New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar: How We Use Our Own Technology

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An interview with Yvonne Wassenaar, CIO at New Relic
By Fredric Paul (first published on the New Relic Blog)

Tell us about how we use our own products here at New Relic. How do we leverage New Relic to be true data nerds?

Given the relevance of New Relic’s products to today’s technology and business needs, we “drink a lot of our own champagne.” New Relic’s products are used for everything from monitoring our own internal operations and customer-facing offerings to using our broader Software Analytics Platform capabilities to drive insight and action across the business.

Specific examples of how we use New Relic internally include:
Business Enablement/IT: Development and operations of our software solutions, monitoring of software usage and performance, proactively understanding the impacts of system changes before they are implemented
Site Operations & Engineering: Development and operations of our Software Analytics Platform for our end customers
Product Management: Assessments of product feature value, understanding of customer product adoption, inspiration for innovation
Customer Success: Pulling together various data sources to get a holistic picture of what’s going on for a given customer to proactively avoid issues and more quickly address raised issues
Marketing: Fine-tuning of customer campaigns, funnel analysis, and marketing spend analysis
Executives: Real-time business insights on key focus areas for decision-making, company performance, service-level performance, and customer base trends
Our technology puts us in a position to drive cross-company impact in several ways: First, it is easy and engaging to use so our employees like to use it. Second, the information our software is telling us is all stored in our cloud so it is easily accessible across the business. And third, with our expansion into New Relic Insights we can now combine the data our software is telling us with data from other sources to allow for real-time data analysis across all aspects of our business.

Clearly, being our own best customer drives benefits for us internally. Just as important, though, it helps us create leading practices to share with our customers to help them maximize the value of their own New Relic implementations.

This all sounds great but it can’t be that easy. What are the challenges you face?

I see the biggest challenges for leveraging New Relic more effectively across the company are the challenges inherent in subjective data, which I see in most companies. Subjective data is data that can be defined in different ways by different people or systems. A classic example is how a customer is defined. For one group, a “customer” might be an account. For another group, a “customer” might be a buying entity. For a third group, a “customer” might be the parent entity. When different definitions of “customer” exist across different systems, it’s harder to do automated, real-time analysis across groups.
The strength of New Relic’s solutions is that these solutions have historically run on objective data; the data the software is telling us about what is going on in real life. The data definitions are clear and common: The system was running or it was not. A transaction took a certain amount of time. The customer used the feature or they did not. This data is inherently clean when you go to analyze it.
The complexity comes in when you want to combine this objective software data with subjective data like “customer,” which can have different definitions across the company.
Yet this type of data combination is very valuable. For example, many times you want to know not only how well your entire customer base is doing, but also information about a segment of your customer base, such as your “top customers” or your “most frustrated customers.” The good news is, New Relic Insights lets you do this type of data combination. The bad news is, if groups in your company define “customer” differently, painful discrepancies can result in friction and frustration when you attempt to work across groups.

As CIO of New Relic, I am driving commonality of definition and structure around questions like “What is a customer?”, “What’s an account?”, “Who’s a new customer?” While these sound like basic questions, they become more complex to answer consistently as companies grow and scale.
Yet, imagine the opportunities that could open up as we are able to more consistently marry historically subjective data with the objective data New Relic already analyzes. I believe this will significantly increase the power of our cross-company insights, because my stakeholders will get clear and consistent customer insights that can allow us to better serve our customers, better operate our functions, and innovate our offerings across the board.
There’s not a single CIO or business executive I’ve spoken to who doesn’t face this challenge of subjective data in analysis and integration across their systems, particularly in the area of customer. I am putting in place one of the key components to enable broader business insights across the company by working cross-functionally to tackle this challenge early in New Relic’s growth.

What is the relevance to other companies of what you are doing?

As a dedicated New Relic Software Analytics Platform customer myself, I can clearly share best practices on how to maximize the value of New Relic solutions with our customers.

Equally important, however, are the learnings on how to effectively organize and execute in the changing world of IT. What are the core capabilities—beyond the New Relic technology—you need to stitch together to drive powerful real-time business insights across the business? What needs to be centralized? What can be decentralized and how? How, in the midst of all of this, do you maintain business agility without compromising on security or the value of cross-system integrations?

My observation is that many companies are burdened with large legacy environments they are trying to manage while at the same time moving new capabilities to the cloud. Other companies are struggling in what seems to be a losing battle against Shadow IT efforts happening without their knowledge. Other younger companies such as New Relic are starting with a blank sheet of paper and going with “no IT” environments—leveraging third-party SaaS providers run and managed by the business functions.
But many companies lack the time and/or expertise required to design the right solutions for this new world—empowering the business without sacrificing security or cross-company integration. As CIO of New Relic, I am fortunate to have what I think is the perfect blend of environment, technology, and experience to design and implement the end-state vision those companies are striving to get to. I hope the lessons we learn here at New Relic will provide context for others on the basic building blocks that optimize agility, innovation, and efficiency. Taking advantage of these best practices in their own environments can help give other CIOs and technology/data leaders the ability to move from being seen as blockers to being enablers and innovators.

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