control over the environment. You have no control over the environment. You don’t know what kind of bandwidth I have. You don’t know what kind of drag there is on my bandwidth. You may not know what kind of device they have. You don’t know that I don’t have young children at home. I mean, there are so many, so many different factors that go into this that also indicate, okay, is this a good experiment?

Jayne Groll:

Now, I’m going to tell you the truth. I don’t think people are going back to a traditional work environment anytime soon. I think companies will look at ways to start to maybe bring people back to the office. Or maybe they’ll figure out that this remote is working. But we can’t make anecdotal decisions as much as we were able to before. There’s too much at stake. Right?

Andi Mann:

Absolutely.

Jayne Groll:

Right? The term intelligence takes on kind of a new spirit. Right? Whether it’s artificial or human, but that term intelligence has to kind of be at the heart of the transformation. Right?

Andi Mann:

Absolutely. Because, otherwise, you’re flying blind. Right? If you can’t understand where your baseline is to start, so measurement starts early. Measurement doesn’t start when you’re halfway through this transformation. Measure what you’re doing today. So, understand things like what is your cycle time? What is your timing phase? So, various locations within the development life cycle. How well are you doing in terms of idea to cash? Coming up with an idea, putting it into backlog, developing it, and then putting it out into production, and then making money from it. Lots of people have different concepts around that cycle, but the idea, the full end to end, but also within individual pockets.

Andi Mann:

So, then you’re starting to understand, what’s my ability to drive innovation. What does it look like right now? Obviously, aligning that with your business metrics. And in retail, it might be same store sales. It might be online sales. It might be repeat, generated business. Your insurance might be claim processing times, all sorts of business metrics to tie in there. But measure your baseline now because you’re still experimenting.

Andi Mann:

And by the way, Jayne, it’s really important to understand that this is a time when you will be forgiven for many, many sins. Coronavirus, and work from home, and the economic slow down, and all these things, because it’s so unusual, because it’s so whack, we have an opportunity to get forgiveness from our leadership, from our shareholders, and from our customers for trying new things. Theory of innovation, what is fail fast, fail cheap, fail small, fail forward. But I think we have opportunity, because of what’s happening right now, to try new things, try hot desking.

Andi Mann:

And I agree, Jayne. That I don’t think anyone is going to come back to a regular work, especially cube work. I think that’s changed fundamentally forever, not least because leadership is going to look at cost base and looking at the cost of office space in places like San Francisco, or Austin, or London, or New York, or Tokyo and going, you know what? I don’t need to pay for that. So, there’ll be a huge amount of transformation. And digital cloud is at the heart of all of this.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. That’s interesting too. Because I was going to ask you about that. So, one of the concepts that comes out of site reliability engineering is this reduction of toil. Right? And so, when we start to look at things that we would have done manually before, even going to the office, which is a manual effort. My husband is now working from home. And, for 16 years, he got up every morning, got in the car, drove to the office. Right? And so, now, he gets up in the morning and he walks down the hall to his home office. So, that’s manual work. Right? That’s a time saver. He’s not commuting anymore, as are many others. And so, I think that was going to be in our future.

Jayne Groll:

But I also think, when we start to look at the reduction of what is affectionately known as manual toil, this situation, I think, will amplify the need for more automation to do many of the tasks that would have formerly been considered toil. We still need humans. So, we’re not automating our way out of humans. But I think we’re going to look at… I think, more traditional enterprises will be more open to optimizing automation in order to increase the ability to release and reduce their cycle time. So, what are you seeing on the automation side, particularly… and I know you and I have talked in the past about kind of the introduction of machine learning, artificial intelligence, how automation is really growing in that direction. Do you think the traditional enterprise that might’ve been pushed across the chasm with the pandemics, they didn’t necessarily cross voluntarily, will start to become part of that kind of mass mentality?

Andi Mann:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really interesting one. Because traditional enterprises haven’t necessarily been diving into these new areas of machine learning, applying AI to IT operations, these sorts of things because they haven’t been forced to. They haven’t been pushed into it. It’s a frog in a boiling pot of water kind of situation for them. They’ve seen their digital competitors roll out with these kinds of things as fundamental to their business, measurement, looking at metrics for online interactions, user engagement. Look at engagement with employees internally, measuring those sorts of things. And they are falling behind. And they sort of know they’re falling behind. They’re going through these transformation efforts with a small team, let me tell you. But, right now, they’ve been thrust into a massive, unexpected digital transformation, whether they like it or not.

