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Implementing DevOps at Barclays, Allianz and Disney: DOES17 London Day One Keynotes

| by Daniel Bryant Follow 60 Followers on Jun 07, 2017. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

At the London DevOps Enterprise Summit 2017 conference, the first morning of keynotes provided many takeaways for enterprise organisations looking to embrace DevOps and the principles of business agility, operational stability, and increased innovation: organisations must focus on the delivery of business value (rather than traditional 'activity milestones'), and this is best achieved by utilising cross-functional product teams; strategic alignment and transparency across business units is vital, and best accomplished by collocating teams and regularly sharing business value metrics; and establishing a supportive community of practice within an enterprise is essential in order to encourage continual learning and innovation.

After an introduction from Gene Kim, creator of the DevOps Enterprise Summit conference series, first to the stage was Jonathan Smart, head of development services at Barclays, presenting "The Yin and Yang or Speed and Control". Smart began the talk by discussing how the innovators within Barclays have successfully embraced agile principles from pilot projects that have been talked about at the previous year's conference. After the successful implementation of these early agile projects, the decision was made to rebrand the team that was helping to drive the transformation from the 'Agile Adoption Team' to the 'Better Products Faster Team'. This helped to avoid some of the negative connotations held by later adopters for the 'agile' movement.

The key support provided by Smart's team was helping business units move from planning and implementing with activity-based (project plan) milestones, to the delivery of business value as seen using metrics such as increased customer conversion or shortening the time it takes a customer to take out a loan. The team also learned that the entire organisation must embrace digital transformation and the associated agile ways of working, not simply the IT department. This can be challenging for an enterprise organisation due to the inherent inertia that follows from a large amount of people working together over an extended period of time, and the adoption of new ways of working will pass through the Kubler Ross curve (shown below). Smart's advice was to capitalise on times when teams are in the 'Honeymoon' phase, and he suggested that this is the best time to get senior leaders out in front of people to evangelise the transformation and the new ways of working.

Barclays DevOps Kubler Ross

Key takeaways from the talk included: focus on delivering business value, and this can be more effectively established by identifying and focusing on long-running business products, rather than on transient projects; ensure strategic alignment throughout the organisation using regular and effective communication; make work visible via techniques like value stream mapping, Kanban boards and Obeya (information-radiating) rooms; and continually improve or remove identified wasteful processes.

The second keynote was presented by Andrea Hirzle-Yager, head of IT at Allianz Deutschland AG, and titled "From Legacy to Strategy – From Ops to DevOps". Allianz, a global financial services company that offers insurance and asset management products, was keen to begin embracing principles from the DevOps movement, and so in January 2016 set an internal goal of delivering a mobile application that integrated into their backend systems within a year - a timeframe that was initially thought impossible within Allianz.

Allianz DevOps Journey

Key learnings from the journey included the need for alignment and transparency across the various business units, best accomplished by collocating teams, even if for only a temporary period of time. Often when key IT stakeholders were sat at the same table, most of the issues were identified as misunderstandings, and resolved quickly. From a technical perspective, new skills were required in the development teams, and Allianz engaged Pivotal to learn to work in a more agile fashion, and also embrace XP practices like pair-programming. Collaboration was also increased with the operations team, and more operational responsibility was shared with the development teams. However, the teams soon realised that specialists were needed to operate some of the existing legacy applications:

"You build it, you run it" doesn't always work with complex legacy backend systems. Instead, at Allianz we found that 'end-to-end DevOps teams' were needed, with operational specialists acting as consultants that were rotated through the teams.

This was not only the best way of meeting operational requirements and sharing knowledge, but the operations team also benefited by getting to work closer with the new functionality that was being developed

Hirzle-Yager concluded the talk by stating that senior-level top down support is essential for any kind of organisational transformation, and that moving to a more agile or DevOps-inspired way of working requires changes throughout the organisation - not just the IT department. The goal of deploying the mobile application in one year was met, and now in 2017 Allianz is looking to move towards embracing Cloud technologies.

The final keynote session of the first day, "Creating Digital Magic", was presented by Jason Cox, director of systems engineering at The Walt Disney Company. Cox discussed that with an organisation as large as Disney there are many challenges for IT: with the scale of the digital expansion of the business there was increased work and firefighting; with the speed of change required from business needs, IT was unable to keep up, and was blocked by manual processes and red tape; and maintaining stability of systems was a recurring issue, with configuration drift and error-prone administration. Compounding these issues was the fact that although the enterprise technology team was created to help other business units, they were often seen as the "empirical police force":

Disney Enterprise Team

Key takeaways from this talk included the need to physically 'go and see' what was happening within other business units. This included presenting ideas and discussing the shared goals throughout the organisation, running interactive workshops, and taking the time to understand how everyone can best work together. Transformational leadership is a vital skill within an organisation, and leaders must cultivate the following traits: collaboration - breaking down silos, ensuring mutual objectives; curiosity - keep experimenting and learning; and courage - ensure candor, challenge the status quo and encourage a 'no-blame' culture.

Concluding the talk, Cox suggested that an organisation must always devote resources to exploring future technologies and methodologies, as conditions change so rapidly in the modern business ecosystem. Establishing a supportive community of practice within an enterprise is vital in order to encourage learning and innovation. The Disney team have created the 'Jedi Engineering Training Academy' to help foster such a community, and regularly encourage the participation of external teams and industry leaders. Quoting Walt Disney, Cox stated that there is really no mystery to the success of Disney:

There's really no secret to our approach. We keep moving forward - opening up new doors and doing new things - because we're curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Additional details about the DevOps Enterprise Summit London 2017 conference can be found on the event website. Video recordings of conference session can be found on the IT Revolution YouTube channel, and the slide decks within the DevOps Enterprise GitHub repository.

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