How good is your company’s cloud migration? | A Tech Frontier Series Q&A

On June 14, Cintrifuse is excited to showcase our Active Network with our next edition of the Tech Frontier Series — this time, we’ll be diving into how you can harness the value of cloud. We’ve assembled an all-star lineup of speakers and startups from our Active Network with two rockstars headlining the front and back ends of the morning: Jon Osborn from Great American Financial Group and Rob Thornton from Pivotal Labs.

To lend a little more insight about what these two (especially Rob) will be talking about we sat down with Rob to learn a little more about him and his thoughts on the cloud.

Register: Tech Frontier Series | Harnessing the Value of Cloud on June 14

About Rob

Rob currently serves as the Director of the Ohio Valley at Pivotal. He has more than 15 years of experience helping enterprises manage tectonic shifts in their competitive landscape and win market share in the digital age. In his words: “Becoming a software-driven business with a cloud native platform at the core of IT and engaging executives with development and operations teams requires a shared understanding of modern technology across IT and the lines business.”

Rob is a proud graduate and active alumni of the University of Cincinnati and is a mentor to two young men through the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative.

About Pivotal

Pivotal’s mission is to transform the way the world builds software. Software is changing industries but software itself is changing.  You hear a lot of buzz-words and new technologies coming to play with ideas such as Microservices, DevOps, Continuous Delivery and of Containerization of workloads. They really see these trends as manifestations and facets of the same thing – what they call CLOUD NATIVE: the coming together of tools, frameworks and building modern software on a cloud infrastructure. Pivotal is a founding member of the cultural movement inspired by Lean startup principles and the impact these methods have on cross-functional teams working with an outcome-based mindset.

Register: Tech Frontier Series | Harnessing the Value of Cloud on June 14

What industries are most active in moving to the cloud? What’s holding other industry verticals back?

Rob Thornton

Rob: We have seen a lot of adoption from the financial sector (banking, insurance), retail, and automotive. There’s also a lot of government agencies and groups looking to shake things up, specifically a pretty amazing story from The US Air Force of all places. On the insurance side, Liberty Mutual has gone all-in focused on “outcome driven development” for instance, they have doubled the average buy rate of motorcycle insurance from having zero business in Australia in 6 months. You can see references here for both from one of our developer advocates, Michael Coté — he is awesome!

As for what’s holding other verticals back, I think it’s a combination of all the classics: fear of change, fear of the unknown, confirmation bias that “we’ve always done it this way”, the idea that our current way of working has brought us this far and most of all organizational inertia. I often recommend books like Sw!tch by the Heath brothers and What got you here won’t get you there and a litany of others (the hard things about hard things, Decisive, and The Everything Store to those afraid of what Amazon “might” do to their business) because ultimately until companies sense a clear and present danger to their business it’s very difficult to drive change.


What are the telling signs or business signals your organization would benefit in both dollars and capability derived that “pay off” cloud transformation?

Wow! There’s a lot to unpack here…

  1. Your current software process is slow, it hasn’t been updated for a long time. Once you get the benefits of speeding up with cloud native (and optimizing how you do infrastructure with a true platform like Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF), you’ll see material gains from the LOBs who can now adapt the software to meet it’s constantly evolving engagement models and infrastructure ROI (we need less ops people, we move faster, get cost savings from standardizing, overall better KPIs, etc.). Here’s a short video for T-Mobile’s ability to stay 100% available during the launch of the iPhone X while their competitors (and Apple itself) had multiple outages or couldn’t process orders. Comcast and Home Depot have some great examples of running 1,000+ apps on the platform with 4-6 operators and shifting a large portion of their folks to help the business write features, prioritize the backlog, etc. The point here is moving your people “up and to the right” from undifferentiated heavy lifting most associated with Infrastructure and Ops to helping develop market and product differentiation.
  2. Competition is heating up — not only from startups, but from other incumbents. Banking and retail are the most obvious examples. This is how Mgmt Consultants sell $1M+ powerpoints: (see the last sentence from question number one: “you are going to die as a company if you don’t get your [stuff] together.” You could measure this by the number of startups entering your sector and stories of competitors doing things like Liberty Mutual, JPMC, Well Fargo, Lemonade, etc.
  3. This article may seem a bit “advanced,” but if your company is willing to change and has a sense of urgency it’s a great reference. The book Leading Change by Kotter is amazingly good for bigger “digital transformations” — you’ll have a shot at ROI/success. If they’re not, you need to load that “cost” and risk into your planning. Or, find a new job. Pivotal is hiring like crazy… Ha!


