No, this is not another piece about the silos come a-tumblin’ down.
At absolutely every event I covered for CMSWire this year, without fail, one of the principal topics of discussion has been getting all the stakeholders in organizations’ information technology strategies together in the same room. Granted, there were a few people who fervently suggested I devote my efforts to preventing such a calamity from ever taking place, lest the balance of the universe be disturbed.
But they were a tiny minority of the IT, software development and marketing professionals, and C-suite executives who spoke up this year. The platforms upon which enterprises depend are undergoing fundamental transformations, forcing organizations to confront head-on the communications and collaboration issues they had been so skillfully avoiding.
“People are trying to run their businesses faster, and quite a few of the CIOs get this phrase: They’re trying to align IT with the business,” explained Adrian Cockcroft, a Technology Fellow with Battery Ventures, during the first day of DockerCon in San Francisco last June.
The importance of this statement is not exactly self-evident, until you understand who Cockcroft is, and to whom he was speaking.
Adrian Cockcroft was responsible for one of the most successful re-architectures of an information systems platform in the history of computing. Netflix is now believed to account for some 37 percent of all Internet traffic, and is capable of doing so handily — and probably more — by way of the microservices architecture that Cockcroft spearheaded.
He was speaking to a room full of software developers. The message was about aligning IT interests with business interests, which for them was like telling Group B that Group A needs to coalesce with Group C.
It mattered, because the way it’s happening in more and more organizations is through Group B.
“The problem is, people are building these insecure applications with plain text passwords and unencrypted things,” Cockcroft continued, “then they give that to ops, which will wrap it in a security blanket. Then they’ll sit there and suck their thumbs, and hope that no one manages to find their way through.
“And that’s not really a very secure way of approaching it. What needs to change, to deal with this, is that developers need to take more ownership of what goes into production.”
It was a message echoed just a few weeks ago in London, at HPE Discover 2015. There, 451 Research analyst Donnie Berkholz was speaking to a room of mainly IT professionals and people answerable to the CIO, if not CIOs themselves.
“If you’ve got developers — they’re the ones who built the code,” said Berkholz. “Why shouldn’t they be responsible for how it’s running in production? This is how you get them to care.”
Software is evolving from a product that is packaged and supported by far-away personnel over the telephone, to a set of well-leveraged platforms that are integrated and extended by developers on-staff.
What software developers call the “production phase” has historically been the domain of IT administrators — the people who installed the software packages and ran the physical and virtual servers that hosted these packages.
For a few folks who attended CMSWire’s first DX Summit in Chicago last November, the idea of putting software developers in charge of production environments, and that of placing IT admins in charge of deployment strategies, are both anathema. One fellow suggested to me the only way to drive alignment in his organization was from the top down — by making it clear that the C-suite sets the strategy, and folks who don’t like it can go back to flipping burgers.
Many DX Summit attendees on the marketing side of their organizations, who spoke about the difficulty in making the people in charge of digital technology, understand the digital needs and digital goals of their digital divisions.
One digital marketing director for a major healthcare provider told the story of how her team is driven by a need to attain and hold competitive advantage over other providers in her state. Only now, she said, “IT is starting to come to the party.”
But nobody from the IT department knows how to assess marketing technologies based on the needs of marketers, she said. Astonishingly, the one tool her team needs to demonstrate what those needs are and how they are evolving — the data about her customers — is under the control of the IT department.
And IT is so skeptical about the motives of marketing, she said, that they are unwilling to provide access to that data without what she described as unnecessary handoffs.
Healthcare marketers cannot track returns on marketing investments, she said, because of controls placed on marketing’s access to that data — controls which the IT department may perceive as necessary to maintain compliance with security guidelines.
What she said she was looking for most from DX Summit was a methodology she could take back to her institution, for selling in to IT and its leaders — for making not just the IT department but the CIO understand how marketing works, and what marketers require to do their jobs.
