“Would you be comfortable getting into a plane if a pilot had no dashboard?” asks SolarWinds Senior Director of Sales for Asia, Aravind Kurapati. Without a dashboard, pilots wouldn’t have easy access to information about the numerous systems aboard a plane, such as the status of its engines, the pressure in the tyres, or its navigation systems.

Likewise, governments are responsible for the many systems keeping countries running smoothly, such as their militaries, telecommunications networks and financial systems. To manage these disparate systems, governments need to have eyes in the sky.

In this article, Kurapati explains the importance of observability and how it helps governments improve their cybersecurity posture and work more efficiently.

Increasingly complex IT networks

Digital transformation is one of the main drivers for organisations to adopt an observability mindset, Kurapati says. And governments are hopping on board the digitalisation train. In Singapore, for instance, a whopping 94 per cent of government services are digital, according to Smart Nation Singapore. Even rank-and-file public servants are using artificial intelligence and automation to work more efficiently, following in the footsteps of the private sector, which has explored incorporating such innovative technologies over the past decade.

With digitalisation, however, comes increasing complexity in how governments work. For example, by 2023, information technology giant IBM predicts that organisations globally will be using at least 10 clouds from numerous vendors, with many not having a management strategy in place. “You have applications being built differently and modernised,” Kurapati says.

On the one hand, governments may still rely on traditional processes and data centres to store and operate their data. On the other, they’re building new applications and digital tools based on cutting-edge technologies such as AI and machine learning (ML) to power their services.

This is where observability comes in to help governments manage and oversee their data more effectively across such hybrid environments. Besides keeping a cursory eye on data, governments must be able to visualise information to “gather actionable intelligence,” Kurapati says.

The SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability platform can give governments a view of their networks and software solutions, whether on private or public clouds, or traditional on-premises environments.

This can help governments identify if any of their services, such as websites, may be experiencing lags. These oversight capabilities help to alert IT teams promptly if there are any issues, with one customer reporting a 91 per cent faster response time.

For example, SolarWinds helped a country’s navy gain a complete view of its fleet. The ships in a naval force are like floating data centres, in which processes and systems need to be stored and processed individually, Kurapati says.

With the SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability Platform, the navy was able to monitor the data from its ships and submarines in real time, allowing them to detect possible cyber-threats swiftly.

 How observability improves security

“The more digital we become, the more data exchanges are happening across various platforms and networks,” Kurapati says. This increases the risk of cyberattacks as each new digital touchpoint offers a vantage point malicious actors can exploit.

Public sector institutions are not immune. The WannaCry cyberattack in 2017, for instance, affected nearly 70,000 devices throughout National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland. And the numbers of such cyberattacks are increasing.

As the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the digital transformation among governments – spurred by the necessities of the global health crisis – governments faced a significantly heightened cyber-risk. In 2021, the number of ransomware attacks more than doubled from 2020, rising 105 per cent, according to a 2022 Cyber Threat Report by US cybersecurity company SonicWall.

To identify and prevent such cyberattacks, “understanding the baseline is very important,” Kurapati says. This means understanding how much data is typically transferred daily, or the amount of network traffic various servers usually receive, for example. With an understanding of baseline use, IT teams can detect anomalies more quickly, which can be an early indicator of a cyberattack, Kurapati explains.

Another way governments often bolster their cybersecurity is by installing tools such as antivirus or intrusion detection programs. But governments may quickly end up with more than 10 different tools, which introduces increased complexity, Kurapati says.

IT teams are then left to piece together the information they get across these different tools. This is where solutions such as the SolarWinds Observability Platform can be helpful, giving governments an overview of their various tools and networks.

Having a single view of all the moving parts is “highly critical to fully understanding what’s going on,” Kurapati says.

Automation: A ‘Swiss army knife’ for greater efficiency

Beyond simply observing what is happening, governments must also act on what they see. Automation can help them do so more quickly and accurately. Kurapati describes automation as the “Swiss army knife” of IT. Instead of having IT teams learn about the intricacies of multiple different pieces of software and maintaining them, automation can do the job.

For example, the SolarWinds Observability Platform can help governments update security software across hundreds or thousands of network devices at once.

This process would otherwise be “tiresome, cumbersome and time-consuming” if done manually, Kurapati says. Manual updates can also expose vulnerabilities, as IT teams need to update each device individually.

Automation can help organisations produce reports once updates are completed without prior prompting, he adds. This helps ensure that government servers are running the most updated security and reduces the likelihood of human error.

With the automation available through the SolarWinds Hybrid Cloud Observability Platform, one customer’s IT team reported spending 50 per cent less time on manual tasks, freeing it up to focus on more critical operations. This helps ensure government servers have the most updated security and reduces the likelihood of human error.

Another way automation can help is by monitoring and optimising the efficiency of IT programs. If a specific program is working more slowly than usual, for example, the automation program in the SolarWinds Observability Platform can automatically restart it. It will also automatically inform IT teams if the issue isn’t resolved by restarting the program, allowing IT staff to be “proactive, versus reactive,” Kurapati says.

Complex problems don’t always need complex solutions. A dashboard is a simple solution to help pilots keep an eye on the numerous complex systems required to fly a plane. Similarly, a single platform may be all that government agencies need to manage their numerous digital tools safely and efficiently.