Gordon Cullum, CTO, Mastek
While the term “DevOps” may be deemed as a typical tech buzzword, the process, which can be both complex and daunting, is often overlooked. However, the benefits are clear to businesses of all sizes and no matter whether an organisation is contemplating a major transformation or a minor improvement to its current software delivery pipeline. DevOps offers benefits including greater customer responsiveness, faster lead times from commit to deploy, and the enhanced ability to scale and pivot in response to market changes.
So, why isn’t every business using DevOps practices? In reality, it is rare, these days, for an organisation not to have adopted any of the technologies and practices that have become part of DevOps. But often a company can be unsure of where to start, how to continue, and equally afraid of failure at any point along the journey.
This article is intended to summarise the typical stages that, in my experience, most organisations pass through as they adopt DevOps strategies in the attempt to improve their technology and processes. Every business will have unique needs and challenges, but there are recognisable stages common to most.
Before setting out on a DevOps transformation an organisation needs to be prepared. One of the most important elements of this stage is ensuring that the goals of the transformation have been communicated across the organisation, that there is buy-in, that management will support staff in the challenges ahead and that this is transparent to staff.
A successful DevOps transformation relies on a business’s most valuable resource: its workforce. Organisational and technical change will often put significant demands on them and so having their confidence that the transformation will succeed and their willingness to change old processes and attitudes, is vital.
Before setting out on a transformation path, it is therefore essential that a business clearly communicates the goals of the process with its staff. Essentially, the primary DevOps goal is to optimise the flow of value from idea to end user, and with this, comes a cultural change that must take place for a company to be successful. Whilst culture is a big focus, the DevOps goal is to make the delivery of value more efficient and effective whether that’s TTM, Reliability, Predictability or maximising skill re-use. Getting expert support, to not only answer concerns but also run workshops to increase understanding of DevOps practice can also be pivotal to success.
Inventory and consolidation
Before a business can start the process of change, it is essential to have a clear and comprehensive picture of existing technologies and an assessment of their complexity. This list can then be used to identify ways to remove unnecessary complication, for example by eliminating duplication where different tools or processes do the same thing, getting rid of in-house products that are no longer fit for purpose and moving to standard technologies, tool sets and configuration methods across the organisation.
It’s important to help create clear schedules for the review and consolidation of technologies and let teams take the initiative in choosing which technologies to keep and how to manage the migration with agreed priorities and realistic deadlines.
At this part of the process it’s also essential to turn migration goals into milestones and celebrate their success. Early wins can deliver measurable cost and time savings to reassure senior stakeholders and also provide a less-pressured stage to build collaborative and constructive processes. Use this as opportunity to boost team morale and secure longer term buy-in before the more ambitious transformation begins.
Improving the DevOps process
The success of the consolidation and standardisation process can typically cause a range of problems that are often a surprise to the organisation. For instance, increased efficiency can place unprecedented strain on parts of the business, its processes, the application architecture and the infrastructure.
Meanwhile, removing known bottlenecks can reveal previously unknown inefficiencies, while if improvement is uneven (as is likely), morale and collaboration between teams may fluctuate as the finger of blame is pointed.
These issues can be addressed through the improvement of DevOps processes and culture. Many staff, at this stage, are likely to see technical remedies as far more important than culture improvements, but it is vital to show them that cultural change enables technical improvement.
The business must therefore reduce bureaucracy, give teams autonomy to decide on solutions and encourage a blame-free culture. Ultimately, cultural change has to happen from the top down.
Infrastructure as code
As efficiency and productivity continue to increase, there will be increasing strain on the infrastructure.
This is not least due to fact that the application of development good practice to infrastructure code is a relatively young and immature discipline. It is also usually the trickiest to address and the hardest to make scalable. Even moving to the cloud does little to help if infrastructure provisioning is not sufficiently automated.
A high level of automation must be developed and applied to infrastructure configuration and provisioning. The infrastructure also needs pervasive monitoring and logging, with automated responses to alerts about significant state changes and good data analysis to reveal trends. Without this, substantial time and money can be lost through inefficiency and inappropriate scaling.
When a business feels its regular automation and monitoring challenges have been solved, it should put them to the test by providing teams with self-service capabilities. Self-service infrastructure automation will increase team productivity and in time free up operations staff, so that they can focus more time on developing automation solutions. Businesses need to bear in mind though that to achieve this level of automation, staff will need to be upskilled or people with relevant skills recruited. However, it’s important to note that the upskilling of staff isn’t just the upskilling of technologies (AWS, Azure), it’s also about financial accountability, technological and architectural adherence and security.
