Virtualization Featured Article

How to Close the Velocity Gap - Part 1

May 12, 2016
By Special Guest
Sean Applegate, Director of Advanced Business Solutions, Riverbed -

CIOs and application teams are focusing more of their time and energies on digital transformation projects that drive new business models and profits. They’re moving to more of a business enabler role, and away from their traditional responsibilities of maintaining the systems in the data center. To borrow from tech titan Marc Andreessen, software is eating the world. Application teams are rapidly adopting agile and devops cultures, enabling them to rapidly deliver digital capabilities and improvements.

Network operations teams can no longer be satisfied with uptime and availability. CXOs expect network teams to deliver higher levels of application performance and value for the business.  That’s creating an ever-widening ‘Velocity Gap’ between the applications and network teams. Network teams have the opportunity to learn from DevOps and leverage SD-WAN as a foundational activity to drive cultural change, continuous improvement and agility to rapidly adapt to business needs. How? By fostering a Generative Culture focused on end-to-end IT performance focused on enabling business outcomes. For example: redesigning end-to-end IT infrastructure to deliver 2-5x higher business transaction throughput of SaaS applications at 40%-60% the cost of traditional network infrastructure. This is what is possible with SD-WAN.

As an advisor to large organizations, I witness the struggle to close the Velocity Gap on a regular basis.  In a recent engagement, we worked with a Dir of Infrastructure for 20K employee organization. The CIO was strategically focused on agile application development to deliver weekly application improvements.  These improvements were laser focused on business improvements that provided significant value to clients and employees. However, the end-to-end infrastructure was complex and distributed, creating fragile dependencies which often could impact business systems.  This often left the infrastructure team in a guilty until proven innocent situation when problems raised. At the onset of our engagement, the infrastructure team’s performance capabilities and processes were immature – primarily due to lack of focus, teamwork and a generative culture. We discussed their culture, processes and capabilities. We then created a current state and future state map and outlined steps to improve their culture and skills for understanding, optimizing and controlling performance. One of the key outcomes was to create a single pain of glass to stitch together end-to-end performance, so the network, infrastructure and application teams could collectively visualize and collaborate on end-to-end performance – what otherwise is known as build a generative culture.

What do I mean by the term “Generative Culture”? Professor Ron Westrom and his 2004 paper, “A typography of organizational cultures” divides organizations into three types of cultures:

  1. Pathological – the focus is personal, with preserving power and standing within an organization as the top priorities.
  2. Bureaucratic – the focus is on preserving departmental turf.
  3. Generative – the focus is on the organization’s overall mission.

Leaders are the ones who dictate which culture an organization adopts. Their actions and priorities shape the priorities and attitudes that become the preoccupation of the workforce. That, in turn, dictates information sharing:

  1. Pathological – Individuals holds information for as a personal resource for future political power struggles. It is withheld, doled out or used as a weapon to advance one person’s or party’s agenda
  1. Bureaucratic – There is an honest, concerted effort to try to get information to the right people. But and insistence on always following rigid protocols regarding standard channels or procedures creates confusion and delays decision-making.
  1. Generative – Information always goes to the right person in the right form and in the right time frame. The Generative Culture is one that encourages creative problem-solving by facilitating information sharing and collaboration among everyone. The org chart does not matter.

Does It Work?

Puppet Labs bases its annual "State of DevOps Report" on a survey of over 20,000 IT professionals to shed more light on the relationships between DevOps, IT performance and organizational performance. The 2015 edition provides evidence of how DevOps can enable IT performance and organizational performance, and offers lessons that network leaders can leverage for their teams’ benefit as well.

The reports draws a solid line between IT performance and organizational performance. In other words, when individual teams like applications and networking work together, not in individual silos, IT can demonstrate significant business value. The executive leadership team can no longer consider IT just a cost center.

Effective DevOps practices clearly lead to better IT and organizational performance. That, in turn, improves organizational performance. Lean management and continuous delivery practices create the conditions for delivering value faster, sustainably.

High-performance IT cultures deliver:

  • 30x more frequent production deployments
  • 200x shorter lead times
  • 60x fewer failures
  • 168x faster MTTR

Deployment pain can tell you a lot about your IT performance. Aligning IT operations and engineering teams so that discrete responsibilities sit with a single team is critical to rapid response and quality. As a result, you close the Velocity Gap and help the organization succeed. Businesses with high-performing IT teams are twice as likely to exceed its profitability goals, twice as likely to exceed market share goals, and achieve 50 percent higher market cap growth than those companies that allow the Velocity Gap to continue to widen.

So the question becomes “How can I close the Velocity Gap within my organization?” The first step is to determine whether your team, and the organization, fosters a pathological, bureaucratic or generative culture. I’ll explain how to do that, and what your next steps will be depending on your answer, in my next column.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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