Observability Hero: Jayson Barley from OpenGov

By Knox Lively, October 25, 2021

Introduction

Jayson Barley from OpenGov HeadshotObserve recently partnered with OpenGov to help them achieve their observability goals. As a result, I had the pleasure to sit down last week with Jayson Barley, Engineering Manager at OpenGov, to discuss how they’ve leveraged Observe to help them along their journey to full observability.

OpenGov was founded in 2012 with a mission to help power more effective and accountable governments with their modern and cloud-based software. You can find their SaaS products in over 1,000 cities, counties, and state agencies throughout the United States. 

Daily operations at OpenGov generate copious amounts of observability data that they need to make sense of, and quickly, as their customers are at the helm of our local government(s). In addition to the sheer volume of data they receive, OpenGov must also adhere to strict and comprehensive compliance controls as data security is one of their highest concerns. Check out the interview to see how Jayson and his team use Observe to meet their unique observability goals.


What’s your role at OpenGov?

I’m the manager of the Operations Engineering team. More specifically, we support the infrastructure the organization runs on in the cloud. We provision infrastructure for internal operations and do our best to keep everything up and running!

Can you tell people about OpenGov, and why you were founded?

Our mission is to empower effective and accountable government in municipalities, counties, or states — no matter where they’re at.

What frustrated you with current tooling, or caused you to seek out other observability solutions?

One of the things we’ve noticed is that having three separate panes of glass makes it very difficult to understand what’s happening within a system. Especially not being able to link all that data together or at least easily. It is difficult, time-consuming, and it delays us from being able to resolve issues quickly when they happen.

Customer is overwhelmed with metrics and alerts

Another thing that drove us in that direction is the lack of partnership with many of these companies. Some companies tend to get big and stop looking at the success of the customer, but rather start looking at the dollars of a customer.

We noticed with other vendors that the conversations kept getting redirected towards other services and products that we weren’t using yet and worse,  wouldn’t solve our problem.

What unique observability goals do you guys have that maybe others don’t?

I think what’s unique for us is that we try to understand the health of a customer at all levels and be proactive about it.

We want to get to a point where if there are issues in our system, that we know about it and we call the customer instead of them calling us.

In the case where they call us, hopefully, that data has already made it through our support structure, and we can say “Yeah, we see that you’re having an issue, here’s how to fix it”. We want to give our customers the confidence that we know what’s happening at every level of our application.

The ultimate goal here is to have this data visible to anybody at OpenGov. That way when we get a phone call from a customer, the support engineer, or even the account rep has that data in front of them. We want to eliminate surprises, at least the bad ones.

Why did OpenGov choose Observe for their observability tooling?

The biggest reason that we chose Observe was the linkages that we can create and the way that we can use that to inform better decisions. I would say it’s like going from C to Java, there’s a paradigm shift that happens when you start working with Observe.

There’s a lot of things that Observe does for us so that we don’t have to. Once we get those linkages between datasets, onboarding new people becomes very easy.

How does Observe help you achieve this goal?

In Observe I can look at a database, and say “What are the things that I care about on this database? I care about CPU, memory, disk space, query performance, etc.”

Observe SaaS platform consolidates observability data

Observe then allows me to pull that data in from disparate systems and shape it so that it’s common and easy to understand. Regardless of the technology that I’m using, I’m able to surface that easily to our teams. As long as the data has been shaped we’re great and that’s what I like about Observe because I don’t have teams trying to reinvent the wheel.

As an example, we currently have over 300 alerts with Datadog. We will probably end up with less than a quarter of that in Observe because we’re able to apply these same patterns to the way we do alerting. 

How will you know when you’re successful in your observability goals?

The day that I know that we’re successful is the day that instead of looking at the individual pieces of infrastructure, we’re looking at a customer. Specifically, we know how healthy they are, and we can dig in when customers do have issues to quickly help. Instead of spending tons of time digging and filtering through data for that customer, it’s ready and there for us.

Observe SaaS Observability Platform Makes SRE's and DevOps Engineers lives better

We will eventually hook up Zendesk so that we can take these tickets and tie them directly back to customers. We can then link them to actual problems in our environment that these customers are experiencing.

Do you have future goals for your observability data? 

The really big goal for next year is to do things like continuous profiling so that if our engineers want to, they can find out how their application is performing in real-time. That will enable them to troubleshoot and diagnose issues in production in ways that they’re unable to today.

What do you like most about Observe?

My favorite thing about Observe is the fact I can get any data into it no matter where it’s at and link that data to other things in my environment. I’m able to enhance every piece of data that I have in Observe and I think that is amazing. With every other tool that’s such a pain to do, I don’t have that problem with Observe.


Wrapping Up

We want to thank Jayson for taking the time to sit down with us, and OpenGov for their continued support and partnership. We look forward to helping them with their current and future observability goals.

If you or your company wants to take your observability strategy to the next level, we encourage you to view our demo of Observe in action.