The next BriefingsDirect DevOps innovation case study highlights how Cognizant Infrastructure Services has worked with a large telecommunications and Internet services company to make DevOps benefits a practical reality.
We’ll learn important ways to successfully usher DevOps into any large, complex enterprise IT environment, and we’ll hear best practices on making DevOps a multi-generational accelerant to broader business goals — such as adapting to the Internet of Things (IoT) requirements, advancing mobile development, and allowing for successful cloud computing adoption.
To provide a practical guide to effectively ushering DevOps into any organization, we’re joined by Sachin Ohal, Manager Consulting at Cognizant Infrastructure Services in Philadelphia, and Todd DeCapua, Chief Technology Evangelist at HPE Software. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: When we talk about DevOps in a large environment, what are the barriers that we’re facing these days? It’s a complex undertaking, but what are the things we need to be thinking about in terms of making DevOps a beneficial reality?
Ohal: Fundamentally, industries come in many different models, which is often a sending and receiving mode rather than a communicating mode.
So either one team is sending to the other team or one organization is sending to the other team. When we come up with a model like DevOps, the IT team starts DevOps without selecting an area where DevOps needs to start, or where a team needs to take a lead to start DevOps in the organization.
Companies are trying to enhance their IT infrastructure. They want to enforce DevOps. On the other hand, when they all start communicating, they’re getting lost. This has become a fundamental problem in implementing DevOps.
Gardner: You’ve been working with a number of companies in bringing DevOps best practices into play. What are some of the bedrock foundation steps companies should take? Is there a common theme, or does it vary from company to company?
Ohal: DevOps is a kind of domain that varies inside a company. We can’t compare company to company. It varies company to company, domain to domain, organization to organization, because here we’re talking about developing a culture. When we talk about developing a culture, a thought process, understanding those thought processes plays a key role.
And if we fundamentally talk about an application development organization, testing organization, or the IT ops organization, they have their own key performance indicators (KPIs), their own thought process, and their own goals defined.
Many times, we observe that within the IT organization, development, testing, and operations have different goals, objectives, and KPI’s. They never cross-functionally define business needs. They mostly define technology as organization-specific. As an example, a functional tester doesn’t know how developers are communicating with each other, or the security team for security-related issues. An operations engineer has KPI up-time, but he really doesn’t know the various application modules he’s supporting.
Suddenly, by enforcing DevOps, we’re telling all the organization to begin communicating, start intersecting, start having cross-communication. So this has become a key problem in the 21st century infrastructure, application, testing, or overall DevOps framework implementation. Communication and understanding have become key challenges for organizations.
Gardner: Before we get into the specific use case scenario and case study, what is the relationship between Cognizant and HPE? You’re a services provider; they’re a technology provider. How does it work?
Ohal: We’re a strong partner with HPE. Cognizant is a consulting company, a talent company. On the other hand, HPE is an enterprise-scale product delivery company. There is a very nice synergy between Cognizant and HPE.
When we go to market, we assess the situation, we request HPE to come on-premises, to work with us, have a handshake, form a high-performance team, and deliver into an enterprise solution to Cognizant’s and HPE’s customers.
Gardner: Todd, given the challenges of bringing DevOps to bear in many organizations, the fact that it varies from company to company really sounds like a team sport, not something one can do completely alone. It’s an ecosystem play. Is that right?
DeCapua: It absolutely is. When I think about this ecosystem, there are three players. You have your customer first, but then you have an organization like HPE that provides enterprise products and capabilities, and then other partners like Cognizant that can bring in the talent to be able to put it all together.
As we think about kind of this transition and think about what these challenges are that our number one player, our customers, have, there are these foundational pieces that you think about — things like time-to-market as being a challenge, brand value being a challenge, and, of course, revenue is another challenge.
As we were talking early on, what are those fundamental challenges that our customer, again as a team sport, are being challenged with? We see that this is different for every one of our customers, and starting with some of these fundamentals, what are those challenges?
Understanding that helps with, “We need to make a change. We need to influence the culture. We need to do all these pieces.” Before we jump right into that technical solution, let’s sit down as the teams together, with a customer, with someone like HPE, with someone like Cognizant, and really understand what our challenges are.
Gardner: Let’s drill down a bit into a specific scenario. Sachin, a large telecommunications, media and Internet services company, tell us about what their goals were and why they were pursuing DevOps and practical improvement in how they have a test/deploy synergy.
Ohal: When we talk about telco, pharma or retail customers, they fundamentally come up with many upstream/downstream revenue-oriented, customer service, workbench platforms — and it’s very hard to establish a synergy between all the platforms, and to make them understand what their end goal is.
Obviously the end goal is customer service, but to achieve that goal you have to go through so many processes, so many handshakes on a business level, on a technology level, on a customer-service level, and even internal customer service level.
In today’s world, we are IT for IT. None of the organizations inside a company works as an independent IT group. They work IT for IT. They are always supporting either business or internal IT group.
