Many traditional operations teams, especially those in large corporations, are due for an image makeover. In today’s cloud-centered world, operations teams can no longer be seen as a hindrance to cloud adoption. It’s time for teams to reimagine their value proposition and evolve alongside product teams to provide services with a slant towards communication, building common solutions, and providing lightweight governance. In my role as Director of Cloud Engineering at Capital One, I’ve led teams through the Cloud transformation from physical to virtual infrastructure. With a bias towards standard processes and repeatability, I’ve focused my efforts on encouraging teams by taking an inclusive, programmatic, and pragmatic approach to infrastructure management.

By 2020, public cloud services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are expected to be the predominant infrastructure providers[3], overtaking corporate-owned and operated data center and network infrastructure services. Factors[3] such as digital transformation, IT agility, and DevOps fuel demand for public cloud transformation and are rapidly changing how tech teams deliver products. The public cloud is having explosive effects on in-house infrastructure, traditional back-office organizations, and is pushing the pendulum towards tech decentralization. As ops professionals, we need to make sure we’re on top of this transition.

Driving Adoption

Embracing the cloud is key for operational relevance. To keep current on future trends of software engineering, it’s important to understand and recognize both the positive impacts of public cloud services on tech/product teams, as well as the ongoing evolution of existing centralized ops and IT organizations. Five years ago, 45–90 day turnarounds from order to going online was the norm for our physical servers. Typically, the extended timeframe was accompanied by high error rates due to manual package deployments as well as changes in priority as a result of market and/or business reprioritization. Compare this to today, where the public cloud allows for near limitless infrastructure to be provisioned repeatedly and securely within hours. The prevalence of Cloud application program interfaces (APIs) to instantiate infrastructure and platform services (IAAS and PAAS) when integrated into CICD pipelines with automated testing capability, is a proven combination to infrastructure automation success. As a result, product tech leaders are embracing, advocating, and demanding Cloud adoption across the board.

This transition is necessary but will cause massive changes within centralized Ops and IT organizations, especially for large, well-established companies. Organizations such as datacenter, network, storage, cybersecurity, finance, and audit/compliance, are often seen as hindrances to successful public cloud adoption. There are a few key factors for this perception.

  1. Public Cloud adoption is rarely driven by central organizations. The demand from product teams makes the central team seem like unwilling partners.
  2. Central processes for back-office IT organizations have been built over time and are often burdensome and heavy. The primary reason stems from requirements complexity and a “do not fail” culture[6]. Central teams historically solve complex requirements for all product teams across an organization without an ability to focus on only a few.
  3. Finally, many emotional factors, such as fear of role or org elimination add to the complexity of this challenge. Rarely do organizational transformations occur without dramatic shifts in people alignment.

A Three-Part Solution

Central ops teams can embrace a three-part solution to reimagine their value proposition and evolve alongside product teams: 1. Communication 2. Engineer Common Solutions and 3. Governance.

Communication

To keep up with fast changing environments, effective communication is critical. Central service teams need to adopt an updated communication strategy as a part of public cloud transformation. Successful communication strategies could include:

  • Build an internal customer advisory board of key stakeholders and senior leaders that meets on a monthly basis. The primary objective of the advisory board is to prioritize critical problems for the organization and share best practice across teams. Prioritization will drive automation efforts when building common solutions.
  • Implement weekly operational calls, focused on upcoming maintenance from internal teams or public cloud providers and compliance policy changes, to serve as frequent touch points for application teams and team leads. Representatives are expected to carry forward current updates to the rest of the teams.
  • Finally, holding frequent office hours will aim to provide a high-level of customer service and highlights companies’ dedication in executing the transformation effectively. The target audience for office hours is all engineering personnel in the organization looking for support in creating solutions in real-time.

Engineer Common Solutions

Automating core requirements with common solutions focused on increasing productivity and decreasing friction will help alleviate infrastructure requirements on product teams.

  • Build a shared pipeline for consistent delivery. The pipeline can incorporate validations that enforce company governance and policies so that teams are not required to solve for them independently.
  • Create visualization layers such as compliance dashboards to surface compliance numbers and trends. Ensure dashboards and reports are easily accessible (web or mobile) and digestible with rollup summaries.
  • Finally, standardize provisioning systems to simply and consistently create resources. It can also become an effective inner sourcing and consensus building strategy.

Governance

The public cloud offers significant flexibility in implementation options and central teams have a responsibility to establish best practices. Remaining well managed in the public cloud is critical to companies’ successful transformation.

  • Establishing a compliance model early in the transformation is key. Ensure stakeholders at all levels understand the importance of governance. Invest time and resources in education, documentation (for example, maintaining an updated public cloud service catalog), and clearly defined compliance exception process.
  • Lean towards common sense policies and accompanying automation to ensure that resources are protected and that all standards are enforced. A quick way to jumpstart governance is to leverage existing open source software. At Capital One, we use our open source rules engine Cloud Custodian (https://capitalone.github.io/cloud-custodian/) to unify complex governance and best practice rules into one tool.
  • Lastly, build a culture and framework that meets governance needs as well as allowing enough flexibility to ensure that new services are adopted quickly, and that innovation isn’t stifled. Recognize and embrace the push-pull dynamic necessary to build a well-managed and innovative organization.

Conclusion

Public cloud transformation will continue to drive changes to the entire industry, including to people, teams, and processes. This three-pronged solution including communication, engineered common solutions, and governance, for central teams will assist in planning and leading organizations on the transformation journey towards public cloud adoption.

As a people leader in the midst of public cloud transformation, it is important to give teams some choice as well. It’s been my experience that inclusive, feedback driven cultures are generally more successful than “must use” mandated top-down directives. Our job as leaders is to not only recognize industry changes as a result of public cloud, it is also to provide the guardrails and encouragement for our teams to transform in a well-managed and innovative way.

References

[1] How shared-services organizations can prepare for a digital future — https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/how-shared-services-organizations-can-prepare-for-a-digital-future

[2] 2020: The magic year public cloud becomes more popular than on-premises — https://www.techrepublic.com/article/2020-the-magic-year-public-cloud-becomes-more-popular-than-on-premises/

[3] Cloud-driven IT Decentralization Increases Security Risk — https://www.darkreading.com/cloud/cloud-driven-it-decentralization-increases-security-risk/d/d-id/1327519

[4] Wanted: DevOps governance that enables — doesn’t inhibit — work — http://searchcio.techtarget.com/feature/Wanted-DevOps-governance-that-enables-doesnt-inhibit-work

[5] Is Your IT Team Prepared For Public Cloud? — https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/is-your-it-team-prepared-for-public-cloud/

[6] Comparing DevOps to traditional IT: Eight key differences — https://devops.com/comparing-devops-traditional-eight-key-differences/