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Lessons learned from Cloud World

Bernard Golden | July 9, 2015
It's easy to despair about the cloud computing industry and its seemingly endless navel-gazing. It often seems that the cloud crowd is more interested in internecine warfare than actually helping customers realize the benefits of this emerging platform. The prime example of this tech narcissism is the ongoing industry slugfest regarding private/public/hybrid cloud and what the "right" solution is.

The first bottleneck was that developers would often experience poor productivity because infrastructure (servers, etc.) took too long to provision. OS solved that by moving some infrastructure people into the development groups where they could focus their efforts on responding to requests more quickly.

The second bottleneck was that code took a long time to go from a developer's hands through to building, deploying, configuring and managing. So OS built an automated toolchain, which had the effect of compressing the time spent in the application development portion of a project, visualized on the following slide:

cloud world london 2015 - ordinance survey chart
OS' automated toolchain compressed the time projects spent in the application development phase.  (Click to enlarge photo)

The OS DevOps effort is still evolving, as Parkes admitted. Accelerating final deployment by operations is still being addressed, which is a common challenge in DevOps efforts in that the highly controlled (typically manual) processes required to put code into production can be difficult to automate. 

More interesting was another challenge Parkes highlighted, which is the need for business processes to become Agile. The Agile methodology recommends including a "business representative" in the daily standups; when application decisions have to be made with business implications, the representative can give immediate feedback, thereby allowing the project to continue moving forward.

But that's a bit too neat an answer to a challenging situation. Many business decisions cannot be made by snap judgments, because they require consultation within the business unit and potentially with other important groups like marketing, sales, end user support, legal, etc. Undoubtedly this challenge is only going to get larger as IT becomes a more important part of company offerings. Moreover, this latter factor requires business representatives to really understand technology in order to evaluate how an application decision can affect the resulting product and customer experience. Parkes didn't offer a solution for this -- but assuming that having a business representative attend the daily standups solves it is too simplistic for where the industry is heading.

Transforming enterprise IT for its future

Both Headland and Parkes' presentations were excellent moment-in-time snapshots of IT organizations in the midst of significant change -- transforming from slow-moving back-office support functions to front-line organizations whose output is a critical part of the organization's business offerings. A distillation of both their presentations reveals:

  • The digital revolution is real. Both Headland and Parkes described organizations caught up in the digital revolution. It's hard to recognize just how rapidly the very nature of automobiles and driving is changing, but the pace of change in the industry is mind-boggling. In 2004 DARPA held an autonomous vehicle challenge in a remote desert location; not a single vehicle could finish the course. Today, 11 years later, Google has self-driving cars on the streets of Mountain View, Calif. And, of course, cars themselves are rapidly turning into computing devices. One might say they're becoming the ultimate mobile device. OS is caught up in the mapping revolution, where geographic data is leveraged to improve crop yields, demographic insights, and business offerings. The fact is, every company is confronted with the digital revolution and the only question is how to respond.
  • IT is mired in old processes. Headland and Parkes both described the enormous challenge of meeting the digital revolution with organizations rooted in another time and reality. In the past, IT's glacial processes and siloed organizations were relatively unimportant, given that it grew up with a primary task of automating back office functions to reduce administrative headcount. Today, however, IT infuses every company's offerings, and the IT organization must provide innovation and agility. Moving IT from yesterday's reality to today's pressing needs is critical -- and difficult.
  • Real progress is possible. Despite the undoubted struggle confronting legacy processes carries, there is hope. Both JLR and OS are on their way to faster, more responsive IT organizations that can support the needs of the overall business. Unfortunately, there's no magic answer. Both organizations are reengineering their existing processes, which inevitably requires organizational change and disruption. Naturally, this is difficult, as change is always uncomfortable; nevertheless, it's necessary to achieve the required results.
  • DevOps is the path forward. DevOps is a hot topic in enterprise IT circles and has almost become annoying in how frequently proffered it is as a solution for every IT ill. Predictably, there is a growing backlash against the term, with some claiming that it's oversold and others stating that they've always done it, but just called it something else. Nevertheless, no matter what it's called or where it came from, DevOps is necessary for IT to meet its true destiny: the centerpiece of all future business offerings. At its heart, DevOps is about streamlining internal IT processes, automating policy, and removing unnecessary manual intervention -- all things fundamental to the agility crucial to today's turbulent economy.


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