At the end of last year there was a lot of talk about which IT trends would be shaping 2016; the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence were all among the front runners. We sat down with Robert Eriksson, Head of Engineering, Digital & Transformation at Lloyds Banking Group, to find out more about the growth of DevOps as an industry and the role it plays in powering the Group’s transformation agenda.
What is DevOps and can you explain your role?
DevOps is a culture, movement or practice that emphasises the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other IT professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. Discussions are often centred on the ‘DevOps’ tool-chain when it should really be about culture and new ways of working.
As an approach, DevOps focuses on rapid, iterative build and release cycles in order to become more reactive to changing customer needs. It’s characterised by a cultural shift where Development and Operations function as one team, focused on delivering business value.
In my role, one of my priorities is to help the business and our teams to deliver on the promises of DevOps – increase agility, improve quality, reduce downtime, and lower the costs. We have already started to see some of these benefits, particularly within our Customer Journey Transformation programme, but like many other organisations we’ve only scratched the surface of what DevOps can do for us. In fact, Gartner has said that 2016 is the year when DevOps will evolve from a niche to a mainstream strategy employed by 25 percent of Global 2000 organisations.
What are some of the ways DevOps will support & drive Lloyds Banking Group’s Transformation agenda?
Organisations often start to explore DevOps alongside existing IT initiatives, which is great from a learning perspective, but new challenges arise when a push for wider adoption is made. This shouldn’t discourage organisations from starting to adopt DevOps within their “traditional” IT departments; it simply needs to be done differently and with greater care.
One thing we often need to remember is often systems and people grew up in a time when technology change was measured in years, not months or days. Changing the culture and embedding Agile and DevOps principles, particularly in large enterprises, takes time and only hard work will get you there, not the latest technologies.
You often hear people talk about Bimodal IT, but I’m in favour of a “multimodal” approach that takes a more nuanced view of the world, which is exactly what we have adopted here at Lloyds. This has allowed us to move away from large, infrequent and therefore more risky releases to a place where we can release our applications very rapidly as we increase the pace of change in our back-end legacy systems.
You’ve talked about the importance of talent – what are the attributes that make for a successful career in DevOps?
You need to live by the words “anything you need to do twice you should automate”. As a DevOps Engineer you will automate, automate, and automate – delivering a modern, lean approach to “smoothing the path” our software takes from an engineer’s workstation, through development and test cycles, toward production. So a passion for automation and making the life easier for your colleagues are some of the most important attributes.
The recipe for success is a focus on people and culture, not only on technology. Start small and don’t get carried away by the latest trends, tools and frameworks, at least not until you’ve mastered the basics. In the early DevOps days here at Lloyds we decided to focus on test automation in a couple of areas. It required people to start thinking about testing in a different way, but the results were astonishing with fewer defects and significantly reduced release cycles. People that had accepted painful manual regression cycles in the past and were sceptical at the outset are now some of our strongest advocates for test automation and say they will never go back to the old ways of working.
What are your key tips for those working in or with DevOps teams?
Remember that the most important part of the job is to continuously improve and make life easier for others. In order to do so you need to measure the impact of what you’re doing, how will you otherwise know if the changes you’re making have a positive impact? As a very wise man once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” – Peter Drucker.
Sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but many organisations rely too much on external expertise when it comes to strategy, plans and implementation. Personal development and ensuring that colleagues get appropriate training and support is extremely important. Here at Lloyds Banking Group, building digital capability is truly at the heart of our strategy, and through our Digital Academy we make sure that our colleagues are equipped with the right digital skills and behaviours.
Learning from other organisations and working with vendors and partners is also important, but find the ones that want to build something with you, not do it for you. For a large enterprise, few outside the organisation fully understand the complexity of your legacy domain so don’t expect partners to have all the answers. It is therefore critical that you combine training of your own staff with hands-on experience where proof of concepts and smaller projects allow you to “build your way” to a better understanding.
Acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all model
Where new tools and processes have enabled daily releases of mobile apps, it simply doesn’t work when it comes to your legacy systems. Sounds familiar? Don’t fool yourself in believing that because it works in one area it will work everywhere. This doesn’t necessarily spell bad news as daily releases for a core banking system may not be what is needed anyway so work out what truly matters and focus your efforts there.
Value engineering talent
Remember that “nothing beats engineering talent” so make sure that you build up and motivate your top performers before you embark on your journey. Hiring top talent may help, but combing through your IT department can unearth some hidden gems that can be priceless when it comes to systems knowledge and raw engineering talent. Balancing the new with old and starting projects around motivated individuals can be critical; give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
To find out more about the transformation programme at Lloyds Banking Group, watch the video from Zak Mian. If you are interested in a career in Software Engineering role, please visit our careers website and search for ‘engineer’.