Andi Mann:

And so, as I said before, when they’re making mistakes, they’re trying new things, but making mistakes but they’re being forgiven. They’re learning. They’ll figure it out. They are figuring it out. And I fully expect that automation comes into it by freeing up so many people to do new, innovative things to make this digital transformation real. Part of the reason traditional enterprises are not as engaged in digital transformation as they should be is just resourcing. They’ve got so much business as usual to get done. They’re too busy shooting bows and arrows to learn how to use a gun. This is letting them take time out to learn how to use the gun. And so, applying automation and applying artificial intelligence. This is going to be so important to IT, to DevOps, to developers as well. This mode of known knowns of attacking known knowns with humans is just absurd when, especially right now, if you’re in a digital business, you are more busy than you’ve ever been.

Jayne Groll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andi Mann:

If you’re an online store that is still delivering, you are more busy than you’ve ever been. I know individuals who work at some of these cloud based businesses, including people like Zoom, doing overtime every day, because they just are so busy. Free those people up with automation, put artificial intelligence into the system to look at patterns, and numbers, and metrics, and the number crunching the computers do so well, and start predicting and getting ahead of problems. And let people do the creative work, the innovative work, the trying new things. If I want to go digital, how about we try this new software? How about we try this process? How about we talk to our people about how you can work in remote mode and still have engagement with your team? That’s not business as usual. If I’ve got automation doing that business as usual stuff, I can focus on this new digital transformation. So important.

Jayne Groll:

And it’s interesting also, you mentioned the cloud before, and I find it really fascinating because we do an annual Upskilling report. And so, last year cloud as a technical skill was number one far away from anything else. And this year cloud was number two. Now, remember this was all done pre pandemic. Cloud was number two with COI CD tool chains being number one. There’s a small difference between them. Right? But, interestingly enough, I think organizations that kind of hung on to on prem or were dabbling with cloud in a hybrid environment saw some of their digital competitors pivot much more quickly. So, I think that’ll be interesting.

Jayne Groll:

When you talk about AI, it’s really fascinating to me because it’s like having a best friend that wants to do all the work you hate to do. Right? Right? It’s like, yeah, you do that. And I’ll do all the fun stuff. And I think that, as AI starts to mature more, and more, and more, becomes a norm, right, becomes very natural to us in terms of our reliance on that intelligence, that I think it does become something that is an adjunct, right, to the things that we want to get done. We want to get them done consistently. And I do think this situation is really going to drive those initiatives forward. Plus a lot of these tools are not big. In the old days, when you want to adopt software, I’m like you, I’m a long time tech… what did you say, veteran? I’m a veteran, but I was also an accidental technologist.

Jayne Groll:

And, in the old days, you brought in a new product and 18 months later, you deployed it. Right? 18 months, a couple of million dollars later, you deployed it. And I think, now looking at some of the automation that’s available, the ability to experiment, you can experiment mindfully. And I love what you just said, Andi, that even now maybe you get a little bit more forgiveness if you do fail mindfully. Right? But you’re rewarded for trying.

Andi Mann:

Yeah.

Jayne Groll:

Right? And I think that’s important as well. So, we’re going to run out of time, but prediction. So, I don’t want to say the new normal because I hate that. And I hate the word unprecedented. I think they’re important words and I think they say what they mean, but a year from now, not from a where are we, are we working in the office? I don’t know that. My crystal ball is a little cloudy right now. But, from an enterprise adoption of technology as a resource, traditional enterprise, what do you see? What do you think? Where do you think those traditional organizations are, recognizing each of them are different? But what do you think the middle is?

Andi Mann:

Yeah. I mean, we recognize from the research that I’ve done personally that most businesses are hybrid. And hybrid everything, by the way. It’s hybrid cloud, but it’s also sort of hybrid virtual. It’s hybrid container. It’s hybrid DevOps. Most organizations are traditional organizations. And most of them are in a mode right now where they’re trying to figure this stuff out, and what do I have to change? And how much of the new stuff that I have deployed and tried out, or maybe my e-commerce team has been trying some stuff out, or maybe my mobile team has been trying some stuff out, then all of that starts to come to the forefront.