What is the recipe for success in setting up your workforce and attracting the right talent to do a cloud transformation?

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s exactly what you’d think:

  1. Pay well. If utilized correctly, they will help you make millions of dollars. Don’t be cheap. You get what you pay for, these people aren’t dumb, they know how much they’re worth and have many other options… especially in the midwest.
  2. Fun, pride, “culture” — people want to enjoy themselves at work. Don’t torment them. It’s usually obvious what this means, but if you have doubts, come see a Pivotal Labs office… you are welcome to cut and paste our design and even co-deliver a product with us to really immerse yourself. Be kind with breaks… coding is hard and coding for 7+ hours a day is REALLY hard at first, which is why we have ping-pong in every office. (Hint: it’s still a pairing activity and important to get up from the screen to move your large muscle groups, reset your eyes and practice a little hand-eye coordination at the same time!) This article goes back a few years as Ford was an early enterprise adopter of the cultural pieces and has grown the practice every year…Matt Curry at Allstate has also spoken to culture a lot, this is one of my favorite talks of his (Warning: it’s 45 minutes, but so packed with great anecdotes.)
  3. Learning, challenging — technical people like to learn new things and be challenged. You don’t want them doing the same, boring things over and over (what Google SRE people call “toil“. Make sure they have new challenges to work on, etc. The practice of rotating pairing is also good for this: they see new parts of the system and work with someone who can teach them new things.

Locally, Jon Osborn (speaking at the Tech Frontier event — so don’t miss it) has some great examples to share with respect to his principal of not hiring “rock stars” for a team and, instead finding a balance of early career, late career, skeptics and so on. I would tell our audience you most likely already have many of the people you need. In fact, I would argue you DON’T want all your people to be precious, unicorn-ninja types. As you try to scale up cloud native, no one will think it’s possible with THEIR team: “well, if I had a team of ninjas, I could do it too.” Not only is that a pretty crappy assessment of your own people, but you would be surprised what’s possible when you step aside and get out of the way. Jon will also speak to the power of the volunteer model… if you’re going to try a new way of working, it’s best to educate your people as best you can in the form of open town hall Q&As, circulating flyers, emails, whatever it takes — then asking people to raise their hands if they want to go on the journey. I promise, you will be surprised by the results.


How should businesses approach software development differently?

Oh man. That’s like asking how I can be a kinder, more gentle person…

I will start by saying this six-minute video from our SVP of Product at Pivotal Labs pretty much says it all. The main thing I would focus on is the value of delivering “small batch” software.

First, focus on the actual outcomes — the interaction between the software and people using it, and if it actually improves your business. This may sound obvious, but most organizations focus on the process of creating software (the bridge-building example): they specify a bunch of things, who should work on what, when it should be delivered and at what cost. This in itself isn’t bad, but people too often end-up focusing on completing that process instead of creating and delivering useful software. Don’t get obsessed with how well you follow process to please your auditors, or even stakeholders. Get obsessed with how you’re solving user problems and driving business growth. If you really want to dive in, read this.


What are glowing successes in unlikely places?

I would say the places where no one expects IT to be good have been the most surprising — like the USAF, IRS and other government agencies… along with what Warren Buffett would call “boring” companies like West Corporation.  They run a majority of the 911 services in the country (who ever thinks of that?). As their SVP shared with us:

“The biggest opportunity for change is being able to have people see themselves in what the future looks like.”

It has also been impressive to see the automotive industry “defy the tyranny of precedence” (a nod to Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross) and the perception of being a slow, lumbering manufacturer. In addition to Ford, GM has adopted cloud-native methods to make the shift from manufacturing to software and services for the first time in their history launching a car sharing and “mobility as a service” product called Maven in 25+ cities in North America — very cool!

I know Jon Osborn is going to talk about his story at Great American as well, but we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the local companies having success in this space as well (Great American, Kroger, 84.51, CareSource, Humana, Nationwide, Cardinal Health, etc).

Mark Twain’s old adage “I want to be in Cincinnati when the world ends because everything happens 20 years later” is proving to be untrue.

Register: Tech Frontier Series | Harnessing the Value of Cloud on June 14

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