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InfoQ Homepage News Spanning the Business and Technology Divide: A Talk with UBS, LBG and ITV

Spanning the Business and Technology Divide: A Talk with UBS, LBG and ITV

Prior to this year's DevOps Enterprise Summit in London, InfoQ hosted a video panel sponsored by IT Revolution and featuring speakers from the DevOps Enterprise Summit events: Jelena Laketic from UBS, Mark Howell from Lloyds Banking Group and Tom Clark from ITV. Here we summarise the conversation.

InfoQ: Organisations like Target, Alaska Air and Domino's Pizza have stood up and described themselves as technology companies. Do you consider that the organisation you work for to be a technology company?

Mark Howell: We are technology-focused but maybe not known for it because of our brand as a UK retail bank. Recently, we've focused more on our engineering brand. Within a strategic reorganisation that we've just gone through, we have an engineering function now branded as engineering. In the current climate, technology is eating the world and we have to be running in full pelt just to keep still. Our 250-year brand means nothing to the likes of Monzo and Facebook - all of those players that want to eat our lunch.

Jelena Laketic: In Switzerland, there are several banks that are quite digitised and we are always on the lookout to be a bit better than them and still be on top of our game worldwide. And technology is just the only way nowadays that we can do that. For me, being a software engineer myself, this is a no-brainer, but I think it's beautiful to see that technology has become that important and that even the companies you wouldn't think of as technology companies have had to become one in order to be part of the future.

Tom Clark: At ITV, we experienced the financial crisis early on. It was a very difficult time for us because, back then, 95% of our revenue came from television advertising. And during a financial crash, companies that advertise tighten their belts so we had to make some pretty tough decisions about where to cut and where to slim back. We did trim away some of the slack and flex that we had in the system in order to save the company. Now we've come through, we're stronger than ever. We increased our profits on the same revenue as a result of being so lean. But I think what we did lose in that process was that slack and that breathing room to really look five years ahead. If you don't disrupt yourself, somebody else will.

ITV has been around since 1955 and is a very popular commercial broadcaster and producer, but Netflix, in the time that I've been at ITV, has gone from a DVD shipper to one of the biggest media producers and streaming services in the world. We've got lots of legacy systems we're slowly killing off, but they don't, and I think that's why we talk about DevOps and we talk about agility. We talk about the benefits of those is because it means that when an upstart like that comes along, we can actually move the business around and say, "Okay, we need to pivot, we need to do this, we need to do this better."

InfoQ: Do you feel that you've got the commitment that you need from your business in terms of time and budget or is that a journey that you're on?

Howell: We're a large organisation. We are trying to turn the dial on that. We're trying to move towards continuous funding in terms of the rights to operate. So we'll seed some funding in an area, show some value and get more funding. When you're on a journey like this, there is a bit of a leap of faith for the first tranche of money that you will get to do some goodness but what you've got to invest in them is making sure that you're showing that you're bringing value for the investment the business is making. It's something real for them; the: "What's in it for me?" question. And ultimately when you answer that, that builds your credibility and stock value in your organisation, and ultimately then gives you the license to operate and continue forward.

Laketic: People at the end of the day want to see a benefit for them. And you build your credibility as you go. We were trusted because our business had no choice. And then we proved that we can actually deliver and that we are the technical experts that they need. We've been having the business involved in a hackathon and their perception is not now that we are letting people not work two days ,but more: "Oh, we are getting this much for only two days paid work?"

InfoQ: Have you had any situations that have been really challenging where the business hasn't really moved?

Laketic: Sometimes, you have to move very slowly before you move really fast. But if this would make, you bring you more people on board and believing in something where you're going, I am happy to go slow for a while before we show them what we can do in the longer term.

Clark: I think it's 20-60-20 thing where when you want to make a change whether there are 20% of people who will be totally on board straightaway. They'll really like the idea. They'll want to support it. The middle 60% are silent. They want to sit on the fence. They want to see how it's going to pan out. And then you get the back 20 who are very resistant. They dig their heels and they're shaking their heads. They don't want the change because it's new and it's scary. And it's very tempting often to focus on that noisy back 20 who are resisting the change. I found if you can work out who the middle 60 are and get them on one side and convince them, then you've got 80% of the people with you and the back 20 either get with it or the opposite.

Howell: It comes down to the people and the belief systems with the culture that we want to develop within our organisation. And that's the way in which we deal with partners. We've been working hard on the ways of working and building relationships between people and allowing people to have the license to operate in a different way. That's when we start seeing real benefit in terms of changing mindsets and leading by example, because people like to see examples of where we can install change and do things in a different way. Nobody likes red tape, nobody likes frustration, but ultimately, it seems to be the requirement for permission. It's not a siloed organisation anymore. We want people to be talking directly with people, and ultimately bringing the right people into the team construct so that they can effect change in a much more efficient and quick way.

