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Post-COVID, business leaders around the world are eager to make up for lost time. For many, that means accelerating the digital transformation initiatives they started before the global pandemic forced them to adjust their priorities. In this post, we'll look at COVID's impact on IT departments and how AIOps can help put companies back on track in 2021.

How COVID-19 impacted IT

In 2020, IT leaders didn't always have the luxury of stepping back and looking at the big picture. Everyone was in crisis mode, and they needed to keep their team focused on the most urgent priorities, like providing critical access to business systems to an unprecedented number of remote employees. As a result, many long-range IT and business objectives fell by the wayside. But as businesses look to accelerate digital transformation in 2021, it's important to assess the current state of the IT department post-COVID-19. 

In a recent panel discussion hosted by WWT, Greg Ostrowski, CTO at AppDynamics, said that many companies fast-tracked cloud migrations in response to the pandemic. In non-pandemic times, that might have meant sunsetting old on-prem systems, but in 2020, IT leaders didn't have time to create a comprehensive transitional strategy. So what we're seeing is many more hybrid environments (mix of on-prem and cloud systems) than there would have been otherwise.

Watch: AIOps: Leading Digital Transformation in the Cloud

The industry has termed this "tech sprawl," and early data supports the anecdotal evidence. In a study conducted by Cisco AppDynamics in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, 81 percent of respondents said that COVID-19 had created an unprecedented level of pressure on them to perform. These IT professionals also reported several technology challenges that impacted their ability to deliver on the business' goals, including:

  • Managing spikes in website traffic (81%).
  • Lack of unified visibility and insight into technology performance and its impact on customers (80%).
  • Challenges providing a positive digital experience across all channels (80%).
  • Managing Mean-Time-to Resolution (MTTR) with a remote IT staff (79%).

This complexity has translated into frustrations for the IT professional as well. In Cisco AppDynamics' 2020 Agents of Transformation Study, 81 percent of IT professionals said they feel increased frustration at work, and 63 percent said conflicts with colleagues have increased. 

This is not good news for businesses looking to accelerate transformation. With so many interconnected systems, IT is a collaborative profession by necessity. Furthermore, reports show that COVID-19 worsened the IT talent shortage, especially in areas like cybersecurity. In a study conducted by The Everest Group, 67 percent of respondents said they expect new IT skills gaps to emerge due to the pandemic. 

There is a bright side to all of this for IT that is worth noting. Despite all the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented, research shows that many IT organizations came through in spectacular fashion. In Cisco AppDynamics' study Agents of Transformation Report 2020: COVID-19 Special Edition, 80 percent of technologists reported the perception of IT within their organization had improved thanks to IT's response to the pandemic. This is very good news to IT professionals who may feel their contributions to the organization go unnoticed.

2021 digital transformation mandates for IT

COVID may not be entirely in the rear-view mirror yet. However, many regions of the U.S. are at least in the passing lane and viewing the pandemic through their side mirrors. IT now has two mandates for 2021. 

The first is to make sense of the hastily configured systems implemented in response to the pandemic. IT professionals are bullish on their ability to deliver in this regard. In Cisco AppDynamics' special COVID-19 study, 87 percent of respondents said they believe they can positively impact how their business responds to -- and then recovers from -- the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The second mandate is to realign IT to the digital transformation goals of the business. Cisco AppDynamics reported that 95 percent of the organizations they surveyed during the pandemic had adjusted their priorities, with digital customer experience now the top priority for 88 percent. Whether digital customer experience remains the top goal post-pandemic remains to be seen, but the data suggests that IT leaders need to take the time to revisit with business leads to ensure priorities remain aligned. 

Lack of visibility hinders digital transformation

IT professionals understand the importance of being transformational and want to contribute. Cisco AppDynamics conducted its first Agents of Transformation Study in 2018. In that study, 97 percent of global technologists had the ambition and desire to innovate, drive change, and digitally transform their organizations. Unfortunately, only 9 percent felt they were transformational.

Lack of visibility appears to be the greatest obstacle to transformation, but visibility comes in two flavors. The first is the lack of visibility into the organization's priorities. That can only be addressed by strong leadership -- both business and IT -- and a willingness to collaborate on business goals. The bottom line is that, in 2021, organizational silos may be capable of doing just as much damage to a business as the pandemic.

The second visibility obstacle is lack of what we often call "full-stack observability." This includes visibility into those resources that typically make up the technology stack, i.e., applications as well as networking, compute, and storage resources. But there's an environmental aspect to it as well. To effectively manage tech sprawl, IT professionals need visibility into these resources across both on-prem and cloud environments. 

The technologists that responded to Cisco AppDynamics' 2020 Agents of Transformation Study understand just how vital full-stack observability is. The vast majority (92%) said that visibility and insight into the performance of the technology stack and its impact on customers and the business is the most important factor in becoming an Agent of Transformation during this period. Almost three-quarters (74%) also said the inability to connect full-stack observability to business performance is a personal obstacle to becoming an elite technologist. 

How AIOps can accelerate digital transformation

AIOps combines artificial intelligence (AI) with IT operations to help IT align technology to the goals of the business and respond faster and more effectively to both opportunities and challenges.

In its 2021 Market Guide for AIOps Platforms, Gartner breaks AIOps down into three layers: data ingestion and storage, data curation and analysis, and visualization. The AI (and machine learning) algorithms reside in the data curation and analysis layer. These algorithms separate modern AIOps tools from previous generations of tools, which strictly curated data and served it to IT professionals who presumably knew what to do with it. 

Modern AIOps tools can analyze copious quantities of information and interpret it for the IT professional and even automate actions when configured to do so. Most importantly, they can analyze results and see patterns faster and more effectively than even the most expert IT analyst. While AIOps does not remove the analyst from the equation, these tools give them the power to be Agents of Transformation in the business.

When evaluating AIOps tools, it's important to also understand the difference between what Gartner calls domain-centric and domain-agnostic AIOps solutions. Domain-centric AIOps tools focus on specific components of the technology stack, ideally across hybrid, multi-site environments, while domain-agnostic tools look at the full tech-stack.

At this stage of market evolution, both domain-centric and domain-agnostic AIOps solutions are vital for digital transformation. Domain-centric solutions like Cisco's AppDynamics provide powerful insights and automation for specific stack components, while domain-agnostic AIOps tools like Bigpanda can help provide a unified vision and clarity at the visualization layer.   

I've already mentioned several studies and reports that can provide more insights into AIOps and how it can help your business accelerate digital transformation in 2021. I also invite you to join if you haven't yet. We have hundreds of downloadable resources and online labs that can help you learn more.