In my previous blog, I explored how new ways of working—DevOps, Agile, cloud and startup thinking—have brought in a tectonic shift in the ways of working of enterprises. For infrastructure leadership and management, this is nothing short of a perfect storm that they need to navigate.
While these new ways have impacted every aspect of technology including development, testing and project management, infrastructure and operations have remained the last bastions of traditional thinking, practices and approaches. Even with the rapid rise of DevOps practices in the recent years, we have just seen pockets of change in the infrastructure space, be it adoption of infrastructure-as-code practice, cloud in its numerous variants (private, public or hybrid) or containers and cloud-native technologies. But these changes all fall short of an enterprise-scale change that matters. What is missing is a systemic view of infrastructure as a value stream and transformation that ventures beyond the skin-deep changes limited to a few front-end digital capabilities.
Infrastructure Transformation on the Horizon
However, this is changing now; one by one, the barriers to infrastructure agility are breaking down. To put it simply, there are four dimensions of this change, based on various enterprise transformation initiatives that I have been involved over the years
Radical new Operating Models
New operating models are emerging to meet the business demand for infrastructure agility. There are primarily five patterns or a combination that enterprise are espousing in the operating model space:
- Shared service: This typically involves applying lean, value-stream mapping and Kanban techniques—in simple terms, the emphasis is on transparency, business-aligned prioritization of work and limiting work in progress.
- Responsive shared service: In this model, specific infrastructure members are “seconded” to application squads for more responsive service. However, there are limits to secondment model, in the ability to scale beyond a few iconic programs of work.
- Cross-skilling: This model involves infrastructure and application team members learning skills across each other’s disciplines with the goal of making delivery teams self-reliant.
- Disrupting with cloud: As the name suggests, enterprises are disrupting their own traditional infrastructure capabilities by aggressively pursuing private, public and hybrid cloud capabilities.
- Insourcing: Increasingly, there is a trend to insource responsive cloud and DevOps-based services to near-shore locations. “Almost twice as many CEOs are intent on building up in-house technology and digital capabilities as those plan on outsourcing it (57 percent and 29 percent, respectively),” according to Gartner’s survey of CEOs in 2017.
Reimagining the Legacy Technology Stack
Legacy systems based on technologies such as the AS400 or mainframes have been the bedrocks of technology for decades, but they also have been blamed for constraining agility. Many organizations have realized that replacing legacy systems with open system stacks is not an easy feat. Consider the fact that IBM continues to report an increase in mainframe sales over the last few years, including Q4 2017. This points to the fact that legacy will be part of the enterprise landscape for years to come—as such, incumbents need to be able to leverage the legacy stack to compete with digital challengers who are unencumbered by similar technology constraints.
However, it is not all somber. There is a new wave of optimism driven by old guards, including CA and IBM, and new, including Compuware and ARCAD, that are bringing modern engineering practices such as continuous integrationcontinuous delivery (CI/CD), automated code analysis, virtualization, lightweight integration and test automation to these platforms. These new practices not only give these systems a new lease on life, but they also enable modern enterprise systems to be built iterative and incrementally—and not be handicapped by legacy constraints anymore.
Intelligent Enterprise Resource Planning Software
ERP software such as SAP/R3 are the backbone of many enterprises across industries. Historically, ERP software products have not kept up to speed with modern engineering practices and flexible architecture, which are fundamental to agility. The good news is that the ERP landscape is changing as product vendors are embracing cloud and API-led integration—IDC calls this “intelligent ERP” or “i-ERP.” Consider this: In 2025, SAP/R3, the largest ERP product in use, will no longer be supported officially, and enterprise planning programs (albeit, in a waterfall way) will move to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, the company’s new generation ERP platform.
Culture and People
Years of the drumbeat of Lean, Agile and DevOps ways is yielding results, especially in those organizations that see this as a people change as much as technology change. People in the infrastructure world are changing from operating being behind a queue toward being customer-focused, collaborative and value-seeking. Organizations need to address the structures that restrained it from moving forward on the journey. Traditional organizational structures don’t account for team strengths, nor do they give everyone fair input in regards to overall direction. Rather, structures should be set up that allow managers to empower teams instead of teams living to carry out management demands.
Ultimately, the key to creating agile and responsive infrastructure in organizations starts at the top, from the CXOs who need to realize the scale of change and inspire their teams on the need for change—or face extinction.