Is IT Infrastructure Agility Your Digital Transformation’s Achilles’ Heel?

Over 90% of C-suite respondents to a 2020 digital transformation survey said they believe digital technologies could fundamentally change the way people work in their organization.

Change is the operative word, as most enterprises today with digital or agile transformation initiatives focus on how digital transformation can transform the “change” arm of the organization. The less glamorous, but no less important, “run the enterprise” dimension helmed by the IT infrastructure teams tends to be forgotten or sidelined in these initiatives.

While digital transformation is not a new phenomenon, making digitalization core to corporate strategy is a fundamental shift for technology teams. Delivery units, or “change the enterprise” teams, have warmed up to new ways of working over the last few years and are already on the learning journey. However, operational units, including cloud and IT infrastructure, have lagged. 

And organizations quickly realize that innovating only one part of the enterprise is suboptimal and can lead to a half-baked digital transformation.

The solution to this problem is a DevOps approach, where the organization eliminates development and operations silos and encourages collaboration across the entire systems and processes transformation lifecycle.

Effectively, DevOps bridges the gap between the “change” and the “run” of your Digital Transformation journey.  

However, many DevOps transformation initiatives seem to be taking the same old path of least resistance that agile transformations have historically adopted: focusing on the “change” and delivery teams and ignoring the “run the enterprise” IT infrastructure teams.

Flashback 2001: When the Agile Manifesto Came to Be

In February 2001, a group of software developers commiserated about their projects’ pace at Utah’s Snowbird Ski Resort. They searched for a new way to approach their projects since the old ways took too long and often became obsolete at completion.

From this landmark meeting followed the agile manifesto, which is as crucial to modern DevOps as it is brief. 

In essence, it outlined four principles to govern agile development: 

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

Agile is a mindset versus a fixed set of tools. DevOps has taken the principles of agile to their logical next steps by focusing on flow, amplified feedback loops, and building a culture of learning and innovation.

Why Does Agility Get Stuck at the Crossroads of Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation requires an agile approach to be successful. Since agility is a mindset, it logically follows that the biggest impediment to successful adoption is a failure to change the internal ethos that previously governed an organization. This happens when leadership cannot marshal a change in mentality or old habits resurface. 

Creating an agile and responsive IT infrastructure in organizations starts with CXOs who must inspire their teams on the need for change. Organizations need to address the traditional structures that restrained it from moving forward on the journey, such as accounting for team strengths or enabling everyone to provide his or her input in regards to the overall direction.

Successful agile-DevOps-based philosophy allows managers to empower teams instead of teams living to carry out management demands.

Conventional agile transformations tend to fall short by treating the initiative as another 'business change' similar to the rollout of a new tool. DevOps and agile are about effecting a fundamental change to the DNA of the organisation. 

A 2017 RightScale “State of Cloud” report revealed that 97 percent of enterprises are using cloud technology. However, three years and multiple surveys later, only a small share of their workload has actually been moved to the cloud, indicating the potential that remains.

And often, the move to cloud merely replicates the existing processes versus becoming a catalyst for improvement or change.

Enterprises are likely past quick wins such as digital front-ends and will now struggle with the difficult areas of their applications—the bulk of the enterprise apps where the traditional IT infrastructure constraints and mindset rules.

Enterprises can tackle this by truly embracing change, thinking big but starting small with experiments and continuous refinement of every single dimension of the way infrastructure teams operate.

This post is an attempt to demonstrate that agile transcends tools or a framework to something greater: a mindset that can govern every facet of the organization.

Given the DevOps movement originated in the IT infrastructure world, management keen on digital transformation will have to look at IT infrastructure as equal partners on this journey, not as a subservient IT function

Ultimately, the idea that infrastructure teams need to choose either ‘consistency, quality, and stability’ or ‘speed, flexibility, and customer intimacy’ is a false dichotomy!

More in my next blog, where we keep the thread going by exploring emerging patterns of infrastructure agility.

(This is an update of a post I first published at DevOps.com.

Author

Aditya Vadaganadam

Aditya is a fan of technology, agile, legacy modernisation, and digital delivery. In his career, spanning two decades, Aditya has worked across modern and legacy stacks in diverse cultural contexts spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe.