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Running with scissors: What the Innovators Do Best

Grant Morgan, Synthesis Head of Managed Services, explains how to reduce the risks and optimise the pace in this new world.

10 November 2020

By Kim Furman, Synthesis Marketing Manager

The world of managed services has seen a radical revolution from the old ways of working to the new to support dramatic and iterative innovation in support of Agile software development. Mothers for generations have been correctly telling their children not to run with scissors, but Grant Morgan, Synthesis Head of Managed Services, explains how to reduce the risks and optimise the pace in this new world. It’s time we ran with scissors.

The innovator way

Grant explains, “I always ask who is really redefining an industry through digital transformation. We all want to be the next Uber. In my mind, one of the answers is Discovery Vitality. Vitality has redefined the global stage of health care insurance.”

Vitality had a great impact on Morgan. He is a prime example of where Vitality’s model worked and changed behaviour. “About seven years ago, I was in hospital for three months with issues with my kidneys. I had just changed jobs and had a Vitality health assessment with my new company. My Vitality Age was much higher than my real age. I was technically obese and had high cholesterol. I realised that I needed to completely change and this experience with Vitality was the impetus that fundamentality had an impact on the way I saw myself. I started to diet and lost the weight. I even started to do sports. Many years on, I have three Comrades under my belt and am in excellent health.”

What does this have to do with managed services? “Discovery has such a simple and effective strategy”, explains Morgan. “They incentivise people to be aware of their health status and reward improved lifestyle. This is so simple but hard to execute. The success boils down to IT’s speed of release in new software functionality in the Vitality platform. Vitality has learned to ‘Run with Scissors’ by deploying new features frequently without the risk of bringing down the system. Synthesis is Vitality Group’s managed services partner and what makes them go from innovating healthcare to banking is agility. That is what most companies are missing. It is not just about strategy. It is about having the ability to execute strategy in software on a sustainable basis and quickly.”

“More than 50% of the work done at Vitality Group is not just keeping the lights on, which we do well, it is spent innovating. Vitality Group has gone from straight forward Kubernetes to AWS EKS which is a more managed environment that caused us churn but it was best for Vitality. Constant innovation allows clients to be more efficient, bring new value and enhance their applications by being part of their application cycle,” says Morgan.

What separates good from great

Morgan explains that time to value is the real currency of today and that is what separates good organisations from great organisations. This is measured by how fast an organisation can bring new functionality to the market. He gives an example where a large organisation would make changes every six months because it was too risky to launch on a regular basis. But these organisations, who have not yet discovered how to run safely with risks, will not be the Ubers and Discoverys of tomorrow.

It is critical to allow customers to release changes safely and quickly and here is where running with scissors is relevant. The danger of large changes is a lot like running with scissors. “Organisations want to run fast and release new functionality, but they have dangerous, clunky applications, and the risk of releasing is too high.”

Running with scissors/ fast releasing is dangerous but the good news is there is a way to do it. This allows an organisation to release new functionality as regularly as possible. When this happens organisations can transition strategy to reality at pace and this is a competitive edge.

How to run with scissors?

So how does one safely run with scissors? “Put simply, you need to bubble wrap and box the scissors and remove the sharp edges. You then can have hundreds of small packages that are blunted. That is what we do when we design an application for fast, safe deployment. It requires redesign and a different way of utilising it.”

Three technology areas underpin this:

Firstly, you have to change the way you go from big, monolithic applications down to microservices, and Kubernetes and Kafka are examples that make this change possible.

Secondly, you must be able to program software in an agile fashion and utilise DevOps. Your software deployments need to be automated using DevOps pipelines. Because cloud infrastructure can be made instantly available, parallel infrastructure can be used to release code with an ability to easily roll back.  However, these incremental software deployments to cloud need to be done using Infrastructure as Code. This is where infrastructure does not get configured on the AWS Cloud user interface but is programmed via an Application Programming Interface (API). Because code can be tested, utilising Infrastructure as Code, you can deploy perfectly, instantly and repeatably.

Thirdly, use cloud. Cloud allows you to realise your digital ambitions much quicker. It enables exceptional agility. More than this, it is not just about using cloud but microservices as well. For the greatest success, you need to utilise cloud in the DevOps way.

Combining microservices, DevOps, cloud and Infrastructure as Code, and the likes of containers and Kubernetes, lead to safe deployments. This accelerates not only deployments but learnings as well from customer feedback. Organisations who learn faster, outperform their competitors. The state of DevOps Report 2019 found that when comparing the lowest to highest performers in this area, those with the best practices had 208 times more frequent code deployments. That is real time to value.

Using these best practices also allows for faster time to restore when things do go wrong. The ability to recover is that bubble wrap. This reduces risk and gives you the ability to revert if a deployment doesn’t work as needed. Morgan explains, “There are approximately 160 deployments a day at Vitality. That’s what makes them as successful as they are and they are all low risk. Combing cloud, DevOps and Infrastructure as Code lowers their failure rate by seven times.”

The system should support the strategy and the new world of managed services does exactly that. This includes constant designing, architecting and developing. Changes should be small, frequent, contained and predictable so customers are always experiencing changes that excite and engage them. Is your organisation ready to run with scissors?