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BizDevOps, DevOps feedback loops guide IT transformation

BizDevOps has been the priority for Dynatrace customer American Fidelity the last four years, guiding the company's IT priorities amid ever-increasing technical complexity.

For many IT shops, BizDevOps and DevOps feedback loops are the final stage of the digital transformation process, but one enterprise found them a useful place to start.

When American Fidelity Assurance Company, an insurance company in Oklahoma City that specializes in employee benefits, began its transition to DevOps in 2015, it rolled out continuous integration (CI) and deployment tools for application development, which is a customary starting point. At the same time, the company deployed Dynatrace monitoring tools to give developers fast feedback on the causes of software defects in production.

Dynatrace competes with other DevOps monitoring vendors such as New Relic and Cisco AppDynamics, which began with a focus on application performance monitoring, and have all added AI-driven automation and infrastructure monitoring features in recent years. Dynatrace was spun out of Compuware in 2014, while its main competitors were founded in 2008.

When American Fidelity first engaged with Dynatrace, its focus was on monitoring how customers interacted with digital products, or digital experience management, based on its 2015 acquisition of Keynote. Most DevOps monitoring tools now offer customer experience management features, but at the time, that was a Dynatrace specialty, and it helped American Fidelity compose its initial to-do list for application development.

This focus on DevOps feedback loops to guide developer workflows is something IT pros typically do much later in the DevOps transformation process, analysts say. 

"Monitoring is often an afterthought," said Nancy Gohring, analyst at 451 Research. "People adopt new cloud technologies, then DevOps, but monitoring hasn't been baked in, and they haven't been prescriptive about how to approach it -- and then they start running into problems."

American Fidelity's experience has been the opposite. While it deploys applications through a CI/CD pipeline, its IT infrastructure is still mostly on-premises VMware virtual machines, though a move to public cloud is underway. Rather than focus on cloud-native infrastructure automation, the company focused first on continuously improving the applications it delivers on the infrastructure it already had.

People often don't realize that Dynatrace provides the ability to prioritize the areas of your applications that are most used for improvement. You can tell how many times something is called and how often it is called, and what will give you the most bang for your buck.
Gary CarrCloud infrastructure architect, American Fidelity

Even without highly complex microservices architectures, that infrastructure was becoming more complicated than IT staff could manage through manual intervention as the company deployed new network security devices and adopted microsegmentation.

"Developers did not have enough visibility to see all the connections between systems," said Gary Carr, cloud infrastructure architect at American Fidelity. "They spent a lot of time troubleshooting the log files, exception messages, and even more time trying to reproduce issues in our development environments."

Dynatrace sped up troubleshooting, but also helped the company prioritize which defects to fix first.

"People often don't realize that Dynatrace provides the ability to prioritize the areas of your applications that are most used for improvement," Carr said. "You can tell how many times something is called and how often it is called, and what will give you the most bang for your buck."

BizDevOps feedback guides product roadmaps, software backlog

Developers and IT operations pros at American Fidelity gained visibility into applications deployed with DevOps feedback loops, but the company also gave application managers and marketing personnel access to Dynatrace dashboards, which help them make decisions on what to develop next. This practice, known as BizDevOps, is the ultimate goal for many companies that undergo digital transformation, but most enterprises still fall short of realizing that ideal.

Marketers at American Fidelity, however, already use Dynatrace dashboards and user experience monitoring tools to look at customers' browser requirements, where website traffic is coming from, site response times and which products are used most. Dynatrace also analyzes those metrics to generate an overall customer experience rating that business managers use to determine what's most in need of improvement.

In the meantime, American Fidelity's DevOps teams rolled out advances in Dynatrace's products as they emerged since 2015, such as the DAVIS data analytics system. DAVIS narrows down the root cause of IT incidents and generates ServiceNow support tickets for IT incident response. Dynatrace can also automate the response to incidents without human intervention, including rolling back problematic application deployments, but American Fidelity hasn't yet used those features.

"While improving automation could possibly help us, there are times when the change that it's going to make is not enough to take focus off our main projects," Carr said. "Our goal is always to focus on our customers to make sure we can provide things like the fastest efficient claim process, the best enrollment system."

Public cloud, containers and other advanced IT automation is on the to-do list for the company, as is exploring AIOps automation. In the meantime, Carr said he'd like to see Dynatrace offer the same kinds of troubleshooting and feedback for application security that it does for application performance.

"With Dynatrace, you're already in the middle of transactions, you're involved in the networking, you are involved in the data sources, and all the services," Carr said. "It would be nice if Dynatrace actually had some implementation of security … in that same view."

A Dynatrace spokesperson said the vendor is open to customer feedback on its roadmap, but that security is not a focus currently.

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