The New Normal: How to Develop Mission-Critical Apps and Integrations Faster

 During the first six months of COVID, IT leaders and their CIOs came to the stark realization that their “rapid development” practices and paths to deploy minimally viable workflow applications weren’t fast enough. They needed apps developed, tested, and deployed in weeks, not quarters, and coding them from scratch was not a viable option.

Many IT leaders adapted to the dire circumstances and found ways to build apps to solve their immediate needs using low-code application development tools.

Boomi - Mission Critical Applications and Integrations - Isaac Sacolick

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Digital Transformation: When Printing Improves Operational Resiliency

When the Huntsville City Schools faced a ransomware attack in the middle of a pandemic, what technology did they turn to first to continue education for their 23,000 students?

Security attacks are all too common these days, and having robust technologies to support business continuity isn’t always a feasible option. Like many others amid digital transformations, the school district leveraged printing as a backup option to improve operational resiliency.

Ransomware attacks have hit many businesses, including the most recent on Colonial Pipeline, and attacks on service companies, manufacturing, hospitals, and retail leading the private sector.

Digital Transformation and Operational Resiliency - Isaac Sacolick

Operational Resiliency Requires Digital and Physical World Technologies

Ransomware is one reason digitally transforming companies look to improve their operational resiliency, but it’s not the only one. Forward-looking businesses also consider hybrid working as a strategy that improves employee experience while enhancing operational resiliency. Construction, manufacturing, energy, field service, healthcare, and retail companies all require operational resiliency to ensure that employees working in the field and away from desks are successful at their jobs through a myriad of real-world conditions. These businesses all recognize that digital transformation requires a blend of digital and physical-world technologies and collaborative practices. For example, organizations are also using printers from HP like the HP LaserJet Enterprise 400 Series to improve team collaboration and enhance the employee experience as people adjust to hybrid working.

So, while digital transformation is strategically important, leaders must also seek MSS (minimally simple solutions) to improve operational resiliency, including print devices and solutions. The combination of digital and physical-world capabilities ensure that customer experiences, employee workflows, and field operations are agile, nimble, and resilient to volatile operating conditions.

HP printer features make it a viable option for many operating environments. The LaserJet Enterprise 400 Series offers 30 – 60 percent lower printer costs and supports double-sided printing by default to reduce paper waste. It’s also the world’s smallest multi-function printer and designed to fit into tight workspaces without compromising advanced enterprise features.

Let’s look at some real-world examples of where the combination of digital and print technologies improves operational resiliency.

Digital and Print Technologies at Construction Jobsites

Many commercial general contractors and subcontractors have been investing in digital technologies to improve productivity, safety, quality, and efficiency at construction jobsites. It’s common to see superintendents and forepersons carrying tablets to review BIM diagrams, access documents, and complete daily reports.

But if you look in the construction jobsite trailer, you’ll see a mix of digital technologies, large screens, and industrial printers. It is not easy to ensure ubiquitous Wi-Fi access at a jobsite, especially on high floors of building construction. When construction is in a remote location, like offshore wind farms, mines, or road construction sites, Wi-Fi access may only be available during specific times of the day.

One construction project manager explained the work required to bridge the digital world with commercial and industrial construction’s complexities. He acknowledged, “We are still printing things that are already in a computer system, handing off tickets, dealing with a slew of apps, signing documents and tickets in the field, scanning them in, and trying to invoice at the end of the day to get paid.”

Retail and Field Operations Require Digital and Print Capabilities

Anytime a customer experience or workflow bridges the physical and digital worlds, there’s the opportunity to leverage digital and print technologies to improve operational resiliency and offer conveniences.

One example is in B2C retail operations, where retailers have significantly transformed because of COVID-19 to provide customers conveniences and safe shopping options. Programs to buy at home and pick up goods at the store and other mobile shopping options were popular and are likely to continue, even as many cities relax health restrictions.

But the operationally most resilient retailers offer both digital and print conveniences in diverse areas. For example, UK retailer Morrisons is transitioning its loyalty program to digital coupons but allowing customers to print vouchers at their stores. Supermarkets, commissaries, and central kitchens use nutritional print labeling capabilities to keep customers informed and aware of dietary conflicts.  

Another example is field operations, where service jobs are often scheduled, routed, and confirmed using mobile applications and devices. But what happens if the device breaks, the app is inaccessible, or there are Wi-Fi connectivity issues? A small glitch can put a halt to hundreds of people in field operations. The most resilient field operations teams also give people in the field printouts of their schedules and routes in case technical problems prevent them from using their devices and apps.

