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Q&A with Bryan Ross

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Bryan Ross, Executive Advisor @VMware Tanzu



What have been the highlights of the key digital transformation trends for 2023?


In my role, I have the privilege of working with VMware’s largest and most interesting customers.  Over the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with senior IT executives from many industries, from automotive to telecommunications.  Although each has its own unique set of opportunities and challenges, there are two themes I hear consistently.


Firstly, most leaders remain deeply committed to driving a shift to become innovative digital companies.  Back in 2020, McKinsey & Company wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic “pushed companies over the technology tipping point” and I continue to see leaders push aggressively to focus their business towards providing innovative digital customer experiences and adoption of cloud-native technologies that enable businesses to release new features to customers faster and more often.


At the same time, these leaders are acutely aware that the macroeconomic environment we’re all operating in has changed dramatically.  War, supply-chain restraints, oil shocks, energy shortages, and inflation are forcing business leaders to also focus on optimizing IT spend, reducing cost, and increasing resiliency.


Can you give an example?


Getting Cloud Smart

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an unstoppable growth in the consumption of public cloud services.  There is no doubt that this strategy played a major role in enabling businesses to overcome the challenges of the covid-19 pandemic, rapidly shifting their focus to offering competitive online experiences and scale their backend systems to support remote working.  But that need for speed has also brought it’s own challenges and led businesses into a state of Cloud Chaos.


In a recent survey of over 6,000 organizations, it was reported that most businesses rely on at least two separate cloud providers and a whopping 70% are struggling with multi-cloud complexity.  


Whilst public cloud providers compete to deliver a constant stream of new capabilities, operations teams are struggling to build and maintain sufficient skills required to operate multiple platforms with different architectures, APIs and tooling.  This comes at a time when hiring and retaining top talent is already a challenge for many businesses.


Differing perspectives have also emerged as companies, consumers, industries and governments increasingly understand the value of data or digital information.  There is a growing demand for businesses to better understand what data they have, where it is stored, and how it can be kept safe.  


My most common ask from business leaders is to help them get Cloud Smart, by developing a multi-cloud strategy that enables them to host applications on the most logical and cost efficient cloud, whilst reducing the cognitive load placed on developers and system engineers.  Most notably, the majority of organizations also wish to include an on-premise offering in that mix - either as part of data sovereignty or a FinOps mechanism to better manage capex versus opex spend.


What can businesses do to speed up their digital transformation? 


Application Modernisation Digital is where real business advantage lies; in accelerating innovation, enhancing customer and employee engagement, and being able to respond to a rapidly changing market.  But legacy applications form the backbone of many enterprises.  These applications are holding them back from vital opportunities to increase revenue or reduce costs because they are too difficult to maintain, adapt, integrate or scale.


Businesses are fighting back against legacy systems and years of technical debt by adopting an Application Modernisation strategy to catalog and improve their aging IT estates.  Through a combination of tools, process and culture change, businesses can undertake a much overdue rationalization of their application portfolio and identify a pragmatic approach to improve reliability, security, interoperability, and the ability to adapt applications in the future. At VMware, I’ve successfully used the Five Rs model to help leaders implement a data driven approach to deciding the future of each application - whether that is to Retire, Retain, Rehost, Replatform, or Refactor.  In my experience, 60-70% of apps can be Re-hosted or Re-platformed onto a cloud-native platform, such as Tanzu Application Platform, making applications more resilient, easier to scale, and enabling operators to deploy new versions of the application safely.


What do you think will be the highlights of digital transformation for 2024?


DevOps is Dead.  Long live Platform Engineering!

It’s been over a decade since we saw the rise of DevOps as a way to help businesses build and run software more efficiently.  At the time, relationships between developers and operators were strained at best.  The DevOps movement saw developers and operations engineers work side-by-side, with each small “two-pizza team” responsible for end-to-end build and support of their component.  It was a great time and the results spoke for themselves - each team had a shared goal and an ability to optimize their processes and tools to suit the needs of their specific applications.  There was a huge wave of innovation and optimism across the industry, with an explosion of tools and services to let businesses build software better and faster than ever before.


The problem was it didn’t scale.  Many large enterprise organizations tried, and a few succeeded, but most saw an increase in silos, spiraling resource costs, sprawling numbers of tools, and a worrying variation of capability and maturity across individual DevOps teams.


Platform Engineering is one of the hottest new trends in 2023 and I think we’ll see this continue to dominate the discussion into 2024.  Platform Engineering is a discipline that distills the DevOps processes and tools needed to build, test and deploy software into an opinionated, well-defined path that is centrally maintained and supported.  If a development team can stay on that “Golden Path” then it allows the development to proceed more smoothly - dramatically reducing the burden for developers and increasing manageability for operators.  Gartner predicts that “that 80% of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams by 2026 and that 75% of those will include developer self-service portals.”


What do organizations need to look out for when implementing Platform Engineering?


Kubernetes is not enough

In our industry, there is naturally a tendency to focus on technology.  I’m stunned by how many leaders I speak to who have spent huge amounts of time and money on implementing Kubernetes but struggle to articulate the business value they expect to achieve from it.  I would encourage leaders to view Kubernetes as a common language that provides an abstraction between requirements and capabilities.  By itself, it achieves little, but combined with a platform engineering approach, developers gain access to a shop front of approved, well supported, self-service capabilities that work consistently across cloud providers.


Anyone looking at Platform Engineering should consider these five tips:

  • Don’t build what you think developers need; go speak to them and find out where you can remove toil / cognitive load from their daily lives.

  • Before building anything, think about how you will market the platform to prospective teams.  Identify three words that describe the business value your platform provides.  Keep these in mind as you begin to build your first iteration.

  • Understand that the value of a platform engineering team is in using tools to provide silky smooth processes for developers to follow.  Don’t get lost down the rabbit hole making those tools. 

  • Invest in building an onboarding process that shows how easy it is to achieve something simple.  Developers should be able to understand how they might use your platform in just a few minutes, encouraging them to dive deeper to learn how to achieve more complex tasks.

  • Support should aim to reduce frustration.  When helping developers get the best from your platform, think about how companies you’ve bought from have provided excellent customer service.


More about Bryan…


Bryan Ross is a recognised innovator and an advocate for “platform as a product” since 2001. He is a veteran technologist, public speaker and an accomplished leader. As a Tanzu Executive Advisor, his time is spent with executives and engineers alike, helping them deliver and accelerate business value from technology.

At home, Bryan thrives in a non-digital world, enjoying the shores of Scotland and beyond through his love of Sailing and Scuba Diving. He lives with his bonnie wife and three rambunctious boys on a smallholding on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland.

You can reach Bryan on social platforms as @BryanRossUK, or by visiting https://bryanross.me/.

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