InfoQ: Using Simon Sinek's language, do you have the cultural asset, the organisational "why," or descriptor of the organisational purpose?

Howell: At an organisational level our mission as a bank is helping Britain prosper. When I speak about DevOps across our 18,000 people I use some key messages I've built around the definition and what it means in Lloyds Banking Group. As we know, you ask ten people, you get twelve definitions - so I base the conversation around the framework why, how, and what. Our "why" statement is we want to help you to deliver technology and change safely, reliably, and fast. And then we just drive the how and what; how we're going to do that and what we're going do to implement it. We're building a standard so that when we talk about being on the bus, we all have that joined up view of what this mystical thing is that we've developed through the years and have something to identify with.

Clark: Historically, technology was just an enabler and a cost centre. Now we have the concept of one ITV and technology itself is trying to grow its own internal culture. Historically, we had five business units and the technology approach was quite siloed, intentionally and inappropriately siloed within those business units. Inside those units, technology got very close to our business, which was great because they saw more technology than they've ever seen before. The challenge we have now is that ultimately, we have a slightly fragmented technology structure. Now we need to make sure we have aligned whilst also being aligned with the business and this requires matrix management; the kind of structures that used to be a bit of a swear word but now we seem to have come full cycle again and work on how we can apply that in the 21st century in a way that works for our business units as well as the technology function.

Laketic: It took us a while to master that matrix structure. I've seen, over time, us trying to go first into more of a pool style of managing IT and connecting IT with business. But that combination of having technology across the businesses but also working together toward the goal works the best.

InfoQ: What kind of things have you done to shorten the time from hearing about what that customer needed to deliver and what it is that they want out there?

Laketic: In our case, I could just put actually all the people, representatives of the business and representatives of technology together and let them talk, have a discussion and come up with the ideas and the efforts needed behind the ideas. If you put everybody together, you get not just conversation, but each side can teach the other side what they want and how this can be achieved.

Howell: Our organisation is geographically dispersed and we use offshore suppliers so getting people in the same room is not often easy. So what we've been doing is looking at our offerings around a value stream lens so that instead of projects and programs, what is the mortgages value stream, for example, as something that we sell. And then we're bringing the business as close to that as possible so that we have the product owner for the mortgages value stream that can define and prioritise and work with the engineering lead to work out exactly what goes to the top of the backlog and is done first and having that in an agile context. Having the MVP approach, we'll sprint every other week, showing some business value and get those guys working closer together.

Clark: Historically we had lots of different silos - but as part of a large modernisation program the CTO kicked off about four or five years ago that is coming to an end now, we shifted towards agile, top to bottom through product teams. We give teams a domain, like podcast scheduling, talent payments, or light, and say: "Here's a product owner" who is sometimes from our business and sometimes is a technology person. They operate like mini startups and maintain a roadmap aligned to the overall portfolio, but manage their own roadmap and their own backlog and they operate as a self-sufficient unit within the overall whole. Historically, there was one really big shared infrastructure across everything and if you wanted to make a change, you had to coordinate. You had to go to a CAB, you had to get permission, you had to ask. One of the key things I did when I designed the common platform, which is our cloud agile hosting platform was to really bake in this concept of blast radius reduction. So the product teams deploy on to an instance of the common platform - it's common, not shared, so each product team has their own independent instance. It means if you're the product owner and you want to do a release on a Friday afternoon, and your team has bought into it, and it goes wrong, the only thing you can really hurt is your particular product that you're hosting within the instance.

InfoQ: How do you see the DevOps target operating model in years to come, in terms of how business and IT will work together?

Clark: There won't be a DevOps function. I think these product teams that I mentioned, that is the evolution of DevOps to me. It's people working together. And I think we're already seeing it in ITV like I mentioned earlier on, you know, in online, our product teams, our technology product teams, historically have become part of the organisation. And I think that trend is going to continue. And you will just be, you know, technologists and developer platform engineering, etc., within a function working just side by side. The term DevOps will just become business as usual.

Howell: For me, it's about blurring the lines. I don't think we'll have dedicated operations teams or dedicated development teams - we'll have all those guys in that product team and that feature team. The engineers on the ground from the development organisations will evolve and get more of an operations mindset. I think one of the things we do really well is problem, change and incident management in our upbringing. We're still going to have those disciplines; they're still very important. But I think it's equally important to ensure that the dev and ops guys really become one team and I'm with Tom there. I can't see us talking about that term for much longer.

Latekic: I actually don't really like definitions and terms and I don't really care what we call something. So if we call it something other than DevOps it doesn't really matter to me because, historically, we did this style of work without knowing what it's called. So for me, it will evolve just logically. 

You can watch the full recording of the video talk here.

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