Having this synergy established, having this core value established, we come across many people who don’t understand the communication. The right tools are not in place. Once we overcome the tools and the communication process, the major question is how I’ll put that process in end-to-end in the IT organization
That, again, becomes a key challenge to that process, because it’s not easy to have it adopted with something new. As Todd said, we’re talking about Agile development and mobile. Your IT organization becomes your business. You’re asking to inject something new with no result. It’s like injecting some test assay with some new drug. That’s exactly the feeling any IT executive has: “Why am I supposed to be injecting this thing?”
Do I have a value out of it or don’t I, because there is no benchmark available in the industry that people succeed in a certain domain or a certain area. There are always bits and pieces. This is a key challenge that we observe across the industry — a lack of adaptiveness to a new technology or a new process. We’re still seeing that.
I have a couple of customers who say, “Oh, I run Windows 2000 server. I run Windows 98. I have no idea how many Java libraries my application is using.” They are also unable to explain why they still have so many.
It’s similar on the testing side. Somebody says, “I use a Load Testing Solution 9,” where even HPE themselves got rid of it three or four years back.
Then, if you come to the operations organization, people say, “I use a very old server.” What does it mean? It means that business is just getting IT services. They have to understand that this service needs to be enhanced so that the business will be enhanced.
Technology enhancement doesn’t mean that my data center is flooded with some new technology. Technology enhancement means that my entire end-to-end landscape is upgraded with a new technology that will support for next gen, but I’m still struggling with legacy. These are the key challenges we observe in the market.
Gardner: But specifically with this use case, how did you overcome them? Did you enter into the test environment and explain to them how they should do things differently, leverage their data in different ways, or did you go to the developers first? Is there a pattern to how you begin the process of providing a better DevOps outcome?
Ohal: First of all, we had to define an end-to-end delivery process and then we had to identify end-to-end business value out of that delivery process.
Once we identified the business value, we drew a line between various organizations so they could understand that they were not cutting across each other, but going parallel. But this is a thin line, which is going to work, and which will definitely vary domain-to-domain.
In a multi-generational business plan, when we talk about drawing this thin line, we don’t have any scope that tells exactly how we draw it in IT organization, a business organization, or inside IT. We draw it in a testing organization or a development organization.
DevOps can be started in any landscape. We may start with a testing organization and then we decide to pull it into the development and IT organization.
In some cases we may start with a development organization, and then testing and operational organizations come into place. Some businesses start DevOps, and they say that they want to do things the way they want.
If you really ask me about a specific case study, rather than giving a very centric answer, I want to tell you that the answer is a wide area. I don’t just want to take our audience in a wrong direction. Somebody else started in testing. So we’ll just start in testing. Somebody else started in development. Let’s start in development.
You can start anywhere, but before starting, just stay back, decide where you want to start, why you want to start, how you want to start, and get the right folks and the right tools in the picture.
Gardner: Given that there is a general pattern, but there are also deep specifics, could you walk us through the general methodology that you have been talking about and that you are describing?
Ohal: At one point in time, most users or most listeners on this podcast, were startup companies. They started up their company as a product or as service and they were struggling with a market.
Then, they shifted themselves as a product company. When I say product it doesn’t mean a physical product; it might be service as a product. Then, they started merger, acquisition, and enhancing their portfolio in the market. They’ve done a couple of exercises that fundamentally industry does.
Now, more big companies are transforming themselves to the service companies. They want to make sure that their existing customers and their new customers are getting the same values, because challenges remain, while adding new customers. Are my existing customers still with me? Are they happy and satisfied, and are they willing to continue business with my company?
Are they getting equivalent service to what we have committed to them? Are they getting my new technology and business value out of those services?
This creates a lot of pressure on IT and business executives. In mobile computing and cloud computing, suddenly some companies are trying to transform themselves into cloud companies from service companies. There is a lot of pressure on their IT organization to go toward cloud.
They’re starting with using cloud web services, cloud authentication at an IT level. We’re not talking a larger landscape, but they’re trying that. Basically this transformation from startup to product, product to services, and then services to cloud. That is your multi-generational vision with your multi-generational business plan, because your people change, your IT changes, your technology changes, your business models keep changing, your customers change, your revenue changes, and the mode of revenue changes.
Consider the example of eBay and Google. At some point in time, they never existed. We never even thought that these companies would be leading on Wall Street, giving us so much employment, or have such a large consumer base.
Being a consulting company like Cognizant, we observe those trends in the market very quickly. We see those changes in the market, we assist them, and we come with our own internal teams that understanding this all — yet the customer multi-generational vision remains the same.
To run this vision I have a strategic business objective, a strategic business unit. How will this unit communicate with the strategic business objective? That’s where your IT plays a key role. Information technology becomes a key strategic business unit in your organization that is driving this whole task force.
While driving this task force, if you didn’t define your DevOps in a multi-generational business plan, what will happen is that your focus is IT-centric. The moment technology changes, you’re in trouble. The moment the process changes — and the moment you think about cross domain in your company — you’re in trouble.
As an example, a telco is doing a cross-domain with the retailer. Then, pharma is doing cross-domain with the telco. Do you want to spend double for your IT or your business, or do you want to shut down the existing project and fund a new project?
There are so many questions that come into the picture when we talk about an IT-centric DevOps organization, but when we have business-centric DevOps initiation, we accommodate all the views, and accordingly, IT takes control of your business and they help you to run your business.
