Building a DevOps Culture: How has Managed Services evolved at ANS?


DevOps, ANS culture, managed services

As Head of Managed Services at ANS, I never stop learning. Recently, I read Ahead in the Cloud by Stephen Orban, General Manager at AWS (formerly Head of Enterprise Strategy), and it really got me thinking about cloud adoption and ANS’ cloud journey.

Aimed at CIO’s and leaders alike, Orban uses the book to offer his expertise and experience on cloud adoption, from recommendations on best practices, to advice on transforming company culture as they move to the cloud.

Before joining AWS, Stephen was the CIO/CTO for Dow Jones, a global provider of news and business information, where he first tapped into the power of cloud computing for business transformation. As the enterprise strategy lead for AWS, Stephen has worked with global firms to build the right teams and organisational structures for successful cloud adoption.

What stuck with me the most from Orban’s book was his Amazon ‘2-pizza team’ concept, the idea being that every idea for something new and exciting should start by building an internal team that is small enough that it can be fed with two pizzas (although if that’s the case then I’d be a one person team!) The team is responsible for a particular area/idea/service and the aim is to try to make it work and scale, this could be a new application internally or new service to deliver to your customers.

What I realised after reading this book, is that ANS has actually already adopted many of the methodologies suggested by Orban. We have transformed our business time and time again over the years constantly staying ahead of the competition, disrupting the CSP scene and creating new competition. I would say that without doubt, this time the change is bigger and more disruptive than ever.

So how does an Enterprise ITIL aligned MSP create a DevOps culture and become a true CSP?

The first thing is the right leadership! On any cloud journey, this culture has to be embedded from the top down. It’s only when an organisation’s senior leadership team is fully behind the change that it can start to be adopted by the rest of the company. This is also true for our customers, cloud transformation will never truly work if the SLT isn’t behind the change.

Next you need people with the right enthusiasm for cloud and the right attitude. We put together a group of people who had knowledge and a passion for cloud with a background in a particular area of technology Network Engineers, Database support, WinTel and FlexPod experts. As we continued to grow, we began to build the team that resembled the Amazon 2-pizza team. They enhanced their skills in Public Cloud and passed exams to certify their talent.

Finally, you need a startup service offering. It may just be an idea, but this will grow and evolve over time, mistakes will be made along the way but that’s all part of the process. As the phrase goes “Fail Fast, Fail Often”. Once the service is ready it needs to sell! Whether that’s internal customers or external. ANS has a fantastic Sales team that have been through many transitions over the years with an “adapt or die” mentality.

The team delivered a number of internal and external projects, we gained more and more skills, we grew the team, we won bigger and new age customers which helped challenge our processes and delivery. We continuously evolved at an astonishing rate.

Bringing in new people is also fine, but I am advocate of “promote within”, it’s proven to work over the years and something that I am passionate about.

The team entered a mitosis stage where we split it and expanded to accommodate for even more members with more skills which in turn allowed the business to expand into other areas and win more business. With a big change like this it takes time for your other people to accept it, but heads started to turn and more of our people wanted to get involved. We were able to expand the skills throughout the entire Service Desk.

Although DevOps is a culture, I still named the team DevOps and those people within it are DevOps Engineers. Some may have something to say about this, but I felt it was a good way to help embed the culture by labelling the team. Our DevOps team supports our entire business now, from helping our App Dev team build managed cloud applications that are highly-available and resilient running on Azure or/and AWS infrastructure that scales on demand to helping automate processes within our own service desk or other departments within ANS.

I like to think of our DevOps team as the gatekeepers, delivering the blueprints and standard for ANS and its customers to consume cloud safely. Our Cloud Ops and Hybrid Cloud support teams deliver our service from the Service Desk ensuring our customers are running efficiently and services are optimal.

At ANS, we never stop evolving and recently we created a new 2-pizza team, our ‘Enterprise Analytics’ team. This team will be responsible for using the latest Microsoft Azure products to analyse our customers’ data and deliver them a valuable outcome, so they can make smarter business decisions.

The team is made up of existing ANS staff from various backgrounds, Coding, Capacity Management, Software Development, Azure Data Engineering, Data Mining, SQL Reporting and Data Warehousing, Strong Maths Skills and more…. We are already close to some becoming MCSA Data Engineers with a view to obtaining MCSA Machine Learning certifications which demonstrates their expertise in operationalizing Microsoft Azure machine learning and Big Data with R Server and SQL R Services. The team has already delivered a number of successful Power BI projects.

With new technology, the biggest change comes in the form of a new culture and ways of working. Implementing a DevOps culture into Managed Services affected every organisational function of the team and we had to get everyone on board, so we could continue to meet customer expectations and keep their teams competitive in the digital era.

Traditionally you would see a managed services team adopting ITIL practices to provide a service to its customer, these are systemic processes and are more structured. Whilst that has worked in the past for us, we are working at a much faster rate and organisations want results quicker. We haven’t completely divorced from ITIL practices, but rather we have adopted the best parts from both ITIL and DevOps to provide our customers with the best possible services we can.

DevOps teams apply agile practices and include operations in the team responsibility. Teams work in small batches to focus on improving the end-to-end delivery of customer value. This customer-centric method of working sits right at the heart of ANS. By staying decentralized and moving fast, we are encouraging high autonomy and innovation – and it’s working. Keep a look out for upcoming blogs from some of the team – one of which showing how we have deployed Blue/Green deployment methods for our customers utilising Azure DevOps and GitHub for managing the release pipeline.

We are bringing all our Enterprise ITIL knowledge and experience and blending it with our agile DevOps culture to deliver our customers an end to end Managed Cloud and Managed Application service offering.

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Posted by Steve Breen