Seeking Minimally Simple Solutions

Having print and scanning capabilities can be the minimally most simple solution to common problems and opportunities. But these solutions are even more powerful when connected to workflows and digital tools using the HP Open Extensibility Platform (OXP) with OXPd JavaScript or OXPd .Net/Java.

Let’s consider some examples.

  • It’s common for field sales and marketing teams to print customized sales materials and ship or leave them behind with prospects. Finding and printing the most relevant, up-to-date version is enhanced when IT integrates the workflow with a content management system (CMS) or enables printing from cloud repositories such as Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, Dropbox, and SharePoint.
  • Legal notices and invoices arriving by mail can be scanned and routed to the appropriate departments.
  • IT can generate and print bar code labels directly from their CMDB and asset management systems and secure them to laptops, phones, and other devices. 
  • Human Resources can print and distribute resumes before interviews and then scan and process handwritten interview feedback. It’s more personable for the interviewer to review the resume and capture feedback on paper, rather than having an open laptop during the interview. 
  • Meeting leaders looking to survey attendees may find that they get more respondents and richer feedback by printing questions, scanning completed responses, and digitizing the results for analysis.

These are common physical-digital world intersections where printing and scanning offer simplicity and resiliency.

Enable Resilient, Convenient, and Secure Print Solutions

IT can’t offer the convenience and resiliency of integrated digital and printing solutions without security and privacy considerations. The good news is that HP LaserJet Enterprise 400 Series comes with enhanced HP Wolf Security features, which includes HP Trusted Platform module to strengthen the protection of encrypted credentials and data stored on the printer; HP Sure Start to automatically detect, stop, and recover from security attacks without IT intervention; run-time intrusion detection; HP Connection Inspector that inspects outbound network connections; and policy-based fleet deployment with HP Security Manager.

While IT leaders invest in digital transformation, finding simple and secure ways to improve operational resiliency is important, especially when many crucial customer experiences and workflows connect the digital and physical worlds.

This post is brought to you by HP

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HP.


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How to Buy Digital Tech: Beware of These Harmful Buying Personas

When you think about researching, shopping, and procuring new technologies, have you ever considered your buying persona?

What about the buying personas of your colleagues, stakeholders, and leaders? 

This is a key question I explore in Episode 27 of 5 Minutes with @NYIke, where I share how NOT to buy new technology.

How to Buy Digital Tech: Beware of These Harmful Buying Personas - Isaac Sacoick

Impulse Buyers vs. Analysts and Laggards 

CIOs know these personas all too well, especially when working with their CEOs and leaders. Many of them fall into the category of picking technologies out and expecting IT to implement their selections. 

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How AIOps Help SREs Measure Error Budgets and Fulfill SLOs

An application is waiting more than three seconds for an API’s response. The response time exceeds the performance requirements for this API, so a monitoring tool triggers an alert that automatically creates an incident ticket. By the time a service manager in IT Ops responds, the API shows acceptable response performance, and the ticket is closed without investigation.

How AIOps Help SREs Measure Error Budgets and Fulfill SLOs - Sacolick

What the service manager doesn’t see is that this is the fifth time in two weeks that this API tripped alerts, and two customer service complaint tickets are likely related to the problem. This IT group isn’t using AIOps to correlate alerts and automate integrations between tools, so recognizing this customer-impacting and recurring problem, triaging the root cause, and prioritizing its remediation is not on anyone’s radar. Instead, IT is investing time to close tickets while customers are complaining.

What are Service Level Objectives and Error Budgets

IT organizations must manage to higher expected service levels while supporting a mix of cloud-native applications, microservices, and legacy monolithic applications. But progressive IT organizations, including several leaders at hundred-year-old companies, are investing in AIOps, establishing SRE practices, changing how DevOps teams improve application reliability, resolving incidents faster, and reducing alert fatigue.

I spoke to Jason Walker, field CTO at BigPanda, about applying SRE methodologies, measuring Service Level Objectives (SLOs), and managing error budgets using AIOps capabilities.

Jason acknowledges that more people in IT Ops and their business stakeholders must understand SRE terminologies and methodologies. He explains, “Error budgets are a useful way to think about issues in the context of providing a reliable service. Maybe you’ve decided, “my SLO is 99.9 percent,” and the ratio of failures to attempts is going to be my service level indicator (SLI). You can only afford one failure for every 1,000 attempts.  That’s your error budget.” 

So instead of just measuring failures and capturing service levels measured against time, as in how many alerts per week, service level objectives are calculated differently and capture error events as a percent of the total events.

