Bob Moul, CEO of Circonus, joined Amy Al-Katib, editor-in-chief of Mission Critical magazine, on The Thought Cloud podcast to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and how that relates to the digital transformation. Check out what he had to say about the impact of the coronavirus and how it’s changing the way people are thinking about their business operations.
Mission Critical: So, Bob, right now, I think there's approximately 160,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, and that number just seems to be rising exponentially daily. So can you discuss the impact the pandemic is having on digital transformation and the mission critical industry in general?
Moul: Yeah, I think what we're going to see is it's really going accelerate digital transformation initiatives. I was saying the other day, it's a little bit like, you can sort of tell people who have already been working remotely, you know, for some time. Circonous was a remote-first company for the last decade — we've all worked remotely and haven't really skipped a beat through all of this. But you can really tell, like when you're working with an organization or a company who's now sort of really scrambling to, you know, to adopt to the new normal, and I think that that's really going to stand out. I think as we go about our business, it'll be evident that, you know, we're dealing with a company that is very comfortable in this mode, has, you know, kind of been prepared or already been working remotely. And then I think there's going to be companies who are absolutely scrambling to figure out the new normal and how all of their workflows are going to change, how everything from the way they market to the way they sell to the way they fulfill is going to change. And it will be really interesting. I made a point in the post that I wrote that I think this is really going to carve a whole new landscape in the business community around people who I think will come out of this — there'll be winners and losers. I think there will be people who really are able to excel through this sort of disruption. And then I think there are going to be others who, notwithstanding the obviously hard hit industries — you know, restaurants and hotels and travel, etc. — but in the tech world, I think we'll see folks that excel, and I think we'll see folks that really struggle. But if you were a company who had begun the journey to digital transformation and trying to figure out what that looks like, I think this pandemic is only going to really force you to accelerate those initiatives.
Mission Critical: Yeah, I definitely agree there. And I know, with any technology in general, it seems to be that there's, you know, a few companies that jump on it right when it comes out. And then most other companies kind of have a general outlook of, you know, sometimes it's like, well, what we have is working, so why change it? And then I think a few other people want the new technology, but in their minds, they say, well, let's let the people who are using it right now figure out all the kinks and the bugs with it. And then, you know, in a year or two or however long they're thinking in their minds, they'll jump on board with it, because they assume it's a well-oiled machine by then. So I definitely think there's some people who were thinking about the digital transformation, or, like you said, had maybe started on that journey a little bit that are definitely going to be on board. But could you just talk a little bit about how predictive analytics and predictive maintenance can be leveraged in a time like this for maybe those people who weren't convinced that this sort of technology was worth a refresh in their business, and just talk about how it can be incorporated into their operating procedures to ensure that they would have minimal downtime in a situation like this in the future.
Moul: Yeah, I think a great use case. I make the point in the in the post that I wrote about what's happening is when "online" or automating was one way of doing something but now becomes, perhaps, the primary way or maybe even the only way of doing something, the stakes rise dramatically. And I think we need to begin to equate our digital infrastructure to, like, our physical infrastructure that we've sort of taken for granted over the last century —maybe not so much for granted when you hit a pothole in the road or something, but, you know, by and large, we sort of take for granted roads and bridges and tunnels and utilities, etc. I think that with what's happening here, and the more we move our lives and our business "online," that's now going to place a premium, a huge premium, on the performance of those systems and platforms and technology. And it's not enough I don't think anymore in this age, to just be able to identify problems and fix them, right? Like if you sort of look at the the arc of monitoring and alerting and infrastructure, it wasn't that long ago — we had pingdom, right? It was up or down. And we've gotten more and more sophisticated around monitoring In terms of being able to quickly be alerted to an issue — hopefully, quickly to be able to resolve it, you know, mean time to repair, all those sorts of things. But I think we've got to go now, a step further. I don't think it's enough to just be able to identify those things and fix them quickly. I think we've got to be able to proactively predict those types of issues and head them off before they happen. So I think predictive analytics, predictive maintenance, predictive everything becomes really important in this new world. And, again, I think this will be something that sort of separates the winners from the losers. I mean, as you do more and more of, like, let's just pick even, you know, shopping online, and you're comparing multiple services, and one is having — you just got an incredible experience, you're able to go, you're able to order, you're able to get delivery, and it's smooth. And you have others that are glitchy, not responsive, drop an order, kicked you out of your ordering cart — you're not going to stay with them. And, and so I think predictive maintenance, predictive analytics, become super important to providing a high quality of service.
Mission Critical: And to go kind of along with that notion of, I guess, securing your critical infrastructure in a way to where you're able to fix things before they actually become a problem — aside from the monitoring and alerting, can you talk about the importance of continual testing and verification, to maintain the high availability, the redundancy, and any other recovery processes that a business may need to have in place, where it's not just something that you have and then you never go back to it. I think there might be a lot of people who thought that they had a backup plan right now, and they realized when they needed it that it isn't working. So how can they prevent that from happening — you know, the discovery occurring during the middle of a crisis?
