5 Ways IT Leaders are Adjusting to New Operational Normals

You gain many insights speaking to heads of NOCs and IT operations about the changes in their roles, strategies, and operating models over the last year. I was fortunate to participate in BigPanda's virtual roundtable that included leaders from the travel, retail, electrical utility, and gaming industries – in other words, industries dramatically impacted by COVID and its aftermath.

IT Leaders - AIOps - Isaac Sacolick

What an inspiring discussion! Here were four highly seasoned IT leaders from different industries facing complex challenges and working with very diverse technology architectures. These leaders were most responsible for the longer-term operational impacts on their businesses’ customers and employees. Yet, there was a lot of commonality in how they responded to the crisis and transformed their operational strategies. It required changes to their leadership mindsets, how they interacted with business executives, and their use of technologies, data, automation, and AIOps.Here are five ways these leaders transformed their responsibilities over the last year. 

Responding to COVID, Remote Working, and New Operational Realities

Faster DevOps Cycles

The travel industry was impacted quickly and dramatically by COVID’s shutdown. John Chao, vice president of reliability engineering and operations at Expedia Group, tells how they responded to new customer service needs and shifting travel regulations. 

“Airlines and hotels were updating their travel restrictions, and customers wanted to figure out what to do. They had travel booked, what were they going to do about it? We saw traffic demands beyond any capacity modeling and pivoted the entire company very quickly to take care of the customer. We were doing thousands of releases a day and myopically focused on delivering real-time releases for the customer. We would get some travel guidance from a country or an airline, and – very quickly - we would have that on our site for customers. That was how fast we were moving our DevOps cycle.” 

While John’s pivot was to help customers in need, Jeff Ybarra, senior IT manager of network infrastructure and telecom at Ultra Beauty, a company whose e-commerce team had to enable a seismic shift when in-store retail was no longer an option.

“We had to pivot quickly, having to shut down stores, keep our business running by reaching more customers through e-commerce side, and getting people comfortable placing orders online. We quickly found ways to leverage some of our strategic technologies, for example, from an augmented reality company and a virtual reality company we acquired a few years ago. We moved customers from physically being in a store and trying on products to have live video. If you want to change your hair color or try makeup, you can do  that easily now.”

Challenging Their Operational Status Quos

AIOps - Out of the box thinking

Once the new operational realities set in, these IT leaders quickly shifted their strategies and operational tactics.  

Ben Narramore, Senior Manager PlayStation Network, explained his new perspective. “The positive coming out of that was it made me and others in the industry think out of the box. Our traditional process of standards and how things worked no longer applied, and we were able to challenge our assumptions to address the massive customer demand. That was super good for me as a person and as a manager of operations to have to blow things up and rethink them. ” 

John backed Ben’s approach and shared what came next for Expedia. “What we decided as a company from a digital transformation perspective was to take advantage of COVID to go faster, not move slower. We did a bunch of stuff to optimize our variable costs. We took the opportunity to address a lot of our tech debt and look at every single part of our tech stack, from architecture, governance all the way to feature development. Over the last eight months, we’ve gone faster in our technology innovation curve than any other time in the existence of our company.” 

Adopting Technology and Methodologies to Match New Challenges

How AIOps Impacts ITSM

The shift in technologies, methodologies, and approaches also hit more traditional companies less used to working remotely and operating with digital workflows. Jeff explains how this shift impacted network operations. 

“With people working from home environments, they’re losing multiple screens and screens on the walls. We had to get away from looking at multiple tools to find an answer and start pulling everything into a single pane of glass, or one tool that can do the functions of these other three or five.” 

Steve Liegl,  manager of network and infrastructure at WEC Energy Group, faced similar changes. “We are getting ten or fifteen disparate tools boiled down to having our teams focus, looking at service desk issues differently, and predicting where we will be needed in the future.”

Taking Advantage of Being in the Spotlight

AIOps and COVID Drive IT Appreciation Day

Once operations settled, these IT leaders went from a back-office function to the spotlight and looked to sustain this gain in stature into the future. From Steve’s perspective,  “I’m truly hoping that we’re able to quantify the value of IT. If we couldn’t send thousands of people to work from home, what’s the cost to the business?” 

Ben and his team’s accomplishments were recognized across the company. “People recognize what we do, and the NOC got a call out at an all-hands meeting a couple of weeks ago.”

Jason Walker, field CTO for BigPanda, thinks IT leaders must take steps to ensure the acknowledgments and goodwill are not short-lived. “COVID created IT appreciation day across a whole bunch of different sectors as everybody suddenly realized what you guys do in the dark. Many are receiving a lot of that sunshine from leadership, but then COVID passes, and some investments are made. Do you go back then to that kind of steady-state cost center?” 

Ben shared a key insight on how to shift leadership’s mindset around IT operations. “I see this as the opportunity as I’m getting face time that I couldn’t pay for two years ago. So I, as a leader, need to take the opportunity to gain these relationships, open these doors, and continue.” 

IT leaders should take note. The best way to leverage a crisis for the long term is to execute and address operational issues while forming longer-term business relationships with executives.  When the dust begins to settle, it’s those relationships that IT leaders can leverage for driving innovative and transformative changes.

Leveraging AIOps and Automation as an IT Ops Gamechanger 

AIOps and IT's Future

This IT leadership group takes advantage of important technologies, including cloud infrastructure, AI/machine learning, and automation, to improve IT operations, customer experiences, and workflow. 

Ben is looking to the future. “We get to decide what the future looks like and redefine it. Look at operations service management two years ago, compared to today. It’s way different with the cloud and AI, and we automate many things and clean up processes. We’re not having those outages we were having, and it’s a much safer world. Automation, AI, and cloud are all given way to taking that volume of red issues or those big downtimes down to minuscule numbers.” 

John shared how their organization now sees IT operations as a critical business function. “All my objectives and key results (OKRs) are focused on business value and less about optimization of costs. There are no longer any metrics that I have to report externally about unit costs or how efficient we are. That’s self-managed now.” 

Over the last decade, businesses have been investing in customer-facing experiences, workflow automation, and analytics to digitally transform their business models. COVID, remote working, and lasting changes in customer behaviors have spotlighted IT’s ability to ensure the reliability, performance, and security of a growing number of mission-critical technology services. These leaders demonstrate how to elevate IT by developing business relationships, challenging the status quo, investing in AIOps, and evolving the IT operating model.

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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