In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series interview, Mike Vizard talks with Brian Copeland, chief solutions architect at TEKsystems, about the challenges associated with getting all the stakeholders involved in a modernization initiative on the same page.
Mike Vizard: Hey, folks, welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insight series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Brian Copeland, who is chief solutions architect for TEKsystems. They are a provider of technology services, staffing, they do some business consulting, and they’ve got a little bit of everything going on. But we’re going to be talking specifically about application modernization. Hey, Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian Copeland: Thanks for having me.
Mike Vizard: Every time we turn around everybody is talking about application modernization but it’s pretty clear that they’re struggling along the way. So, from your perspective, what are the issues that people are encountering? Because it seems like it’s two words and we should be able to handle it, but behind that is just a load of issues and the proverbial iceberg. So, what’s in there?
Brian Copeland: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think as we look at IT’s approach to application modernization, what often happens is we don’t take a step back and look at it from an enterprise modernization, a business modernization perspective, and really understanding the business problems that the business is trying to solve. What value are they trying to enables for their customers and for their users. And so, they often don’t get alignment between business and IT around what that vision is, the value that’s going to be driven, and then how are they going to measure that value?
So, we – back in the days – and I’ve been in IT my entire career – back in the days, we used to build solutions and look for a problem to solve. Well, today the business is much more in control of their destiny and how they leverage IT, so IT has to be able to sense and respond to the business in a much closer way and really understand the problems the business is trying to solve, and then they absolutely need to have a modernization approach that guides them through the modernization journey because these things can take time. And they take a long amount of time and a lot of effort and a lot of investment in making them successful. So, having a roadmap to follow for modernization is critical to success.
Mike Vizard: Is modernization an event or, as the business continues to evolve and change, modernization is a continuous, forever process and we may never be done with it, and maybe that’s part of our thinking that needs to change?
Brian Copeland: Absolutely. Yeah, as you look at the modernization journey, we start with envisioning that future and then we dive deep and align on what that future looks like from a technology perspective. And then, we develop, deliver, and operate and iterate. And the iteration part is really looking at the continuous improvement and then picking up the next piece of modernization. Modernization is never done. It is – as soon as you deploy a piece of value into production for customers to use it starts to become obsolete. So, day two, it’s not as – month two or month three or year two it’s not as valuable as it was. So, it’s a continuous modernization process. As the business senses the needs, the demands, the market drivers in their market and their industry and they sense that and then they respond to that, IT has to, again, sense and respond to those changes.
Mike Vizard: Which is the chicken and the egg? Is the application modernization the chicken and digital business transformation is the egg? Or vice-versa? Or does it matter? Are they just one and the same; they’re just different terms you use for different constituencies?
Brian Copeland: Wow, that is a great question. And as I ponder that, I think – as I look at it from an enterprise modernization, if I start with “What is my business vision? How do I plan to engage my customers?” I start to think about customer experience. I start to think about multichannel delivery for my customer. It’s easy for a company to say, “We need to modernize our digital experience for our end users, and therefore we’re going on a digital transformation journey and we’re going to begin modernizing that. And now let’s identify what applications have to get updated to support that journey.”
But really, the way you engage customers should be the result of some business value you’re trying to modernize and drive. Therefore, we see digital transformation as a part of the business modernization framework of driving new business value. So, we typically see digital transformation as a fast follower, but if you look at the measures that are out there, over 80 percent of companies have said that they’re going under a digital transformation journey, so it’s top of mind for companies; therefore, it’s taking the leading role in driving modernization into the enterprise.
Mike Vizard: When you think about it, for years – I mean, you alluded to this – we talked about the debate between the divide between IT and the business, and the business was always saying IT was too slow and couldn’t keep up with the rate of change. And I wonder if the tail is now starting to wag the dog. We see IT embracing things like agile and DevOps. And might IT be approaching the point where it can change faster than the business can absorb?
Brian Copeland: That is absolutely true. If – there’s two ways that this kind of agility journey starts for customers. It’s either bottoms-up where IT takes the view of “Hey, we need to execute faster because our business says we’re too slow, we don’t get things done, it takes us way too long,” and so they transform into an agile mindset and they start to implement agility in delivery – and we call that development agility. But if they leave the business behind and the business is still thinking in waterfall terms – “I’m going to do a product management roadmap that’s a five-year roadmap; I’m going to think long term” – then, yes, IT will be moving faster than business can accommodate.