IT departments cannot give marketers the information they need to do their jobs, said Filipe Jaske, who directs IT Brazil-based cosmetics maker Natura, until marketers better understand how the business works. Jaske is looking for way to sell in to marketing and its leaders.
But Jaske was speaking to a room full of mainly IT personnel, last October at the Perform 2015 conference, produced by application performance management service provider Dynatrace.
“If we talk to the business about availability, about performance, about response times, those kinds of things,” said Jaske, “they feel a little confused about it. But when we talk about orders that are being made in our system, and the experience of the user, they experience what we are talking about.
“So the biggest lesson we learned is to look to the business first,” he added.
“Digital disruption,” said Dynatrace CEO John Van Siclen, “is a C-level care-about. “The big transformations come first [from the] top down, driven by, ‘We have to change,’ and second of all, when we embrace the business.”
The messages from the IT side and the marketing side sound completely compatible. Marketers say IT needs to understand the business, and so does IT.
So where exactly is the collision?
“I don’t know that we’re on the same page about this,” said Meghan Walsh, senior director of content strategy for Hilton Worldwide, during a speech at DX Summit. Walsh was speaking about a previous position where she ran a content operations team, and was told that her team had been creating roadblocks for content authors to produce and publish their material.
It seemed like everyone agreed that everyone needed a more user-friendly content author experience, she told the DX Summit audience. At first, the discussion centered around the user-unfriendly CMS.
She was advising the lead stakeholders in the CMS that it would be a nice thing for them to add a more direct path for authors to make content additions and changes themselves, without having to advise Walsh’s team about the changes first via e-mail — the very processes for which she and her team were being blamed.
“Because I’m doing that, I’m expecting that you are staffing to actually make those content changes,” Walsh said she told the key stakeholder. “And you’re accepting responsibility for that process.”
But she got resistance from this stakeholder, who told her he was fine with the way things were — with Walsh’s team making content changes like before.
“We were talking about it as a technology problem,” said Walsh. “It was actually a people and process problem.
“If we had kept on going, neither of us would have been happy with where we ended up, because it wasn’t where we agreed. We were able to actually right that ship, and shift the conversation so that we were able to respond more quickly to the changes they needed to make.”
From Walsh’s vantage point, and the perspective of many in her position, administrators and developers are on the same team. The organizational channel through which developers are contacted and engaged, leads directly through IT.
Thus, it all looks like IT.
Which brings us back to Adrian Cockcroft and a room full of software developers. The key advantage of microservices for huge content providers like Netflix, Cockcroft has said in speech after speech, is that they empower developers to take charge of their own product.
Or at least they should, when the culture of the organization permits this to happen — and at Netflix, the culture had not yet calcified to restrict this from having happened in the first place.
“In a competitive situation, you’re trying to run faster than your competitors,” said Cockcroft, again to a room full of developers. “Now, if your competitors are doing weekly releases and you’re doing daily releases, you’re going to learn seven times more quickly than they do.”
But microservices architectures move beyond daily releases, he said, to a state of being where some part of the organization’s software is being changed every hour.
“What you’re really trying to do is innovate,” he remarked. “You’re trying to use big data to figure out what to do next. The culture has to get out of the way so you can get things done quickly, and you use [process] automation to actually get things done.”
By getting culture “out of the way,” Cockcroft doesn’t mean eliminating the need for culture in the organization. He’s referring to it in the sense of a roadblock.
The process of developers making software work in production (or what we might otherwise call “in business”) leads directly through IT. Thus when developers talk about CIOs advising them to align their goals with that of business, their point of contact with business is the IT department.
Thus, it all looks like IT.
There are tremendous transformational changes under way to digital platforms. And there is a revolution under way in digital marketing.
The year 2015 brought both metamorphoses onto the same stage together, time after time. The common theme between them is that there’s still something in-between keeping them from bridging the gap.
This time it’s not a silo but a bottleneck.