High-Performing IT ¦ When you do not need to call IT (notes from IC3)

Posted by on December 14, 2015 7:38pm

Change your mindset to change to DevOpsIC3_San_Jose.png

The IC3 conference is always a good opportunity to keep up with the latest in the IT and DevOps world. This year’s Fall event was set in San Jose, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, and attracted a great crowd eager to learn more about cloud solutions, and also to share tips and stories.

The conference’s Executive Track focused on how to create high-performing teams, and on the role of IT and DevOps.

‘High-performing IT’ (and how to get there) was also the title and the topic of the panel moderated by Bernard Golden, a true expert in cloud computing. I had the privilege of joining him, alongside Asya Kamsky (MongoDB), Mallika Iyer (Pivotal), and Thomas Goepel (HP). The following is a recap of some of the key points and takeaways from our discussion.

The panel started by trying to define what we really mean by ‘high-performing IT’ and the metrics that can be used to identify it.

The general consensus was that we are now witnessing drastic changes in the IT world. The cloud is no longer an option, it has become the new normal. It can be private, public or hybrid, but everybody has to deal with it in one form or another. And the cloud is not just an infrastructure cost saving factor, but also a speed factor. Thus high-performing IT teams have understood and embraced it. The cloud makes it easier (and often necessary) to adopt new methodologies, such as agile development, continuous delivery, and microservices, not to mention new technologies like containerization, orchestration and configuration, source control, testing and debugging tools. IT opens up to a completely new set of best-in-class, cloud services.

And what are the metrics that can be used to identify a high-performing IT organization? There can be specific metrics, such as how often they deploy, how fast they can recover from failures, etc. But ultimately what makes a high-performing team is the capability of building quality in the system, both in the processes and in the product, in a very efficient way, to the point that quality is no longer measured by the functional aspect alone, but also by performance.

That is when you do not even think about IT. As it was said in the panel, a high-performing IT team is ‘when you do not even know it is there.’

We are moving to a world where every company is a software company, no matter what your core product is. From shoes to books, food and transportation, in nearly every aspect of the increasingly global+mobile economy, if a company does not prioritize and properly attend to its software, it will probably be gone in the next 5 years.

In this newly-normalized paradigm, every group in a company needs to work more closely together than ever before. If teams work in silos, it is impossible to be agile and efficient, and to build quality. This means product quality involves everybody. And it is not just quality at the system level – the focus is on the customer (end user) and their experience. So high-performing IT is customer-focused IT.

DevOps, then, represents a new company culture, where end user experience is key, both in terms functionality and performance.

And of course this requires a change in the tools and processes used. Hence, the rise of DevOps culture has been accompanied by increasing popularity of continuous integration and continuous deployment tools, while different architectures and methodologies, like containers and microservices are allowing for incremental deployments and more modular components. There is a growing demand for tools that integrate full development life cycles, from code change to performance, through functional testing and then deployment. Several tools offer plugins that enable the integration of different solutions step by step. 

For these technologies to be used effectively, though, the internal relationship between business and IT needs to change. The former division between IT and the rest of the organization needs to go. While on the business side the focus has been on the customer, and on the IT side it has been high-functioning infrastructure and product, here they align. The end user’s experience becomes key to all parts of the organization. This is why performance has become so critically important.


Does this require new skills? First, it requires the motivation to learn new skills – not necessarily new people, just people who can embrace change and the new objectives. Often all it takes is a handful of internal champions who are willing to change and can help the rest of the organization move forward. Sometimes, not everybody is ready or willing to adapt as quickly, and depending on the organization there can still be some space for that.

The best approach is to start with small/successful projects, with a core of people who can then help spread the new culture to wider audiences and larger projects, and potentially the entire organization. It differs from company to company, from startups to enterprises, from industry to industry, and it can take some time, but this approach will help put you in the possible position to ensure that ultimately the results are rewarding for everybody involved.