Cloud strategy’s cultural dimension: Why DevOps is essential for cloud success

Optimizing Your Cloud Strategy: The Cultural Dimension – Lessons From the Recent Past and Why DevOps Is Essential for Cloud Success.

When we encounter a new and disruptive technology such as the cloud, it is natural to try and build a playbook from scratch on how to succeed with it. However, it would be wasteful to start afresh. Instead, we can incorporate lessons from the recent past when novel technologies were introduced into our playbooks. Electricity delivered as a service was as impactful and disruptive a century ago as computing provided as a service through the cloud is today. 

Why DevOps is essential for cloud success

Michael Kavis, in his book, Accelerating Cloud Adoption: optimizing the enterprise for speed and agility (O’Reilly Media), offers a relatable analogy that describes the current situation with cloud adoption. His introduction contains an enlightening discussion about how companies shifted from generating their electricity to consuming electricity on-demand as a utility. His key message is that successfully adopting electricity as a service was not merely about technology, it was a much broader transformation. So it is with today’s cloud adoption. 

The lessons learned from adopting electricity as a service that companies can apply to their cloud adoption are: 

  • Understand and empathize with the investments people have made in the previous technology ecosystem.
  • Take people along the technology-driven transformation journey, especially those who are impacted most by the technology. 
  • Maximize the benefits of the technology which require people, process, and cultural transformation.

Before the power grid commoditized electricity and made it accessible as a service, factories generated electricity. They had the infrastructure to build and deliver electricity in generators and watermills, the VP of electricity, departments, and people responsible for generating and providing electricity to the factories, and the processes to manage everything including demand management, capacity planning, and service request fulfillment. The factories and the business ran on this internally generated electricity. 

In the past, the inhouse investment in electricity was very similar to todays’ investments in infrastructure, people, and processes that companies have made in data centers to provide computing services for operating business applications. The operating model developed over the years to support the business’s technology needs has the data center and the computing power it provisioned as the center of the technology universe. Working effectively with this operating model required specialization and silos of domain expertise. 

Every specialized IT domain, including development, testing, security, audit, governance, etc., measured its success based on its domain objectives and created the process and paperwork to have more control over achieving its goals. When customer and business expectations were muted, this IT domain-focused way of working was acceptable. It was sufficient for both the IT department and the business to build large, monolithic applications deployed on physical data centers and released on biannual or quarterly release cycles. 

However, in today’s digital age, the all-important competitive advantage is the time to market a company’s software-based business products and services. Customers and the business demand the delivery of features and fix both rapidly and frequently. Cloud provides the technology and the DevOps ways of working that will enable companies to build, deploy, and operate software-based products and services at speeds and scales the digital age demands.

To succeed in the cloud, companies must acknowledge that the move to the cloud is not just another technology project. They will not succeed in the cloud by carrying over old processes, tooling, and operating models. Success in the cloud requires fundamentally rethinking how companies build, deploy, and operate software systems, products, and services. Success in the cloud requires DevOps. 

There are myriad definitions of DevOps and a multitude of ways that companies adopt DevOps, so let us begin with what DevOps isn’t:

  • DevOps is not a set of tools and technologies. 
  • DevOps is not about renaming existing IT domains as DevOps.

While attempts to expand the acronym DevOps by adding domains that are perceived to be underrepresented, such as BizDevOps, DevSecOps, AIOps, NoOps, and FinOps are well-meaning, they cause confusion. To most mature DevOps practitioners, DevOps includes all the above. DevOps concentrates on delivering business and customer outcomes through software.

The book Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren Ph.D., Jez Humble, and Gene Kim state that their desire to understand how to make technology great and how technology makes organizations better uses this definition of DevOps: 

“The new ways, methods, and paradigms that organizations were using to develop and deliver software, with a focus on Agile and Lean processes that extended downstream from development and prioritized a culture of trust and information flow, with small cross-functional teams creating software.”

DASA, the DevOps Agile Skills Association, defines DevOps as “a cultural and operational model that fosters collaboration to enable high performance IT to achieve business goals.”

DevOps is about making technology great and, through technology, making organizations better. 

Michael Kavis, in his book Accelerating Cloud Adoption: optimizing the enterprise for speed and agility (O’Reilly Media), has a table that captures the fundamental differences between the legacy data center and cloud-native mindsets. The table speaks to how the cloud provides technological underpinning for speed and agility, but to achieve this requires a shift from a data center mindset to a cloud mindset; a mindset change that the DevOps way of working enables.

Cloud strategy's cultural dimension

[1] Table 1.1 The legacy data center mindset and the cloud-native mindset. Accelerating Cloud Adoption, Optimizing the Enterprise for Speed and AgilityMichael Kavis, Orielly Media

Similarly, by embracing DevOps engineering and management practices, companies can use the power of the cloud to unblock well-known technology bottlenecks to deliver and operate software products at the speed and scale that today’s businesses and consumers expect and demand.

Similarly, by embracing DevOps engineering and management practices, companies can use the power of the cloud to unblock well-known technology bottlenecks to deliver and operate software products at the speed and scale that today's businesses and consumers expect and demand.

[2]Table 1.2 Bottlenecks and Pain Points. Accelerating Cloud Adoption, Optimizing the Enterprise for Speed and AgilityMichael Kavis, Orielly Media

In a nutshell, to harness the power of the cloud, companies need to embrace the holistic DevOps way of working.

Watch the DASA ( DevOps Agile Skills Association) Enterprise leadership Event recording, where I discussed this and other topics related to optimizing your cloud strategy, with a panel of experts.

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Irfan Shariff

DASA Research Director, Expert Program - Project Manager, Management trainer & Agile/DevOps coach, RTI Consulting Services

Irfan Shariff has extensive experience in managing strategic technology-based business initiatives in a variety of industries – Hi-tech, Financial, Retail. He has deep expertise and…