If at this stage the disciplines of immutable infrastructure haven’t been adopted, now is the time to do so. Re-evaluate infrastructure automation and configuration patterns, looking for things that are no longer appropriate or necessary on immutable infrastructure, and enforce a discipline of no manual intervention for maintenance of servers/virtual machines/network infrastructure. Automated testing and monitoring should also be reviewed to ensure complete confidence in both.
DevOps transformation can reveal new challenges and opportunities for a business. Technical innovation and market growth will eventually force more technical change, but the cultural changes should be long lasting and a permanent gain – but this can only be achieved if they are preserved. Maintaining a DevOps culture is not the same as creating one; processes must be put in place that reinforce new attitudes and behaviours.
By demonstrating to staff that the sustained period of change they went through ends with more space to think and use their initiative, and greater support and reward for work that removes technical debt, a business will be well placed to continue to reap the rewards of DevOps transformation.
GOING GLOBAL: 7 TIPS TO GET STARTED
The idea of selling your products or services to new markets across the globe is an attractive prospect for any business, large or small. But while reaching new customers and unlocking the potential for further growth can seem exciting initially, adapting your business to foreign markets is no small feat. Factors such as cost, communication and cultural differences can all affect your business’ success when going global. This guide will explore some of the key considerations to make when you’re thinking of expanding your business overseas.
Evaluate Your Finances
One of the main questions to ask when looking to go global is whether or not your business can afford to do so. Crossing borders can be a complicated and expensive process which can take away time and resources from other opportunities at home. Growth for businesses abroad is often a slow process; establishing products and services in other countries takes time, so you will need to factor this into your planning. Thorough analysis of domestic and international markets should always be undertaken before making the decision to expand your business overseas.
Location, Location, Location
Choosing the right location is crucial to the success of your business expansion. International business network Going Global Live says that taking your business to the right countries initially can save you money on excessive marketing and advertising, putting you face-to-face with your target market from the outset. You should weigh up the pros and cons of potential locations, such as the likelihood of being able to fill your new HQ with prime, homegrown talent, as well as access to desired markets aided by foreign investment bodies. It is also important to consider the relevant laws and regulations laid out by national and regional governments.
Ensure You Have the Right Infrastructure
Making sure your business has the right infrastructure to handle expansion abroad will put you in a good place going forward. Implementing a clear management strategy, both locally and centrally, will set your business up for a smooth and successful launch overseas. Having up-to-date IT and communications systems at the centre of your business will allow you to share information and data securely. When it comes to shipping, choosing the best – and most efficient – transport and storage providers will give you the peace of mind that your products are safe in transit. Companies such as S Jones are ideal for businesses looking for more information on storage solutions for shipping overseas.
Build a Strong Team
Appointing a strong team to oversee your expansion is crucial to your company’s success in new markets. Hiring people with a good knowledge of your target market, as well as a focus on your business’ interests, is key when establishing your overseas HQ. Working with local partners can help you to communicate your business’ unique selling point in a meaningful way. Having an experienced partner or mentor that you can trust to oversee the expansion will allow you to stay focused on the bigger picture and ensure that your attention isn’t taken away from your core customer base.
Once you’ve made the move to globalise your business, be sure to have faith in your ideas and don’t be deterred by slow progress. Dr Shai Vyakarnam of the Cranfield School of Management says that while there is a fine balance between faith and stubbornness, you’ll need “incredible levels of self-belief and faith in your idea” to succeed, and that you “only need to be able to turn a few key people in your favour and the others will follow”. Making well-informed decisions quickly will allow you to stay on track and will nullify the threat of any lingering self-doubt. While progress may be slow at first, be sure to remain patient and be prepared to build personal relationships to gain the trust of your new partners and customer base.
Consider the Impact of New Ideas
When implementing new ideas for your business as whole, consider how they will be received by your new international customers, as well as by your existing customer base at home. What might be seen as a positive idea in your home country could be perceived as offensive or alienating by your customers abroad. Factors such as differing time zones, languages and cultural appropriateness should always be taken into consideration when making key decisions to eliminate the risk of alienating foreign customers and damaging your reputation overseas.
While it is important to have faith in your business and be patient initially, you should also be willing to make changes as things develop. Acting on the advice of experts is key to navigating new markets successfully. It may be that your products and services require innovation to meet demand, or that cultural differences lead you to make changes to your marketing strategy. Being adaptable will give you the best chance of meeting consumer demand on a global scale.
When trying to expand your business to an entirely new customer base, try to bear in mind some of the above points. As long as you remain patient and open-minded, then you should have little difficulty in marketing your business globally.
