The government’s transition to the cloud is well underway. According to Gartner, 50% of US government agencies are actively using cloud services.
This transition, however, hasn’t always been smooth. Significant hurdles remain to getting the other 50% onboard with cloud services. In particular, many government IT teams lack the network visibility necessary to adequately manage the cloud — or rather, the multiple clouds they suddenly find themselves responsible for.
The IT industry has a solution to this problem, and it’s called observability. Unfortunately, a recent research report from Splunk reveals that nearly 80% of public sector orgs are at the beginning stages of understanding and deploying observability technologies.
What is observability?
In short, observability is the ideal state of IT monitoring and modernized digital decision support.
Observability is a modern approach to monitoring that provides complete visibility and context across the full stack of infrastructure, applications and the customer experience. This approach is designed to provide teams the visibility and insights needed whether they are optimizing IT services, migrating to the cloud, or building new cloud-native applications. With these insights, teams can ensure the continuous health, reliability and performance of their enterprise environment, including both applications and infrastructure. This capability is more relevant than ever, when most public sector organizations are no longer either on-prem or in the cloud. Complex, hybrid, multi-cloud environments can complicate the already daunting task of seeing and managing workloads in disparate locations and platforms.
IT managers in the public sector are no strangers to cloud monitoring tools. That knowledge and expertise is good; however, while cloud monitoring is an important component of observability, it is not the whole picture. Complex environments often use a mix of on-premises and cloud solutions. They may have cloud services from many different providers, and both services and the monitoring tools that they use are often siloed from department to department or even at the team level. This complex, hybrid kind of infrastructure — which is especially common in the public sector — means that IT managers often lack a coherent, coordinated vision.
For example, cloud monitoring tools provide no visibility into on-premises assets while at the same time, traditional on-premises monitoring tools won’t be of any use with cloud assets.
That’s where observability comes in, providing end-to-end visibility across the entire hybrid technology landscape. In fact, observability solutions emerged in the private sector over the past few years to address this exact problem.
Why observability matters
Full stack observability within and across on premise and cloud environments is the ideal, but it’s fair to say that in the public sector the reality still falls a bit short. The lack of observability leads to several specific problems.
Splunk’s survey found that public sector organizations are less confident in their ability to meet service level agreements (SLAs) for application availability and performance than their private sector counterparts: 22% of public sector respondents were completely confident versus 48% of respondents across other industries.
Siloed data means it’s difficult to detect and explore anomalies that could signal errors or security issues, leading to potential trouble down the line.
The resulting fragmentation of various monitoring solutions across complex hybrid environments means it’s also difficult to identify inefficiencies and generate plans that could increase the efficiency and lower the cost of the technologies being used.
The complexity of current monitoring systems also creates resource constraints: sifting through data from multiple systems is time- and labor-intensive.
Barriers to observability expertise in the public sector
When we surveyed government IT leaders about what was standing in the way of making progress on observability, one clear trend emerged: Lack of executive sponsorship. Just 28% of government respondents say their start in the observability space was driven, in part, by a top-down strategy (versus 47% of respondents, on average, across other industries). That’s not to say that a bottom-up initiative can’t succeed, but for a technology project that requires broad coordination across an organization, it’s safe to say that strong leadership from the top is a powerful accelerant.
Another finding is that many agencies are still early in the cloud journey. On average, respondents estimate 24% of internally developed applications are cloud-native, compared to an average of 32% across other industries. That’s not necessarily an obstacle to observability adoption, which is still possible even with legacy systems — indeed, true observability embraces both legacy and cloud technologies. However, organizations that are early in the cloud journey may be less likely to consider observability due to their lack of exposure to modern IT infrastructures.
Overcoming the barriers
To overcome these barriers, public-sector IT leaders can take a few concrete steps.
First, implement a cohesive data strategy that considers all data sources, integrates them effectively across silos, and delivers comprehensive visibility across the IT environment.
Second, move away from relying on fragmented tools and processes that require staff to juggle siloed devices and point solutions. The more your organization can consolidate around a comprehensive platform — and build unified processes to match — the more effective your move toward observability will be. Simplify the environment by reducing the complexity of IT management tools and actions.
Finally, recognize that executive sponsorship will be key to making these changes happen. To win that sponsorship, remind leaders that effective observability will result in better ability to meet availability SLAs, lower costs, greater efficiencies and more robust security from cyberattacks.
With an integrated plan, determination to simplify the IT in a robust end-to-end platform, and the critical element of executive sponsorship, agencies can move toward observability and transform the visibility, availability, and security of their cloud investments.
Achieving full observability doesn’t have to mean a major investment — in fact, the efficiencies it produces will pay for the investment. It just requires the vision and will to make it happen.
Juliana Vida is group vice president and chief strategy advisor for Splunk Public Sector.