Gardner: So business agility is really the payoff, Todd?
Looking at disruptions
DeCapua: Yes. Dana and Sachin, as we look at this challenge and wrapping this around the use case that Cognizant has — not only the one customer that we are talking about, but really all of them — and thinking through this multi-generational business plan using DevOps, there are some real fundamentals to think about. But there are disruptions in the world today, and maybe starting there helps to illustrate a little bit better why this concept of a multi-generational business plan is so important.
Consider Uber, Yelp, or Netflix. Each one of them is in a different stage of a multi-generational business plan, but as to this foundational element that Sachin had been explaining — where some organizations today are stuck in a legacy technology or IT organization — it’s really starting at that fundamental level of understanding, What are our strategic business objectives?
Then look at this from whether there’s a strategic business unit and where that’s focused. Then, build up from there to where you have technology that lives on the top of that.
What’s fun for me is when I look at Uber, Yelp, or Netflix, knowing they are all different, but some of them do have a product and some of them don’t. Some of them are an IT organization that has a services layer that connects all of these pieces together.
So whether it’s a large telecom or an Internet provider, there are products, but there has really been a focus on services.
What can help is that this organizational, multi-generational vision is going to live through the iterations that every organization goes through. I hate to keep pounding on these three examples, but I think they’re great in ways that help illustrate this.
We all remember when things like Uber came in as a startup and was not really well-understood. Then, you look down, and it has become productized. It’s probably safe to assume that we’ve reached a certain level where it’s available in most cities that I travel to.
Then, you move into something more like a product, looking at Yelp. That is definitely a product that’s mainstream. It definitely has a lot of users today. Then you move down into the service area, and as something would mature into a service it has now become definitely adopted in the majority of their target users.
The fourth I would like to call on is cloud. As you move to something like cloud, that’s where Netflix becomes a perfect example. It’s all cloud-based. I’m a subscriber. I know that I can have streaming video any device, anywhere in the world, at any time, on Netflix delivered from the cloud.
So these four generational business plan items that we are talking about — startup, products, service, and cloud — again, carrying that underlying vision, all supported by information technology and a defined strategic business objective, focusing on a strategic business unit.
It’s really important to help understand that as I look at somebody like Cognizant as a partner and the approach that they have used with several of their customers.
Gardner: For organizations reading this or listening in that are interested in getting to that multi-generational benefit — where their investments in IT pay off dividends for quite some time, particularly in their ability to adapt to change rapidly — any good starting points? Are there proof of concept (POC) places where you start? I know it’s boiling the ocean in some ways, but there must be some good principles to get going with.
Ohal: Definitely there are. In this 21st Century IT business goal, first you have to sense everything inside of your business, rather than sensing the outside market. Sense all your business thoroughly, in real time. What is it doing?
You have to analyze your business model. Does my business model fit in these four fundamental parts? Where am I right now? Am I into the startup side, product side, service side, or cloud and where do I want to go? We have to define that, and then based on that, you have to adopt DevOps. You have to make sure where you are adopting your DevOps.
I was on product and I’m going to services, so I need a DevOps fitting here. Or I’m right now in a well-matured product and I want to go on a cloud. Where I am going? Or, I’m right now on a cloud and I want to have more and more refined services for my customers.
Find out that scale and define that scale, rather than getting many IT groups together and just doing a brainstorming session. Where am I supposed to stand? No. What is your business vision? What is your customer value? Those values really derive your business, and to derive that business use DevOps.
It’s not for just getting the continuous delivery in-place or continuous integration in-place. Two IT executives are talking, “You’re in my organization doing a great handshake,” and the business says, “I don’t want that handshake. I want that up-time.”
There are so many various aspects, various views. Todd mentioned that he has all these examples, but if you check other example as well, they’re very focused on their multi-generational business plan, and if you want to succeed, you have to be focused on those aspects as well.
Gardner: Anything else to add, Todd?
DeCapua: As far as getting started and what works and where you go, there are a number of different ways that we’ve worked with our customers to get started.
One of the ones that I have seen proven is something that has been neglected. For example, there’s a maintenance backlog. Here are items that over six months, a year, or sometimes even two years, have just been neglected. If you really want to try to find some quick value, maybe it’s pulling that maintenance backlog off, prioritizing that with your customer, understanding what’s important still, what’s not important any longer, and shortening it down to a target list.
Then being able to identify that if we’re going to focus a few resources on a few of these high-priority items that are going to continue to be neglected, then starting to adopt some of these practices and capabilities to then immediately show value to that business owner because we have applied a few resources with a little bit of time and gone after the highest priority items that otherwise would have been neglected.
The second piece that comes in is this analysis capability. How are you tracking the results? What are those metrics that you’re using to show back to the business that they have their multi-generational plan and strategy laid out, but how is it that they are incrementally showing this value as they’re delivering over and over again?
But start small. Maybe go after that neglected maintenance backlog being a really easy target, and then showing the incremental value over time, again, through the sensing that Sachin has mentioned. Also be able to analyze and predict those results and then be able to adapt over time with speed and accuracy.
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