An Interview with Compuware CTO of APM - Part One
August 24, 2011
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In Part One of BSMdigest’s exclusive interview, Steve Tack, CTO of Compuware’s Application Performance Management Business Unit, provides insight on this month's BSMdigest theme -- interfacing with Business Service Management technology.

BSM: Is a good GUI an important factor to consider when selecting BSM and related technologies?

ST: A good user-interface is absolutely important. The information needs to be accessible, and it also needs to be intuitive. There are a lot of items that make up a good user interface, but those are key aspects. The only other thing I would note on top of that: the interface has to be pulling data of substance and value. There are a lot of capabilities that vendors deliver today to provide very rich interfaces that are very sleek and sexy, but if they are not delivering the type of information that the user needs, the customer is not going to realize the benefit of the investment. A GUI is a key aspect, but without that key value of the data, the solution will fall short.

BSM: What do you see as the biggest limitation of BSM related user interfaces today?

ST: Products that appeal to only individual stakeholders. The reporting and interface will be very appropriate for a network engineer or a database administrator, for example, but it misses the wide audience and the ability to create more relevant views. With the notion of a strong user interface, the ability to present that information in different ways for different people is a key aspect.

BSM: Should companies look for one universal view of all the metrics from all the different tools – BSM, ITSM, APM, BTM, etc.?

ST: To have a successful project, users need to be selective in the type of information they move into the dashboard. My experience has been when people try to boil the ocean and create a panel of a bunch of different metrics across a lot of different areas, you tend to lose focus. It gets lost in all the noise. You are not going to create one dashboard that has everything at the lowest granularity of detail. You need to focus on the compelling problem that you are trying to address. You need to look at what business problem you are addressing, and not from the academic, artificial, grand unifying theory standpoint of how all the tools will work together. You do need to be mindful of how tools work together, and you need to be sure you are not doing redundant effort, but the business problem that is driving the initiative should set the priorities.

One other point I would add: it is very rare, almost never, that you would run across a greenfield example. Companies have had IT for decades and have built up investments over the course of time. They don't want to rip and replace. They want to leverage those investments and see what can provide additional value.

BSM: Do stakeholders across the application lifecycle utilize different dashboards in Compuware's Gomez solution?

ST: Yes, they use different dashboards. The Compuware approach has been to provide the role relevant views to different audiences. So, for example, if I am a VP of e-commerce, I want to know the current performance that is affecting things like conversion and abandonment, and have the relevant details to be able to interact with my peers on the IT side. Likewise, IT operation owners or application owners need to collect information to make sure that they are meeting the business needs, but they will also have people on their staff that need to get into lower levels of detail. You are not going to present the same type of information to a network engineer that you would to a VP of e-commerce. It is important to have different windows into the data.

The flexibility is very important. We provide a number of dashboards out of the box that appeal to operations, executive or line of business audiences. Often customers will then customize those dashboards to fit their needs. The flexibility to easily create those different views is a very important component of any BSM type product.

BSM: Do users want more customizable dashboards and alerts, or do they want to be able to use a solution out of the box?

ST: It is a combination. Usually we will see customers start with the out-of-the-box approach and that helps them to baseline data and understand where they are at today. Then once they have been up and running for a little bit they will understand where the greater optimization opportunities are, as well as they have gone through a learning cycle to understand how the different roles interact and consume the data and act on it, and then they will customize the views from that point on.

BSM: Is it important for the dashboard to identify whether specific data was gained via a synthetic method or a real-user?

ST: It is important for the user to know because synthetic and real user data can be used to solve different problems. For example, we see customers use synthetic data for benchmarking or control measurements because they know the same task will be executed. So this is often from an operational standpoint.

Real user data can be used for operational means as well, but it also gives you a broader understanding of your user demographic. So, for example, if you have a website that is reaching different geographies and you want to know how the site performs in Japan versus Singapore versus Sydney, real user data helps you understand how people are really interacting with your site.

Ultimately we think you will have a hybrid of both approaches, but you might start with one or the other based on the projects or problems you are trying to address.

BSM: What are your predictions for next-generation BSM user interface technology?

ST: The ultimate goal is to help customers gain more value out of performance monitoring products and BSM products. The direction I believe you will see the industry moving, and Compuware itself is moving, is the added analysis on top of the data. Today's application delivery chain is extremely complex. You are dealing with third-party components, browsers, new smart phones and tablets, as well complexity in the data center, such as virtualization and Web services. Each of those areas has created a new leap forward in terms of value that IT can deliver to the business, but it also increases the complexity around what people have to monitor.

Right now, most companies are trying to fill in those blank spots and make sure they are managing each of those components individually. That is a very valuable exercise. But moving forward, in terms of the next-generation approaches, more investment will be placed on not just the collection of data but the analysis of the information and the presentation of recommendations that can be done without experts looking at the data. And that can take a couple of different forms. It might be the ability to help users better understand how their application performs in pre-production, and how that will influence production rollouts. It might be the ability to identify how specific application performance problems relate to business results, and give users recommendations on how to fix those areas. So there are many different ways that analytics will provide additional value.

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