Solving Application Problems: IT Still Stuck in Reactive Mode

Two-thirds of survey respondents say they typically aren’t aware of an application performance problem until an end-user calls the help desk. That method is costing IT big bucks—over half say downtimes exceeds $100,000 per hour.

Systems and applications vendors are increasing touting self-healing—or autonomic—technologies as cure-alls for application performance and availability problems. A new study from Forrester Research finds that many organizations are still identifying and tackling end-user application performance issues the old-fashioned way—at the enterprise help desk.

The Forrester study, which was commissioned by application development and testing tools vendor Compuware Corp., was based on a survey of 430 senior IT executives with large companies in the U.S. and the EU.

Forrester found that fully two-thirds of respondents typically aren’t aware that an application performance problem has occurred until an end-user places a call to alert the help desk. Another six percent aren’t detecting such problems until they receive calls from management. All told, 41 percent of respondents rate as “reactive” the ability of their organization to diagnose and respond to end-user application performance and availability problems.

Not surprisingly, IT executives acknowledge that this fundamental reactivity is costing them money. Although most were reluctant (or unable) to provide specific information about the costs associated with application problems at the user level, Forrester was able to break down costs in terms of wasted IT staff resources. In this respect, 38 percent of respondents said that 11 or more people typically spend time dealing with end-user application performance problems, while another 57 percent of IT executives estimated that the cost of downtime exceeded $100,000 per hour.

What is surprising, however, is that the vast majority of respondents have already deployed tools and metrics to automate the detection of application performance problems in their environments. In fact, 66 percent of IT executives said that they have implemented both availability and response time measurements to monitor the performance of end-user applications. In addition, Forrester found that the mean investment for companies that were able to disclose how much they’d invested in tools over the past three years was $1.6 million.

So why aren’t organizations addressing application performance and availability problems in a more proactive fashion? One reason is that many companies are ill-equipped organizationally to solve problems effectively, with 43 percent of respondents characterizing their approach as “reactive” or “chaotic.”

Forrester found that on an organizational basis, companies approach problems in one of four ways: Involve and Solve, Surround and Drown, Send It On, or Ad Hoc. Only thirty percent of respondents indicated that they have well-defined and well-understood processes in place for solving performance problems, and nearly 20 percent of respondents said that they address performance problems on a largely ad hoc basis. What’s more, researchers say, when IT organizations send on or delegate problems to other IT support staff, the person who receives the hand-off is able to resolve the problem only about 64 percent of the time.

The upshot is that organizations are under the mistaken impression that the mere possession of tools and metrics translates into effective problem resolution. In fact, 39 percent of participants felt that their information was “very effective,” while 57 percent described it as “somewhat effective.”

At the same time, respondents typically admitted that while they own several performance management tools, not all of them have performed up to their expectations. All told, 47 percent of respondents said that they owned five or more tools, and 38 percent of these tools are broadly deployed in an organizational silo, not a cross-functional team. Researchers note, however, that many respondents have a limited understanding of performance tools—10 percent of IT executives claimed to have performance management tools from Microsoft, even though the software giant does not market a performance management product that monitors end-user experiences.

There seems to be a divergence between respondents in North America and the EU with respect to the ownership of (and perceived business value derived from) end-user performance management tools. Only 20 percent of IT executives in the EU have deployed such tools, for example, but 46 percent of this group believe that these tools help them to align IT operations more closely with business strategy. That compares with only 35 percent of North American respondents.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.