When you look at something, you have an impact on it. That’s the observer effect.
Cited in quantum physics, the effect can have a major impact when you try to look at very small particles, because the photons (the light) required to see the particles are of a comparable size.
Bouncing photons off those particles will therefore have an impact on them, what they do, and what you finally observe.
Watching people and IT systems may also affect their performance, although in different ways, and have corresponding impacts on business continuity.
Let’s take IT systems first. In theory, the people who write the computer code to make operating systems and applications run ought to know what is going on inside those systems.
But with IT becoming ever more complex and the number of interactions between modules and components multiplying, even the experts find it impossible to figure out problems in an operational environment.
One way around this is to use special programs for recording all the events in the system (logging and tracing), to be able to examine situations or issues step by step afterwards.
However, like the photons above, the special programs can affect the business applications whose problems they are supposed to help solve, because they absorb system resources and make the other applications run more slowly, change the timing of events, and cause other perturbations.
How about people? Perhaps the best-known observer effect is the Hawthorne effect, referring to a classic HR study about how people’s work was affected when their working conditions were changed.
Essentially, the people in the study took the changes to be a sign of management’s interest in them and their work, and were thus encouraged to be more productive.
Each change resulted in an increase in productivity, even when the changes came full circle back to the original conditions.
Compare this on the other hand with micromanagement, where the observer effect works against encouragement and productivity, and makes business interruptions more likely.
Whatever the case, you now know that there is more to the simple act of observing and its effect on business continuity than meets the eye.