But if you take a business agility view and you start at both ends and you work with the business to have them adopt practices for agility, not big-A “Agile” as a discipline but agility in – instead of doing annual planning, do value planning, value stream planning, if you can get the business to get into a product management view, then IT agility just enables them to move at the speed of business. So, that’s really where that sweet spot is.
Mike Vizard: What do you think the biggest challenge, therefore, is? Do we have enough IT people that think like businesspeople? Or are we starting to see more businesspeople that have a technology background? And we are slowly starting to narrow this divide as we go along from one generation to another; it’s just taking about four or five decades.
Brian Copeland: Yeah, I think we’re seeing a ton more business having IT acumen and understanding the technology and the platforms, especially as we move into this notion of platform-as-a-service. As the business begins to understand common platforms that are out there, they’re beginning to get much more IT acumen and less dependence on traditional IT teams because they’re buying their enablement layer from the marketplace. We’re not seeing IT acumen get as much business acumen as fast, which is why it’s so important in IT organizations to get to that business-IT alignment and understand the value the business is trying to deliver.
I very often hear from IT executives as I meet with them that they understand how they’re measuring the initiatives they’re delivering for the business, but they struggle to understand the business value they’re delivering for the business, and therefore, from the lowest level associate to the highest level executive there’s a lack of awareness of the business impact they’re having. That gap is what they need to focus on closing in order for people to understand the value they’re delivering and that sense of urgency to get it right.
Mike Vizard: Will as a result of all this IT become more centralized or decentralized? I mean, we’ve seen a lot of departments over the years, especially marketing people, create their own IT functions. Manufacturing, whatever it is. And then, there’s some centralized IT folks that were managing a data center – I don’t know if they’re still there or all that is moving into the cloud, but one way or the other. What is the right balance of “Where do I need my IT people to be?”
Brian Copeland: Yeah, I think what you’ll see as IT starts to build delivery agility and you start to get focused on delivery value streams and really understanding what development – what IT is delivering, you’ll start to see some things naturally go down into shared services. The cloud support organization. Something called the services team, which really focuses on things like continuous flow DevOps. Right? Those become centralized. But you’ll see that the development of value, the actual business value, you’re seeing that get distributed out into feature teams or into, if you’re following scaled agile, into release trains that are associated and aligned to the business very closely.
So, we’re seeing that kind of push out towards the business the application development of value and more centralization of the enablement functions that they use to drive that value. So, infrastructure, you’re seeing that be much smaller and being centralized because it’s mostly in the cloud. So, it’s SRE. It’s those things that support cloud operations quickly. And we call that enterprise operations, which includes enterprise infrastructure, enterprise DevOps, enterprise quality, all of those things in that eOps space that are enabling the organization, those areas that are supporting the business to move quicker.
Mike Vizard: Every time you turn around, someone says, “What’s your number one problem in accomplishing X, Y, or Z?” and at the top of that list is always people. And yet, we see tons and tons of IT people and we see lots of business executives, so what exactly is the issue on the staffing side? Is it just that we’re not training people with the right skills and so the shortage, it just really comes down to acumen rather than actually people?
Brian Copeland: Yeah, I think when you dig into why is there a shortage in the market, “I can’t find the people I need,” it really comes down to niche – the skill sets in the modern technologies they’re trying to implement. And there’s two ways: You can buy it or build it. Right? You can either go out and hire or bring in consultants that have that experience, or you can put together programs internally to develop the competencies within your organization, or some combination thereof, using things like dojos and CADAs to help train the workforce.
I think what we’re seeing is there’s a scarcity of highly experienced people in some of these modern platform because they’re modern technologies, they’re new, and we don’t have 20 years of experience in AWS development out in the marketplace. There’s a few but there’s not very money. So, it’s how do you retool your enterprise to be able to address that? And that’s really having really strong partnership between learning and HR and the capability centers to build out those capabilities and to bring in the right level of new college grads, train them, mentor them in a learn-while-you-work environment where it’s safe for them to learn, and making sure that you’re building for what you need tomorrow, not just what you need today.
Mike Vizard: All right. Well, what I heard there was unless you’re the Dodgers or the Yankees you’d better build a farm system if you’re going to win. Hey, Brian, thanks for being on the show.
Brian Copeland: No, thank you for having me.
Mike Vizard: All right. You can watch this episode and all our other episodes on the digitalcxo.com website. We invite you to check them all out. And once again, thank you all for spending some time with us.