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Mastering multicloud depends on compatible culture

Cloud use is on the up. Businesses are increasing cloud spend, the range of applications they use it for, and even the number of cloud vendors they work with.

But while increasingly confident at putting the technical pieces in place, enterprises often make the mistake of failing to update business practices at the same time. This can have significant consequences, as achieving the full benefits of increased cloud use demands new ways of working and often a change in culture too.

Rise of the multicloud

Multicloud is particularly attractive to companies with ambitious growth plans and considerable variation in their computing needs. Additionally, multicloud can also benefit companies with global operations, who want to bring front-end apps as close to their users as possible for performance and regulatory reasons: if their preferred cloud vendor does not have data centres in that region, they can simply find a provider who does.

Additionally, organisations now require access to greater computing power and a range of cloud-based services like analytics, machine learning, IoT and blockchain. Businesses want a solution that doesn’t force them into the walled garden of a single cloud services provider, who might raise prices or limit their capacity at any given moment.

It’s clear to see why organisations are opting for a multicloud approach and the days of “one-cloud-fits-all” are well and truly over. Today, the typical enterprise works with anything from two to sixteen cloud providers. And this has resulted in a shift to the use of microservice architectures, an approach that sees single applications broken into a collection of smaller, independently deployable services managed by different teams.

In this modern cloud environment, longstanding development processes have become ineffective. Linear segmented development timelines, periodic architecture review boards, and in-depth review testing after build used to provide a reliable way of managing projects and ensuring ROI. But now they actually reduce operational agility, slow overall time to market, and even lead to security vulnerabilities.

Some companies think they can overcome the challenges of multiple clouds with an integration layer. However, this involves building integrations for every solution independently – an enormously labour-intensive and time-consuming operation. Even when a business has connected cloud environments to each other and to its on-premises infrastructure successfully, it must adapt to new code releases, making integration a never-ending struggle.

Modernising IT process

Enterprise IT in the age of the multicloud needs to shift from legacy processes to a modern development philosophy that breaks down siloes, drives closer collaboration and leverages user feedback. By bringing development and operations together, a DevOps approach provides this, facilitating continuous delivery, monitoring and optimisation of software applications. 

What does mean in real terms? For a start, it means the end of linear development workflows – with DevOps, architecture, visual design, development and test all taking place simultaneously. Instead of highly specialised staff and segmented timelines, multidiscipline staff work alongside one another, collaborating across every stage of development.

Where testing once represented the final stage of development, DevOps automates the process so it is ongoing throughout the entire timeline. And where a single deployment was the norm, now a user centred design incorporates ongoing feedback and updates for continuous optimisation.    

Cultivating culture change

With such a significant shift in established ways of working, effective management of required culture change can mean the difference between success and failure. Many stakeholders will be attached to old processes as they represent a tried and tested way to reduce risks associated with development and deliver on KPIs. To avoid resistance, it’s best to start small. Try one project to prove the concept to the wider business. Crucially, make sure you start in an area where the stakes are lower – avoid anything mission critical!

Once a test case has proved the model by delivering higher quality work, quicker and with less risk, there should be greater institutional confidence to apply the DevOps approach more widely. At this point, it is important to secure backing from senior leadership. DevOps teams need to be trusted with autonomy to deliver, but a fear culture often present in enterprises can present a barrier. Senior support can help to alleviate this, and ensure that if things go wrong, the first response isn’t to blame and punish. 

Creating a culture that promotes collaboration can be tricky, but it is central to success in a multicloud environment. Colocation is a good start, facilitating knowledge sharing, as well as collaborative problem solving. Agile software development techniques like pair programming have also proved highly effective. By having two programmers work at a single workstation, taking it in turns to write and review code, teams share best practices while also catching problems earlier, building communication, and enhancing teamwork.

Similar to collaboration, creating a feedback-oriented culture is both essential and challenging. How you do it can depend on the number of users you have. At a minimum, small-scale user testing is required. For wider input, many organisations are now monitoring social channels to harvest user opinion before applying analytics to identify trends. However you gather feedback, the key cultural piece is how you respond to it as an organisation. In the past, many have been resistant, even hostile, when it came to user input. But in an increasingly competitive business environment, humility and the ability to leverage feedback to improve your offering can provide a significant commercial advantage.  

Picking the right partner

Many of the approaches advocated here were first trialled in the start-up space. Just as they once enabled SMEs to outmaneuver larger competitors, now they are disrupting established ways of working to boost enterprise agility. And while these changes are designed to improve cloud development, principles like the increased collaboration also address broader issues, such as the technical skills gap impacting many businesses today.

If there’s one thing that will help organisations facilitate these best practices, it is changing how they work with cloud service providers. It’s no good engaging in a traditional vendor relationship. To maximise potential of the hybrid multicloud, businesses need a true partner that will provide consultancy, support cultural evolution and collaborate on projects.

Holly Cummins, Garage for Cloud Worldwide Development Practice Leader IBMImage Credit: Rawpixel / Shutterstock

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