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Everything Software Developers Need to Know About Telemetry

These days, software environments are a lot more complex than ever before. As software development practices continue to evolve, so do all our systems, and now it’s no longer enough simply to ask if something is wrong with your software, you must also be able to know why. 

That’s where telemetry comes in. It lets you track the health of any system remotely and will help you take advantage of the data you generate from your IT infrastructure. You’ll get valuable feedback on what’s happening in your software stack so you can efficiently monitor, maintain, and audit your data center and applications. 

Read the rest of this article to discover everything software developers need to know about telemetry.

Telemetry Defined

Telemetry literally means “remote transmission of measurement data”, from “tele” (remote), and “metron” (measure). In other words, it refers to the automated communication processes from various data sources. Telemetry data can be used for a wide range of applications, including:

  • Improving customer experiences
  • Checking application health
  • Keeping track of quality and performance
  • Measuring analytics on a website or social networks
  • Monitoring security

Telemetry in software is all about the ethical and transparent collection of both user and usage data from software while adhering to stringent privacy and security standards throughout the process.

How Telemetry Works

A general explanation of how telemetry works is that it works through sensors at a remote source to measure physical data (such as pressure, temperature, precipitation, etc.) or electrical data (like the voltage, current, etc.) which is then converted into electrical voltages and combined with timing data. 

A data stream is formed and transmitted over a wired or wireless medium, and sometimes a combination of both. At a remote receiver, the data stream is disaggregated. The original data is either displayed or processed depending on the user’s specifications. 

That’s how telemetry allows you to automatically collect raw data from real-world use to get valuable, actionable analytics.

Examples of Telemetry Use Cases

Modern software can’t be imagined without telemetry and finding the best people to manage it since it serves many vital functions. Below, we take a look at a few examples of how software developers can use telemetry for different purposes.

Business Metrics

By collecting product usage metrics like engagement and usage, you’ll be able to accurately indicate performance trends and their impact on our business. 

This step plays a huge role in helping you understand the market, and is significantly more effective than other market research methods like surveys. This type of data can be critical in determining product investments as well as shaping the future of the product.

Issue Detection and Diagnosis

Another use for telemetry is tracking real-time health data. This includes fundamentals, such as accessibility and performance, as well as granular scenarios and feature-level experiences. 

Telemetry also provides early issue identification which makes it possible to identify the root cause of any problem so it can be mitigated and resolved, resulting in high reliability and availability of a service. 

This way, you’ll have a more efficient way to detect and diagnose issues, as opposed to trying to reproduce the issue or reaching out to customers for feedback.

Hypothesis Validation

Collecting data from experimentation that is cohort-based helps with hypothesis confirmation for decisions regarding things like design, development, and quality. You can use telemetry as a tool to make well-informed decisions driven by actual user feedback even at the earlier stages of software planning and development. 

As with the other examples, this is a lot more efficient and scalable than using other hypothesis validation methods, such as focus groups, questionnaires, or surveys.

Benefits of Telemetry

Primarily, telemetry allows the end-user to keep track of the current state of an environment or object from a remote physical location. It provides insights and delivers them directly into a dashboard making it easy for you to analyze and act on different aspects so you can see how users engage with your product, find out what works, what they find easy, and what they find cumbersome.

Telemetry is great for ongoing monitoring and management of performance. You can use the data you collect in version 1.0 to inform improvements and prioritize important updates for the version 2.0 release.

With telemetry, you can answer questions like:

  • Do customers use the features you expect?
  • How do users engage with your product?
  • How frequently do they engage with your app?
  • How long do users stay in the app?
  • What settings do users choose the most?
  • Do they prefer certain device configurations, such as screen orientation, display types, input modalities, etc.?
  • What happens when a crash occurs?
  • Do crashes happen a lot more frequently when specific functions or features are used?

Telemetry lets you answer these and many other questions which make it invaluable to the development process and enable continuous improvements so you can introduce new features that cater to the needs of your users.

Challenges of Telemetry

Telemetry is clearly a superb technology that has vast benefits, but it also comes with a few challenges. The most prominent challenge in the process of recording the behavior of your systems isn’t with the actual telemetry itself, but with the end-users’ willingness to allow you to collect the data. 

They tend to view telemetry as a sort of Big Brother-esque spying, and many users immediately turn it off as and as they notice it, which means whatever data is generated through the use of your software won’t be collected or reported. As a result, that user’s experience won’t be accounted for when you are planning future improvements, fixing bugs, or addressing any other issues within your app. 

Although there is no clear solution to this problem, it doesn’t take away from the overall power of telemetry when it comes to driving development. It’s simply something to keep in mind when analyzing your data.

Best Practices

There are certain best practices to follow when using telemetry in software development. Below, I’ve listed 5 of the most important principles to follow. While you want to make sure that you generate actionable intelligence based on the data you analyze, perfect is the enemy of good. Each best practice will require careful attention to detail, but don’t get too lost in perfecting all the little details. Focus on making sure that the intelligence is easily understandable, relatable, and actionable.

1. Specifying the Metrics

Metric specification is the first step toward creating an effective telemetry system. You must plan the metrics you want to track so you know exactly how the telemetry is going to occur. Choose the ones that will allow you to get the performance of your application and develop a plan of action so you know what should be happening if the given hypothesis is validated. This will help prioritize the work. 

Next, specify the telemetric run lifetime. Once you understand what you need, why you need it, and how you intend to use it, you can then generate data points.

2. Instrumentation

If there is a formula in the metric specification, determine the required data points to make the metric work. If no formula is available, such as in an exploratory analysis, identify the factors linked to the hypothesis and then determine the data points needed based on that. 

You can also identify the filters required by focusing on the hypothesis in the specification. After that, you can identify the lines of code with this information.

3. Data Transmission

In telemetry, you have to keep track of your user’s activity on your app. Because of this, it’s important for developers to be aware of privacy laws and regulations. 

It’s always best to get the end-user to sign up for or opt into telemetry data analysis. You must also keep the data transmission safe and secure to ensure that it doesn’t easily fall into the hands of third-party users or hackers. Make sure your data transmission and storage system meets all privacy and compliance requirements across all geographies and industries.

4. Data Processing

Once your data has been transmitted and stored, you must then process it before it can be used. You need to run various mathematical formulas to make the data digestible and easy to analyze. You can adopt a method for data processing depending on the type of metrics the developer sets. 

If the metrics involve a formula, the data is applied to simplify the results. Whenever necessary, the results are then merged with different data sets. In the case of exploratory metrics, you can adopt a data mining approach where a computer algorithm is run to find the hidden patterns in the data.

5. Data Analysis

Once you’ve collected the data and filtered it into the respective data sets, the final step of the telemetric process is to analyze the data to see how the software is performing. 

This is the part where all the reported bugs and issues are fixed by the developer. Using the information from the analysis, the developer can implement a plan of action and the identified issue will be removed from the application. One of the biggest challenges of data analysis is figuring out how to analyze it. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you analyze different types of data from distinct channels.

But you need to make sure you’re using the right tools. For example, there are rank tracking services to help you analyze how web pages have been ranking over time. You can also use analytics tools to look more closely at various metrics like traffic, bounce rate, and others on your website, webpages, apps, social networks, and much more. Analyzing your data with the right tools will help improve user experience, making it better, easier, and more convenient for the user to get what they really need from the application.

6. Sharing the Results of Data Analysis

After analyzing the data and generating shareable intelligence, you must share that data with everyone who needs to see it. There are many ways to do so, but you want to make sure that you’re using secure protocols to protect any confidential business or user data. One of the simplest ways to get the information out there is to host a small webinar with all those who need to understand the data. While sending the important data out as a document may be useful for some, others might need more help understanding the data.

By using webinar software to host webinars, you can create professional presentations in which you can discuss the important results of the data analysis and its implications for future operations. In live webinars, you can answer questions one on one, generate conversations about the relevancy and usage of the results, and facilitate the new strategies based on the intelligence provided and discussed.

If some of the data you analyzed is data you want to make public, using videos to convey that data is still a great idea. While you might not need a webinar, posting videos on YouTube and sharing them across social networks can make sharing information with your fans and followers simple.

The benefit of pre-recorded videos, whether for the public or a private team, is that you can use video editing software to make the videos more engaging for the viewers. You don’t just want to throw a bunch of numbers at them, you want to grab their attention and make them care about the data. That’s where the editing comes in. Of course, you can still send out a document with important data. But without a webinar, you have the added benefit of learning how to best revise the document so that it’s easily understandable by all. 

Conclusion

Telemetry is a vast topic, and this article is a mere introduction to it. There is certainly a lot more to learn, but the best part is that your telemetry journey can start right now, one task at a time – and this article provides you with what you need to know to get your journey started. 

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