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SCALING UP WITH CONFIDENCE THROUGH DEVOPS

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.

Preparation

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.

Self-Service

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.

Where next?

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.

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Business

BACK TO SCHOOL – CEOS NEED TO LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE, FAST!

By Simon Axon, Financial Services Industry Consulting practice lead in EMEA, Teradata

 

Chief Executive Officers of banks know all about change. Leading responses to new challenges, new opportunities, new regulation and new markets is all in a day’s work. But the existential challenge posed by Big Tech requires a totally new set of skills. It is an entirely different beast that inhabits a totally new environment and speaks its own language. CEOs now need to learn the language of data to survive in the emerging digital world.

Learning a new language later in life is hard. CEOs need to fully commit to accomplish it. Becoming data literate means mastering the basics of vocabulary and grammar. Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.” Extending the language analogy: the building blocks are an understanding of logical data models – the basic vocabulary; meta data providing rules and information about data is the grammar.  Learning needs to go beyond parroting a few key phrases and acronyms. To really communicate in this new language CEOs must not only be data literate – but data cognitive. Language shapes thinking, and to succeed, today’s CEOs need to think data like digital natives.

Simon Axon

As anyone who has learned a language will recognise – practise makes perfect. This means rolling up your sleeves and getting into the data ‘lab’. Run some queries, experiment with data to test theories and learn how data can, and should, inform all aspects of business management. It is daunting, and different functions are fiercely protective of their data. But that’s one of the big cultural shifts the CEO needs to lead. Data is more valuable when it is used across the business. Developing safe and secure ways to combine, refine and analyse data at an enterprise level is fundamental to competing with Big Tech. The Chief Data Officer can help. Spend time with them and use them as a teaching-resource to get more familiar with what can and cannot be done with your data.

As you practise you will build confidence and move from school-level conversations to business-class data fluency. Spending more time looking at and working with data and you will begin to recognise ‘quality’ data, identify attributes and flag anomalies. This will build confidence and essential trust in data. Last year KPMG found just 35% of CEOs trusted the data in their organisations. This shocking stat undoubtedly stems from a data skills deficit among CEOs themselves. If they don’t know what to ask for, and can’t recognise what they get, they won’t trust it. To stretch our linguistic analogy, if you are not confident in the language then you’ll be anxious ordering food in a restaurant!

Ultimately, no one expects the CEO to personally implement data-analytics programmes across the business. But unless they have the confidence and the skills to accurately communicate what’s needed, to sit at the head of the table and ask the right questions about the menu, then the organisation is unlikely to put the right emphasis on the data strategy.

In How Google Works, former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt outlines how every meeting revolved around data – it is simply how Big Tech works. Banks need to adopt the same approach. Exploiting data in all scenarios must become second-nature. By modelling the use of data across the business – dissolving silos rather than sticking to narrow data sets that reinforce them, the CEO can define a powerful data culture. Operationalizing data strategy will, just like using language skills, stop data literacy from becoming rusty.

Entering any new market requires investment in understanding the language, culture and business environment. In the Big Tech world, data is the lingua franca informing every decision. Bank CEOs need to learn from them and invest in building their knowledge to become data fluent. There are no short cuts. Throwing money, bodies and tech at the problem will not get you there.

 

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Business

REVITALISING THE TOKEN MARKET

By Gavin Smith, CEO at Panxora

 

With interest rates near zero and fears that whipsawing stock markets are set for further plunges, many investors are turning to alternative markets in the search for returns. Money flowing into cryptocurrency hedge funds and trusts like Grayscale is at all-time highs and the large cap coins seem to be entering a bull phase, but that capital is not trickling down into new token projects. Why are blockchain token projects struggling to attract funding?

 

Seed investor scepticism

Setting aside the reputational issues with mainstream investors, even those educated in blockchain tech are not signing on the dotted line. This is certainly due in part to the hangover from the early token market.

During the heady days of 2016/17, investors could buy tokens during the token sale, and if the project was legitimate – even if the business case wasn’t particularly strong – prices would soar based on market enthusiasm. Early investors purchased at a discount and cashed out almost immediately for a handsome profit – and then repeated the process again. The token sale allowed founders to amass a war chest large enough to finance the entire token project – without having to give up a large chunk of company equity. Everyone got what they needed out of the deal.

Running a token sale is far more expensive today than it was during the boom. Getting the attention of the token buying public in a market where advertorial has replaced editorial is expensive. This coupled with a regulatory framework that requires the advice of accountants, solicitors and information gathering of KYC details for investors all comes with an escalating price tag.

To accommodate the change in cost structure, tokens now need to acquire funding in two rounds. Frequently there is a first round where capital is raised from a few, large investors. This cash is then used to finance setup and marketing the main token sale. The token sale, in turn, provides the capital needed to run the entire business project.

 

Bridging the gap between token projects’ needs and early stage investors

To successfully get a token through the capital raising process, founders must acknowledge the risk assumed by those very early investors and reward them appropriately. And given that tokens may stagnate or fall in price post token sale means that a deep discount in token price is not necessarily attractive enough to get investors to commit.

Many tokens have turned to offering equity in the business in the effort to raise that first tranche of capital. If you look at the number of successfully concluded token sales, the downward trend has continued since Q2 2018, so offering equity is not sufficiently stimulating the market.

 

Two sides of the coin

So, what is the answer? It’s a complex question but one thing is certain. Any solution must be rooted in a deep understanding of what both parties need to successfully conclude the deal.

On the one hand, token founders’ needs are clear: they need enough capital to get the token ready for and through a successful liquidity event that will provide sufficient funds to build the project. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between accruing that capital and making sure not to offer so much project equity that give up either the control or the incentive founders need to drive the project forward.

On the other hand, while the needs of the seed capital investors are more complex, there are two areas of key concern: transparency and profit incentives.

 

Transparency can mean many things, but almost always includes providing more informative cost and profit projections, as well as answers to a whole range of questions, not least the following:

  • What happens to investor capital if the token sale event fails? Token founders must be transparent from the outset. The token market is highly speculative and early investors run the risk of losing their money should the project fail. Therefore, investors require a well-established fund governance process in place throughout the fundraising so they can make informed decisions on whether the project is worthwhile. 
  • How are the assets for the entire project managed? Investors need to know that their money is in good hands and that proper treasury management techniques are being used to manage cryptocurrency volatility risk. Ideally, an independent custodian will be used to hold the funds and limit founders’ ability to draw down the capital – releasing funds to an agreed-upon schedule of milestones.
  • How are the rights of investors protected, for instance in the case of a trade sale? Investors need to know what happens if the company they are investing in is sold. What impact could this have on the value of their stake? Would a separate governance framework need to be established? These are critical questions and investors aren’t likely to settle for any ambiguity in the answers.

Profit incentives are important when it comes to encouraging early participation in a project. Investors need convincing that the proposition will keep risks to a minimum and focus on providing a strong probability of a return. This means that founders need to be able to defend the case for the increase in the value of their token.

But this isn’t the only incentive that matters. Investors can also be incentivised by preferential offerings such as early access to projects and services that might help their own business.

Let’s not forget that investors don’t support just any project. What really matters is that there is something special and unique about the business being underwritten by the token. Preferably something that could be shared upfront and directly benefit the investor – proof that the investment is really worth it.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Ultimately, while token projects are having a hard time finding funds at the moment, if they can prove their worth and provide full transparency and clear profit incentives to ease investors’ concerns, the money is out there. And deals can be done.

 

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