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. Many claims have been made by CSPs that they are ‘agile-enabled’, yet the majority are still not joining the dots when it comes to IT project delivery. It’s now time to stop talking and start acting to meet demand.
Customers now expect a higher frequency of innovation and improvement of the solutions on offer to them, so launching a new solution every six months is no longer an option. It’s become all about speed, flexibility and most importantly agility, so CSPs need to deviate from just selling standard telecom services such as connectivity and look to deliver outcome-based end-to-end solutions.
Clearly, this shift to a more versatile solution offering requires a different way of working and often, existing IT systems and delivery processes struggle to provide the required level of flexibility. When expanding into new verticals, CSPs face several challenges, including:
• Needing to innovate much faster and reduce the time from idea to the launch of new services
• Effectively orchestrating a continuously growing ecosystem of partners as they will no longer be able to produce everything in-house
• Quickly scaling and expanding successful services in the market, eventually on a global basis
• And ultimately, empowering the business to adapt to market changes at speed so they can stay ahead of the curve.
It is no surprise that bringing these projects to fruition can feel like climbing Mount Everest, in fact, there are actually 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 innovate.
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 agility is choosing the right technology that allows you deliver optimal outcomes with minimal overhead. Clearly microservices and a container-based architecture are key enablers for achieving a more flexible solution. 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 complexity 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 agility to build your solutions based on managed services in the public cloud. This is will yield better results than continuing to invest in private cloud solutions and operating complex application runtime environments such as Kubernetes clusters or databases in-house.
The use of managed services in the cloud and a cloud-native architecture clearly provides you with a good foundation for achieving business agility. 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 the operational complexity to the software vendor. You don't want to waste your valuable resources on things like capacity management, performance tuning, patching and upgrading software. You rather want your people to focus on your market differentiation and customer experience.
A SaaS environment offers numerous benefits such as the delivery of continuous upgrades and feature enhancements. But it also enhances speed and reduces risk at the start of a project due to it being immediately available allowing you to start focusing on delivering business outcomes right from Day one. Cloud-native technology and a SaaS-based delivery model are two very important success factors for achieving business agility. Also key are the methodology and processes that you use to roll out new services in the market, but there are two areas to be aware of.
The first part is all about "generating 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. 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 of this is all about “getting the ideas right” which means scaling the solution by continuously improving the customer experience and level automation. However, 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 and improve your offering.
This all needs to be enabled by joining up the business and the IT in integrated teams, all focusing on the same outcome and incrementally delivering them in short iterations. 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 goals.
In summary, the secret formula for achieving business agility is to combine the right technology with the right delivery model. 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, working on a common set of goals, delivering results in short iterations, will enable you to get there faster.
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.