Andi Mann:

So, what I think we will see you in 12 months is we will see some businesses that failed to pivot. And that will be immensely unfortunate for a lot of people. And they will find their business plummeting. And then, we will see other businesses that have successfully pivoted. And they have adopted cloud. And like you say, things like automation, cloud native architectures, these things are not actually hard to adopt in small scales to try out. And this is the time to do that. And so, I think people will. They’ll adopt. I mean, we’ve already seen it. Right? We’ve seen the rise of teleconferencing. That’s not going back to the normal level pre this what I feel like is like an outage. It’s not going back to those levels. We’re going to continue to see high adoption of cloud based services. Traditional businesses are going to get to where a lot of normal humans were maybe 15 years ago. We were all panicking about putting our credit card online. And then, all of a sudden, at some point we just decided, you know what? That doesn’t matter. We can get so much more benefit.

Andi Mann:

They’re going to have these actuarial and risk based discussions at board levels and in the C-suite talking about, well, previously we thought this was too much of a risk. But look at these great results we got, even though we had to shut down our business physically. So, maybe we should double down on that. We’re going to see a lot of that. Like I said, I think the idea of a flywheel, we’ve soared digital transformation and we’ve resisted it. And resistance, like pulling a rubber band, at some point, that rubber band snaps back. And that’s what I think this current outage is doing to digital. It’s letting us store energy in that rubber band, in the flywheel. And we’re going to snap back as soon as we can.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. And it’s interesting. I’ll add one thing to that. I think human transformation is going to accelerate as well. I think, partially because organizations are going to realize that the talent gap is bigger than they thought as they start to move forward. But I also think, and I’m excited about this, and maybe you and I can schedule another time to talk about it. I think that the unemployment is insane and horrifying. Right?

Andi Mann:

Yeah.

Jayne Groll:

But I think, in there, there’s a gem. And that we’ll end up reskilling maybe people that were never in tech before, right, but that are smart people, that are capable people. And I think we’ll see some pivoting in terms of humanity. Not everyone, right? Not everyone. But I think there’s a diamond in the rough in some of the rescaling efforts that are going to occur because we’re going to need that. Right? We’re going to need a human transformation, a global human transformation as well. So, let’s see that.

Jayne Groll:

I don’t want to leave without sharing a couple of things. So, first of all, thank you. I mean, I always love talking to you anyhow, but talking to you about topics like this, Andi, is so gratifying because I think you have real world insight that’s digestible.

Andi Mann:

Oh, thank you. Pleasure to be with you, Jayne. I just love to have these intellectual and deep conversations on important topics.

Jayne Groll:

Usually we’re sitting at a bar somewhere, like in Vegas as a conference.

Andi Mann:

Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. And this is how we’re recreating [crosstalk 00:26:24].

Jayne Groll:

I know, really. But I also want to share that I think I mentioned to you, DevOps Institute is doing monthly SKILup Days. And so, each of these conferences are six hour events focusing on a particular topic. And I’ll invite people that are listening to go to our website and register. But have two coming up that I think really speak to this topic, one on observability and one on machine learning and AI ops. So, stay tuned because I have a feeling I’m going to be able to convince my friend Andi Mann to speak at at least one of those and take this topic a little bit deeper. So, stay tuned for all of that.

Jayne Groll:

Andi, thank you. Really, thank you. I said, I think one of the things I’ve always enjoyed, since we first met several years ago, is you really do have a real world perspective. Right? No agenda. Right? Just a nice real world perspective in terms of what’s happening out there, what do organizations and individuals need? And I’ve always appreciated kind of looking at the world through your lens. And I really do appreciate that you’re willing to share that with us.

Andi Mann:

Oh, thank you, Jayne. It’s absolutely my pleasure and it always is.

Jayne Groll:

Okay. Good. Well, thank you. So, for everybody listening, this is another episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast with Andi Mann, who’s the chief technology advocate for Splunk. Stay tuned. We have more podcasts coming. SKILup Days are monthly. So, please go up to the DevOpsInstitute.com website and register for those. They are actually replicating a real conference. So, I think you’ll enjoy those. And, for everyone else, please stay safe, please stay here.

Outro:

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