Homepage, S Jones Containers, https://www.sjonescontainers.co.uk/
‘7 Tips for optimizing international business communication’, 99designs, https://99designs.co.uk/blog/tips/tips-for-optimizing-international-business-communication/
‘Going Global: How To Expand Your Business Internationally’, Business News Daily, https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/8211-expand-business-internationally.html
‘Going Global Means Thinking Global: 8 Tips to Consider’, Cranfield School of Management, https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/blog.som.cranfield.ac.uk/blog/going-global-means-thinking-global-tips%3fhs_amp=true
‘Our Top Tips for Going Global…’, Going Global Live, https://www.goinggloballive.co.uk/news/blog.asp?blog_id=21679
REDUCING FRICTION ONLINE HAS BECOME BUSINESS CRITICAL
Andrew Shikiar, Executive Director at the FIDO Alliance
The global pandemic has pushed the importance of remote access and authentication right up the agenda for many businesses. All those occasions where people would normally show up in person to open a bank account or pick-up some high street essentials were simply not possible for large parts of the year. Even as restrictions have eased across the country, these kinds of face-to-face transactions remain an unappealing prospect or a last-resort to many.
Not surprisingly, this has led to unprecedented demand for online and remote services. This brings with it a host of challenges and opportunities, and we have seen many examples of companies brilliantly adapting and reacting to this new way of life. But one issue that businesses and individuals have been grappling with for years – that of frictionless transactions and authentication – has now been put under a brighter spotlight as it is increasingly critical to get right.
Friction impacts the bottom line
The core challenge facing businesses is how to strike the right balance between giving customers the best possible experience of online service, and the necessary regulatory and security implications that directly affect – and often contradict – that ideal user experience.
We’ve all likely experienced the very real kinds of friction I’m talking about – it’s the account you gave up on registering for, or the purchase you abandoned because the process was just too frustrating.
Friction like this has direct bottom line impacts through the loss of sales and/or disaffected customers – and it is substantially more pronounced in the current climate. People have less money to spend, they are spending a greater proportion of this reduced pot online, and businesses are competing for their livelihoods to claim their share. Providing a frictionless experience can be the difference between success and failure.
Banking and retail lose out
Nowhere is this problem more keenly felt than in the retail and banking industries. Countless transactions simply don’t happen each year due to issues with passwords or mobile One Time Passwords (OTPs) at the point of signing-up or checking-out.
Data from Statista shows that 69.57% of digital shopping carts and baskets are abandoned and the purchase not completed. And Mastercard’s analysis estimates that up to 20% of mobile e-commerce transactions are abandoned or otherwise fail (e.g., from undelivered SMS OTPs) mid-way.
In addition, independent web usability research institute Baynard found that one out of five consumers abandoned their online shopping carts citing the checkout process as “too long and complicated”. That means 20% of customers taking their custom elsewhere, likely to a competitor, because the process presented too much friction.
Passwords are a major part of the problem
Organisations have struggled to strike that balance between frictionless yet secure online log-ins in large part because of historical dependence on passwords – which simply aren’t fit for purpose in today’s online economy. Passwords were designed to be simple but, as we can all likely attest, they have become incredibly cumbersome and difficult to manage.
The demands placed on consumers to remember and keep track of the array of different passwords they need, and the different requirements of password complexity which varies from provider to provider, is proving to be untenable.
Not only are passwords a major cause of consumers giving up on purchases or preventing them from signing up for new services, but they also fail in delivering on their primary objective: to protect accounts and sensitive data. All too often the password has proven to be a single point of failure, and one that is all too easy for hackers and fraudsters to get hold of – a trend accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
There has been a move toward developing and adopting open standards that enable any online service provider to authenticate users in a way that is both highly secure and almost completely frictionless – with all major platform and cloud service providers coalescing around a common approach.
It’s clear from the way consumers have embraced using their fingerprints and FaceID to unlock their devices that simple, natural gestures work – and that they are often preferred over using a password. By adopting the latest authentication standards, organisations can enable their customers to use these same easy gestures on their every-day devices to prove their identity and approve even the most sensitive of transactions.
The standards also improve security by moving away from the traditional model where your password or similar piece of ‘secret’ information is stored on a server, to one where credentials are stored on an individual’s device. This means they cannot be phished or divulged through other means of social engineering, while also inherently stopping the large-scale breaches that impact millions or billions of users in one go.
Due to these developments, the kind of poor user experience that leads to abandoned shopping carts and lost customers during the sign-up process is completely avoidable. There is now nothing stopping banks, retailers, and a range of other businesses from offering a superior, and low-friction user experience while also maintaining the safety and integrity of the networked economy.
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