Expert View: Leading A Devops Culture With Pivotal Cloud Foundry

February 24, 2016 Bridget Kromhout

sfeatured-powering-digital-transformationOn a recent episode of The New Stack’s Analysts podcast, I appeared with Matt Curry, Director of Cloud Operations at Allstate. We discussed Allstate’s devops journey with Alex Williams and Benjamin Ball of The New Stack. A year in, Matt said they’ve focused on continuous integration, continuous delivery, and test-driven development to ultimately change their software development culture. Here are some of the key highlights on leadership, communications, and change management when building a new culture and using Cloud Foundry.

“The leadership buy-in is hugely important,” explained Matt as he credited Andy Zitney, Allstate’s CTO, with driving much of the cultural change. Often, leaders define a “future state” for teams to evolve towards, and Allstate’s leadership described it as “empowered teams who are able to make decisions independent of anyone else—it’s collaboration between individuals.”

Matt then made another key leadership point about communications and responsibilities, saying that they replaced tickets with direct conversation, and this greatly sped up decision-making. For decision-making to truly scale, they also believed in pushing decisions down to small, autonomous teams.

When discussing the initial resistance to change, Matt recounted their practices, “We spent a lot of time talking about technology, but technology really isn’t the meat of the conversation that needs to occur.” As examples of the types of non-technology adjustments needed, he shared how legal, financial, and management factors unrelated to technology affect IT transformation. In addition, traditional planning processes make it challenging to move from a “project” to a “product” mindset. Getting away from their legacy thinking around the change process allowed them to take the leap forward into continuous improvement.

Matt explained how Cloud Foundry fit inside and alongside their existing infrastructure—most importantly—they created a new Platform as a Service team to challenge the existing processes, expectations around them, and the related inefficiencies. Discussing the “traditional orchestration trap”, Matt said, “You end up with a bunch of ad-hoc automation because nobody’s talking to each other.” Ad-hoc automation is what needs to be addressed. For those of us who speak to dozens of customers about these types of problems, the point clearly resonated—the right tools are absolutely needed to support a culture of collaboration and communication.

To align everyone to the new way of doing business, developers became the key stakeholder (i.e. the internal customer), and, as Matt put it, “We were really intentional from day one about customer experience, and what we were delivering to the developer, and making sure that what we delivered to the developer was something that they would want to consume, even if they didn’t work at Allstate.”

All of this is representative of what we tend to see with customers—their goal is to speed up the software delivery cycle, taking advantage of all the efficiencies in a cloud native approach. Continuous integration, continuous delivery, and fast feedback loops require more than new tooling – they also require new practices and commitment on a leadership level to intentional change.

Take a listen to the full episode to hear Allstate’s story. It’s a good overview of how one large organization is transforming IT.

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