Moul: Yeah, I mean, I think you hit on it even in the question. I mean, I think it is that regular testing. I mean, I remember decades ago, I spent a fair bit of time with EDS, and we did a lot of outsourcing contracts, and we were required to — multiple times a year — basically emulate a disaster and, back in that day, it was how quickly could you get the mag tapes out of storage and, you know, get them to a backup data center and reload the entire operating system and all the applications and get up and running and reestablished. It was a ton of work. These days, it's a lot a lot easier ... in theory, should be a lot easier to do simulations and make sure that your processes and procedures are in place. And not just the production system but, again, the monitoring that goes with that. I think sometimes monitoring and alerting almost gets looked at as like an insurance policy, right? So you got to put the minimum in place to say you have it but, hopefully, you never need it. And I think this, frankly, we're already seeing, you know, a fair bit of in-bounding, where people's monitoring platforms are falling over, and they're losing data, and they're not able to keep up with the sudden surge in demand. So super critical to not just think can we recover from a failure, but can we handle increased demand, dramatic increases in demand, spikes in demand, and still continue to provide a high quality of service.
Mission Critical: And then just one more point I want to touch on here, Bob, is the role of vendors, which is critical, I think, all the time, but especially in cases right now. So can you just discuss how businesses can assess the strength and the viability of the various vendors that they may be relying on in the supply chain not only right now but also in the future?
Moul: Yeah, I think this is a super critical point. I'm sure everybody's scrambling to do their own assessments of where there's vulnerability in the business and systems, but I think it's super important to be looking at where you're dependent on other vendors' technology or platform or software — where is that integrated into your own offerings — and making sure that, you know, those those vendors remain viable. I would be doing, very quickly, an assessment — some sort of very simple rating scale and sort of, maybe, a heat map across the enterprise and the infrastructure and saying, OK, these areas are strong, we're married with strong partners. These areas are OK, we probably want to keep an eye on those. And these areas — we better take a very hard look at very quickly and see what our plan B and C are if something should go wrong here — particularly, again, for mission critical services. And let's face it, in this day and age, a lot of businesses, they are only online — digital-first enterprises that are only online — where those failures are those outages would just be absolutely catastrophic to the business. So I think it's a it's a great point and one not to be overlooked. I don't think we could just assume that everything is just going to keep humming the way it was prior to this.
Mission Critical: Yeah, and for all the businesses that maybe had just begun with their digital transformation, or the ones who hadn't thought about it at all, do you have any advice for them in this time? And, you know, maybe there's probably not so much that they can do right now to change up their their business plan, but hoping that as many of them are able to survive the pandemic as possible, what would you say should be their first steps in the future? And can you also direct them to your website or some sort of resources that are available to them online that they could get a little bit further into these details if they're interested in going that way, which I'm sure they all will be.
Moul: Absolutely, and I think you hit a really important point earlier on in our discussion around, it's not just the technology, it's people, it's process, it's culture. And, you know, listen, nobody wants to be seen to be capitalizing on a bad situation. But having said that, we're in a bad situation. And what's the old phrase: Never waste a good crisis. And so, you know, I wrote about the fact that COVID-19 sort of obliterated the status quo, and it's become sort of a catalyst and incubator and accelerator all at once, right? So, now is the time. Like, it's culturally — I think your company, your teams have been dragging their feet because good enough was good enough. Good enough is not good enough anymore. And so I would really encourage people to take advantage of — we're seeing things change overnight. Like telehealth suddenly being covered by Medicare. I think you're going see all sorts of red tape and bureaucracy just melt away as we try to deliver mission critical services. And there's an opportunity here. There's an opportunity here for every company out there to sort of really rethink their mission and really rethink what they're going to look like or what they need to look like on the other side of this pandemic and use it as a way to break through the status quo. I mean, the first step in making change, right, is to loosen the status quo. You have a great opportunity here to do that. And, yeah, we've got resources. I mean, you want to visit our website at www.circonous.com. We recently, it's so funny, we literally just a couple of months ago, wrote a paper about the Internet of Everything and the advent of machine data intelligence. We put together a framework for companies to sort of assess where they're at and move through sort of five levels of a capability maturity model — sort of like the old software development maturity model — where you can move from sort of sporadic monitoring to advanced monitoring to predictive maintenance and predictive analytics to innovating new products and services and even monetizing data that you have in your in your enterprise. I would be very happy to share that with with your readers. But I would just say, if you had been struggling to get the organizational will to make the hard changes that you knew you needed to make to survive in this new digital economy, now is the time to make it happen.