Best PracticesCloud

Building a Cloud Centre of Excellence with Scaled Agile (SAFe)

Scaled Agile offers a comprehensive framework for implementing a Cloud Centre of Excellence.

A central backbone to Digital Transformation is a wholesale migration to the Cloud, not just in terms of virtualizing and rehosting the underlying infrastructure, but also transforming how the organization develops and deploys technology.

As large enterprise organizations, like the Home Office among many others, begin to fully embrace the Cloud their challenge becomes not only one of technical skill sets, the ability to utilize Cloud services, but also one of scale – How to uniformly apply those skills across a large and complex IT organization.

Building a Cloud COE – Centre of Excellence

The feature video from AWS reviews strategies and best practices to help you lead the organization through a successful cloud journey. Central to this is establishing a ‘Cloud COE’ – Centre of Excellence.

Stephen Orban, AWS leader and author of ‘Ahead in the Cloud‘, describes in his Medium article an example framework for such a maturity model, The Journey Toward Cloud-First & the Stages of Adoption, published September 19, 2016.

He identifies that from his experiences, organizations progress through four main stages of Enterprise Cloud Adoption Maturity:

  1. Project: Basic Cloud skills – Enterprises start with a few projects to begin to understand how they can leverage the cloud to meet a business need.
  2. Foundation: Cloud Centre of Excellence – Once an enterprise has gained some benefit from the cloud through a few projects, it tends to make some foundational investments so it can scale that benefit across its organization.
  3. Migration: Standardized Cloud Migration patterns – As the enterprise builds a cloud foundation and gains experience with more projects, it typically becomes easier and more compelling to migrate existing IT assets to the cloud.
  4. Optimization: IT Cost Reduction – As the gravity of an enterprise’s IT footprint moves from its own (or its MSPs) data centers to the cloud, it typically finds itself in a much better position to optimize both its IT footprint (costs) and its business capabilities (products and services).

Transforming the Enterprise

In his Medium article Mark Schwartz of Amazon provides the introductory preface to an article that explores the dynamics of establishing a Cloud COE, and how it provides a platform for transforming the enterprise.

An interview with Milin Patel, the Principal Architect and Co-Founder of Rearc and formerly the Head of DevOps of Dow Jones, talks about Dow Jones’s move to the cloud and DevOps, and the organizational changes this shift inspired.

“Fundamental to their transformation strategy was the use of a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCOE) to gain leverage across the enterprise for the change initiative. It is tempting to think of a CCOE as just a team of experts who can be consulted for their knowledge of operating in the cloud.

But as Patel points out, a CCOE can be much more than this: it can be the driver of change across the enterprise, the focal point for transformation that is broad as well as deep — the Archimedean lever that moves the world, or at least the enterprise.”

The interview does an excellent job of setting the scene – Dow Jones is a 125 year old news media organization being onset on all sides by a new digital competitive landscape.

At the time, Dow Jones was following a waterfall project management approach, which required planning, budgeting, and capital expenditure in advance before the technology could be tested. Additionally, the data center hardware procurement and installation process took anywhere from one to three months.

This meant their ability to respond with innovative new digital products of their own was slow and limited, and so led by then CIO Stephen Orban, they underwent a wholesale transformation to Cloud-based DevOps.

The CCOE’s mission statement was to figure out the right tooling and practices that would empower the development teams to deliver awesome digital experiences for their customers with agility and confidence. It was given the autonomy to make the necessary design and process choices rather than being forced to operate within the boundaries of what the organization already knew or was comfortable with.

CCOE Action Plan

Milin recommends a six point CCOE action plan:

  1. Forming the Team – Cluster together the core expertise, within a context of cultivating an innovation culture.
  2. Deliver Some Quick Wins – Identify and migrate ‘low hanging fruit’ projects.
  3. Acquire Leadership Support – Communicate with and achieve executive buy in.
  4. Build Reusable Patterns and Reference Architectures – Develop commonly used functions as reusable templates.
  5. Engage and Evangelize – Involve all teams across the organization, through lunch and learns, online learning courseware etc.
  6. Scale and Reorganize – Build on this expanding momentum to extend the DevOps culture and tools across the organizations.

Scaled Agile – Operating Model for a Cloud COE

The last point 6 captures the essence of the main overall challenge – Many organizations successfully adopt DevOps practices, but this only addresses one dimension of the enterprise IT landscape, the software development process. What is needed is a holistic framework that addresses it in entirety.

In her DZone blog Tatiana Lavrentieva very succinctly captures the nature of this challenge and articulates how Scaled Agile (SAFe) is an ideal framework for meeting it, defining an Operating Model for a Cloud COE.

As Tatiana describes:

“Using a Scrum-based delivery framework fixes Waterfall shortcomings in one part of large-scale delivery processes, but falls short in another. These frameworks do not provide much help when it comes to alignment with enterprise business objectives, handling dependencies outside of Scrum teams, and complex requirements. Frequent re-designs associated with Scrum techniques are very costly for cloud initiatives.”

She then goes on to describe how SAFe takes the success of Scrum achieved on small, less complex projects and adds a wide array of Agile, Lean, and System thinking practices to improve the outcomes of large, high value, mission-critical initiatives.

Practice elements like ‘Strategic Themes‘ allow for clear links between business objectives and differentiators with Portfolio Epics and Program Visions provide context for decision-making and budgeting.

Features and Capabilities are used to define the components common to Enterprise Cloud initiatives and provide for enabling organizational structures. For example the Cloud Governance Enabler Epic typically includes an RBAC Model, a Resource Tag Model, and Cost and Asset Management Features, and tools to address the challenges associated with establishing new Cloud services SLA’s and Cloud Security models.

This SAFe model offers enterprise organizations a way of expanding and building upon their existing Agile expertise to flesh out a complete Enterprise Cloud COE.

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