At PagerDuty Summit, IT support advances at the speed of life


The first time I heard about the emergent PagerDuty a few years ago, I wondered: Is another notification layer between information technology service management or ITSM tickets and IT monitoring alerts even a market? Gartner still doesn’t seem to think so.

But after attending PagerDuty Summit 2019 in San Francisco (below), I admired a crater-sized space in the IT landscape the company is bridging with on-call efficiency. It has dubbed it “digital operations management.”

“It’s hard to replicate what we do,” said PagerDuty Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Tejada (pictured). “We’re neither an IT Ops monitoring solution nor a pure customer experience vendor, so we coined our own term. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about human behavior, observing how teams learn through incidents and seeking to reduce unplanned work for our customers.”

After an IPO this April, there are newer, shinier technologies going public and capturing stock market attention lately. Never mind that: PagerDuty is still in a growth pattern, announcing a host of new products and features at the summit, adding new enterprise customers to a well-established fanbase of startups and counting more than 700 employees among its ranks.

At the customer appreciation event where it tented off the adjacent Union Square (apparently a thing that can only be done four times a year), one upstanding high-tech industry ops director from Europe told me he had two numbers that could interrupt his phone’s do-not-disturb mode: his wife’s and PagerDuty.

You might think that made PagerDuty an annoyance to him, but quite the contrary. Apparently his on-call interruptions went from several every night to two or three a week, thanks to PagerDuty’s ability to filter and assemble both system and human responses to incoming issues.

This might be the only company whose salesforce can safely ask the question: “What keeps you up at night?”

Building a partner platform

Nothing drives adoption like a strong partnership model, and PagerDuty took much of its time highlighting some of its more than 350 integrations built to date.

“Like many software organizations, our partner effort is more focused on the joints than the endpoints,” said Jukka Alanen, senior vice president of strategy and alliances for PagerDuty. “We built an extensive library of integrations, a certification program for partners and a developer platform to co-brand our functionality with their own.”

PagerDuty Summit in San Francisco

PagerDuty Summit in San Francisco

The larger customers I met here have acquired several disparate monitoring, configuration, workflow and communication tools as part of their expansion. So a huge multidivision corporation may have Jenkins and Broadcom Application Delivery in the development pipeline, take in metrics from New Relic, Dynatrace or Prometheus in different areas of the business, then handle IT support workflows for vRealize/Amazon Web Services hybrid cloud environments in both ServiceNow and Cherwell, and finally, communicate among teams in Slack channels and Zoom video conferences.

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With providers encroaching from all sides of IT Ops and support and workflow automation, there still remains the need for a virtual Switzerland — someone to organize the data emanating from all of these heterogeneous technologies into an executable plan of action. Someone needs the ability to collaborate on screen or get on a call, assemble the team, pull together contextual data, and make decisions.

Increasing the peace

“We’ve got more than 70 teams with SREs performing issue resolution on PagerDuty, but it wasn’t an overnight transition process,” said Jason Riggins, senior director of software engineering at Cox Automotive. “If I have one takeaway to share, it’s not to try to force people to change. If you want implementation to succeed, just make it the easiest option for teams to adopt.”

The most obvious lever for user adoption is improved UX, and PagerDuty announced here that its solutions are now 100% mobile device-operable. In the expo hall, several partners ran their on-screen demos in conjunction with on-device alerts and resolutions.

Perhaps more interesting is PagerDuty’s use of machine learning atop each customer’s data sources to build a new service directory function that identifies all service assets, dependencies, operational owners and stakeholders, even in changing or ephemeral cloud-native environments.

“People are trying to get ahead of all the changes pushed on them by digital transformation,” said Jonathan Rende, senior vice president of product at PagerDuty. “It goes far beyond development and operations and extends into the business stakeholders as well. That’s why we invested in data and analytics to better share what happens in real time, as well as continually improving in peace time to provide tangible recommendations on how to avoid repetitive issues and get smarter about resolution.”

One particularly interesting observation here was a limited number of services providers or well-known system integrators. It seems like one of these firms could have set themselves up head and shoulders above the rest to say it can implement the most efficient support and remediation practices in the business. Maybe next year.

The Intellyx take

Many executive leaders take a rather idealistic view of DevOps, as if a relentless team focus on agile automation and customer feedback would allow the design/build/test/deploy loop to accelerate perpetually on its own.

Management may not recognize the amount of unplanned support work and firefighting that flywheel can actually throw off. The customer content on display here proved there is plenty of room for improvement beyond a 40% to 70% reduction in MTTR or MTTA statistic.

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“There’s a big part of digital operations that is all real-time work, and while it’s happening, it doesn’t live in a ticketing system or CMDB,” Rende said. “Teams need a forum for coming together and taking action on a problem. We use several monitoring products ourselves too, but that information flowing in is growing as such an enormous rate, you still need a central nervous system to make sense of all the alerts when completing the work.”

So, is digital operations management really its own sustainable market? I’d generally like to see more players before calling it that, but PagerDuty seems to be leading its own category by example.

I saw the entire management team everywhere else besides the general sessions: thanking partners in the expo, mingling with customers in the breaks and receptions, attending and moderating breakouts, asking what they could do better. It was a live form of that real-time support experience that they are preaching. In that sense, I get it.

Summing it up, Tejada said: “Digital transformation is a team sport, and real-time ops is an extreme sport.”

Alex Solomon, PagerDuty’s co-founder and chief technology officer, also spoke at last week’s event with theCUBE, SiliconANGLE’s livestreaming studio:

Jason English is principal analyst and chief marketing officer at Intellyx LLC, an analyst firm that advises enterprises on their digital transformation initiatives, and publishes the weekly Cortex and BrainCandy newsletters(Disclosure: PagerDuty is not an Intellyx client. Broadcom, Cherwell and New Relic are Intellyx clients and VMware is a former client. None of the other companies mentioned is a Intellyx client. PagerDuty covered analyst expenses for attending the show, a common industry practice.)

Photo: Angela Chapman/Twitter

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