There has been much discussion around the importance of driving business success through agile methodologies, the adoption of DevOps and SaaS delivery models, as well as the use of cloud-native technology. Yet in reality, a lot of IT projects are still not joining them up.
Customer expectations have changed – they expect a higher level of innovation and improvement of the solutions on offer to them – launching a new solution every six months is no longer an option. Customers want more value, delivered faster. For CSPs, it’s time to stop talking and start acting to meet this demand. And it all revolves around attaining speed, flexibility and most importantly agility.
But when trying to adapt to these market changes, CSPs face several challenges, including:
Clearly, to successfully address these changed customer demands and overcome the challenges involved requires a different way of working and often, existing IT systems and delivery processes struggle to provide the required level of flexibility. It is no surprise that project delivery often feels like climbing Mount Everest.
Actually, there are many similarities between mountaineering and successfully running IT projects.
When Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest in 1953, he needed additional oxygen to reach the summit. This essential oxygen helped him to breath and perform better at high altitude, but it also came at a cost. Several Sherpas were required to help carry it step-by-step, up through the various camps which significantly slowed down his expedition. This was known as “expedition style", using sheer force and manpower to forge a way up to the mountain's summit. Many IT projects can feel similar, using complex technology requires a large task force and then even more people are required to manage the technology and assure quality service. This significant overhead brings complexity and significantly slows down the delivery process which therefore limits your ability to launch quickly to the market, flexibly adapt to change, rapidly innovate and grow your business fast.
But there is another way. It is in fact possible to reach the summit without additional oxygen, but to achieve this, you have to be extremely fast and fit as you can’t survive for a long in this challenging environment above 8000 meters. This method of mountaineering is called "Alpine Style", and it’s all about speed and finesse to quickly scale the mountain and return to the base camp without the overhead of a heavyweight expedition. In IT, we need to adopt a similar mindset, avoiding those unnecessary overheads that result in large teams using inflexible methods and technology which ultimately slow down the project and increase costs..
The first step to improving business agility is choosing the right technology that allows you to deliver optimal outcomes with minimal overhead. Clearly microservices and a container-based cloud-native architecture are key. But a major complexity in running a solution at scale resides in the network, compute and storage infrastructure, as well as the application runtime environment where the majority of the non-functional challenges sit.
The use of managed services in the public cloud frees you from these restraints. You no longer have to worry about things like scalability, high availability or patching and updating application servers and databases. With serverless solutions, you no longer have to provision infrastructure when the workload changes and you don't have to pay for idle time.
From personal experience, I would strongly advise those faced with the challenge of improving business agility to select solutions with a cloud-native architecture and based on managed services in the public cloud.
Nevertheless, you still should not forget about the operational elements after you have deployed a cloud-native solution. A SaaS-based delivery model is the preferred choice for offloading operational load to the software vendor. You don't want to waste your valuable resources on things like capacity management, performance tuning, patching and upgrading software. Rather, free up your people to focus on your market differentiation, innovation and customer experience.
A SaaS environment offers numerous benefits such as the delivery of continuous upgrades and feature enhancements. Your applications will always be up to date with automatic upgrades and zero down-time. But SaaS also allows you to go live faster SaaS solutions are also available immediately allowing you to start focusing on delivering business outcomes right from day one.
Cloud-native technology leveraging managed services in the public cloud and a SaaS-based delivery model are two very important success factors for achieving business agility. But the final key is the methodology that you use to roll out new services in the market. There are two parts to the methodology to be aware of.
The first part is about "getting the right ideas" which means understanding the customer needs and finding the right solutions. This requires short iterations for quickly validating the strategy and the product-market fit. By quickly deploying an MVP and measuring the outcomes, you will reach your goal faster than designing solutions in PowerPoint in your office.
The second part is all about “getting the ideas right” which means scaling the solution by continuously improving the customer experience and level of automation. The journey is not over when the solution is launched in the market. In fact, the most important phase is just about to start as you are now getting a lot of feedback and need to be able to quickly adapt to meet changing business needs at speed.
There is no time for lengthy procurement processes, and you need to break the silos between different departments inside and outside the organization so that all parties share a common set of delivery goals. By joining up the business and the IT in integrated teams, all will be focused on the same outcomes and incrementally deliver them in short iterations.
The final, and probably most important, success factor is the taskforce. Only when you have experienced experts in your teams that understand the technology, as well as the business domain, is it possible to avoid the massive management overheads that ultimately slow you down and increase costs. Instead of an army of people, you want to have the smallest possible team working closely with the business to rapidly innovate and deliver solutions in a frictionless way.
Outsourcing and offshoring large chunks of work is no longer an option for these types of projects, you need to bring people closer together so that they can effectively collaborate and focus on the business outcomes. Procurement will have to rethink its processes as the day-rate of a contractor is no longer a dominating factor, it's more about getting the right resources that understand both the business and the technology.
In summary, the secret formula for achieving business agility is to combine the right technology with the right delivery model to create a solution that scales with your organization and grows as you grow. The use of cloud-based technology and a SaaS delivery model greatly reduces the operational complexity and allows you to focus on market differentiation and customer experience. Less manpower is required, and less people means reduced overheads and higher speed. An agile and iterative delivery model allows you to quickly launch and validate new ideas with your customers and constantly improve them in short iterations. Joining up the business, IT and vendors in integrated teams and working on a common set of goals will yield result in short iterations and will enable you to deliver more value, faster.