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FutureStack London - New Relic customers take many paths on the digital journey

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 18, 2019
In an exclusive interview, former SITA technology lead Greg Ouillon, now EMEA Field CTO at New Relic, describes four dimensions of its customers' digital journeys


At its FutureStack event in London this week, IT monitoring vendor New Relic was pushing all the new features recently added to its platform, including the ability to build custom apps that report and alert on business metrics and other KPIs. But listening to the conversations and presentations at the event, it struck me that a lot of its customers are using New Relic in a much more limited way.

It's true there always have been some very advanced users among the customer base who are strongly focused on monitoring customers' digital experience or even instrumenting shopfloor operations. But equally, there are many others who are still mostly focused on back-end monitoring of application performance, often as part of a modernization and cloud migration project.

I had a chance to find out more about typical customer journeys in conversation at the event with Greg Ouillon, who has just joined New Relic as EMEA Field Chief Technology Officer. He joins from a twenty-year career running software and infrastructure transformation projects for large international organizations, most recently as CTO of in-flight connectivity provider SITAOnAir. He has also led engineering and software development functions at SITA, Orange Business Services and Equant.

Getting a handle on performance

Ouillon identifies four dimensions in how customers are using New Relic. One of the most common is simply needing to get a handle on the performance of their technology stack, he says, often in the context of a modernization project:

A lot of customers approach us on the basis that they have an availability and performance problem. They are down too often, they have latency issues, scalability issues. But very quickly, they tend to focus on how to become much more proactive, and how to understand their infrastructure and their applications in a way that they will be able to remedy issues before they impact customers.

That usually starts with migrating to new infrastructure. 'I'm modernizing my applications. How do I keep up, that I'm still delivering the right availability, the right correctness and the right performance?'

The second dimension is where organizations are investing in monitoring the customer experience in a digital context, rather than simply focusing on design. This often follows on from earlier investments in application monitoring.

I would say that customer experience, at least in EMEA, usually comes at a later stage of the maturity cycle. It's very traditional that customers who came to New Relic from the application performance and infrastructure side, then expand into digital experience — because they get it. They understand the fact that you are losing customers, you are losing conversions, you are losing business, because of performance matters — not just because you don't have the right images on your website.

Monitoring and reporting real-time metrics with a business impact form the third dimension. This is the most sophisticated use case, says Ouillon, although it's not limited to large enterprise — smaller digital startups are often savvy to this type of monitoring. It stems from a realization that relying solely on a data warehouse to analyze business performance won't tell you what's actually happening in-the-moment, which is where a product like New Relic comes in. Ouillon cites the example of European budget airline Ryanair:

They have these eight dashboards, where what they are driving is not CPU, RAM, throughput. They're driving number of check-ins, number of boardings, number of boarding passes printed, all that stuff. They are driving deep connections for the ops teams, their dev teams and their business, around the business. If you're in ops at Ryanair, what you're looking at is business indicators.

So that's the third dimension, introducing deep connections between people, business, infrastructure and applications.

One truth to change mindsets

The final dimension is where organizations want to adopt more of a DevOps approach to IT management. Introducing a monitoring solution is often the catalyst they need to change mindsets to embrace a more responsive, problem-solving culture, he says.

In EMEA I'm meeting a lot of customers who are in the midst of their DevOps journey, because most often, going to cloud also goes with going to DevOps. What they are telling me is that the [biggest] challenge they face is around people and culture transformation, resistance to change.

I've lived it in my previous company. A lot of customers live it. When you bring in a platform like New Relic that brings together the application, the infrastructure and the business, you create a one-truth environment. And that one-truth environment breaks barriers in the company.

Bringing all the monitoring together on a single platform removes the buck-passing that often gets in the way of solving issues in a more siloed environment, he explains.

In a lot of companies, when I meet with CIOs or heads of ops, they tell me, 'Greg, I'm frustrated. We counted. We have 30 different monitoring tools in the company. And I'm not getting what I want. Why? Because each of these tools is used by a different team to tell me why they're not part of the problem.

I think a lot of these CIOs are starting to understand that the platform approach is about connecting the dots together. It's about having that end-to-end view, which is the one-truth view. Nobody can hide, it's all there on the screen. And now what do we do about it?

That transparency changes the minds of people. Now it's all on the wall. So what do we do? I found that a very, very powerful gamechanger to move the culture of people to move to DevOps.

Digital maturity in EMEA

Ouillon sees a broad spectrum of maturity within the EMEA region in terms of digital infrastructure. Cloud-native operators are at a similar level of sophistication as in the US market, and there's been rapid adoption of serverless functions. For companies that are less advanced on their digital journey, he finds that one of the most common questions is, where do they start? Should they focus on real-time instrumentation, adopting DevOps, cloud migration, or digital experience? His response is to just start measuring what they've got.

I think a lot of customers discover that by also instrumenting their legacy environments, their as-is, it gives them a huge amount of insight about their dependencies, the state of their technical debt, the real baseline of their performance. So that when they start to modernize, at least they start from a solid ground in terms of KPIs ...

I recall when at my previous company, we deployed New Relic, in the first week we uncovered technical debt and issues that probably had been there for years or months, that we had no idea were there. It made it so much easier for the whole team to say what are our priorities? To go through our technical debt in a prioritised way, which is much easier, because it's not based on opinion, it's based on real findings.

That may sound like obvious advice, but in the European market people often feel that they should just know, rather than first collecting the evidence and defining objectives. New Relic's mantra of 'measure, execute, improve' comes far more naturally to digital natives than it does at more established companies, he says.

I have discovered that a lot of the cloud natives or digital winners are ruthless about measuring, executing and improving. I think that today, a lot of the enterprise customers I see are not there yet in terms of that cadence.

My take

As someone who has only just 'switched sides' from enterprise technology buyer to vendor, Ouillon speaks with authority about the various trends driving adoption of real-time monitoring platforms like New Relic. It's evident that, while all businesses are going through this digital journey, they are taking many different paths.

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