How Using Error Budgets Reduces Alert Fatigue

Using SLOs can change the business and operational mindset on how to monitor, what to measure, when to alert, and how IT Ops responds to incidents.

SREs use burndown reports for monitoring error rates in the same way developers use this type of report to monitor sprint, release, and epic burndowns. Alerts are only generated when the burn down exceeds the error budget for a designated time period. Some groups use predictive algorithms to also consider whether errors are trending in that direction.

Walker goes on to explain how measuring errors and tracking error budgets with burndowns changes the approach. He says, “Sustained breaching over that ratio for a given period or spiking by exceeding the ratio by a significant amount should trigger an SLO alert so that you can take action.  You can scale it up to the business service level and measure it down to the microservice level.” 

The approach helps reduce alert fatigue, a condition that plagues IT Ops when issues automatically trigger alerts and send off pagers whenever there’s an issue. Business leaders can collaborate with IT Ops to define error budgets with business context, so for example, they may identify higher SLOs and lower error budgets during peak hours or to support peak seasons.

Managing Incidents with Error Budgets and AIOps Event Correlation

So, to go back to my example, the first API errors issue probably does not trigger an alert or record an incident if the SLO for this service was being met and the error budget was not exceeded.  But by the fifth error in two weeks, chances are the error budget for this service is exceeded and requires action.

IT Ops teams using AIOps capabilities have an advantage when measuring error budgets. Let’s say the API alert triggers other alerts from the consuming microservice and several downstream applications. The AIOps open box machine learning algorithms can correlate these alerts and escalate them as one incident ticket to IT Ops. Tools then show the time-sequence of alerts which helps IT Ops triage the issue faster, and they can kick off automated responses that address known issues. The combination of these capabilities allows IT Ops to improve their mean time to resolution.

IT Ops also benefits by using the AIOps open integration hub that connects to ServiceNow, Jira, and Slack. Customer service is automatically notified of the issue and resolution via Slack, and when the root SREs determine that the root cause is a code issue, a Jira defect is created on the appropriate team’s backlog.

How SREs use Error Budgets to Prioritize App Improvements

Error budgets serve as a tool for IT Ops to recognize and prioritize which alerts require incident management. But SREs also use error budgets to prioritize which operational issues and technical debt that agile teams should invest development time to address.

These SREs use error budgets and their burndowns to have a dialog with agile product owners on prioritization. When business services, applications, dataops services, or microservices consistently exceed their error budgets, there should be a rationale to invest in the development effort to address root causes. On the other hand, if the product owner isn’t prioritizing remediations, then IT Ops may be justified in reducing the SLOs and managing to a larger error budget.

SREs using a topology mesh can show the dependencies and relationships between microservices, applications, databases, and business services to the product owner and application architects. So once there is agreement on upgrades and fixing defects, these maps help illustrate where development teams should focus on improvements.

Defining SLOs and error budgets is a key practice for IT organizations implementing digital transformations, hybrid working, cloud migrations, and other technology investments. Using AIOps in the implementation is a game-changer as it correlates alerts from multiple sources, streamlines incident reporting, supports faster issue triage, and enables workflow integrations.

This post is brought to you by BigPanda

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of BigPanda.

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Improving Employee Experiences as People Adjust to Hybrid Working

I recently spoke with a group of all-star CIOs and IT leaders about their company’s plans, support models, and approaches to improve employee experiences while transitioning to hybrid working. Several CIOs acknowledged that transitioning to a hybrid model is more challenging than the abrupt switch to remote working we all experienced last year because of COVID-19.

Improving Employee Experiences as People Adjust to Hybrid Working - Isaac Sacolick

One CIO told me, “We had no choice last year to switch to remote working. But this year, we have to consider business requirements, employee needs, transformation opportunities, operating conditions, and regulations when determining policies and defining the hybrid work operating model.”

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How More Teams can be Successful with Effective Microservices

I have to admit that I'm skeptical whether non-technical companies will successfully execute a software development strategy routed in microservices.

There's a long history of software development teams seeking modular and reusable code and services. We chased object-oriented programing, generic methods, and service-oriented architectures, leaving a trail of technical debt behind. How will this time be different?

Microservices with Isaac Sacolick

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5 Ways to Improve Team Collaboration

Janet started a new job during COVID-19 as head of product management and is responsible for leading several teams in developing and upgrading customer-facing applications. Her company just started hybrid working, and she’s eager to engage her teams on more innovative dialogs and collaborative planning.

HP Laserjet Enterprise Improve Team Collaboration - Isaac Sacolick

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