Driving Change through Cloud Centre of Excellence

Driving Change through Cloud Centre of Excellence

This is the eighth piece in a series of blogs by Phuah Aik Chong, Astro Chief Technology Officer

In my previous article, I have covered how we constantly stay aligned with our customers’ desires, and how we remove internal organisational barriers and apply lessons learnt along the way including leveraging on Agile to transform. In this article, I will be sharing one of our success stories of mindset change that influenced our organisation culture within Astro, especially in collaboration between business and technology.

We built a Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCoE) this year, to ensure we adopt the best cloud related practices throughout the organisation, and to allow us to continuously iterate and improve our products and services to serve our customers better.

Like other large enterprises with a complex business and technology landscape, Astro was structured around functional verticals in our practice of IT operating models. However, this made it difficult to adopt product management approach in the organisation and to embrace methods such as Service Team, DevOps, coordination of resources across verticals and resulted in an over reliance on processes (see Astro Service Team and DevOps adoption details here). To address the challenges around the multiple technology streams (DevOps, Architecture, Operations, Security) working in silos, we decided to converge the four streams into one single consolidated backlog under the CCoE. The Astro CCoE becomes the vehicle to drive Cloud adoption and maturity of Cloud Services within Astro by embracing three key tenets of: being Customer Focused, Experimentation Driven, and to Simplify and Automate our technology estate.

Creating a culture of technology transformation through Cloud Centre of Excellence

With these critical tenets, we brought together some of the best engineers across the organisation into the CCoE to spearhead this initiative and iteratively influence the rest of the organisation. With Amazon Web Services (AWS) Professional Services engagement, we designed the CCoE to focus on delivering cloud benefits via the effective use of the cloud platform and providing prescriptive advice to the application teams through reusable assets, standards, integration frameworks and processes as one consolidated cross-functional team.

By enabling Agile/Scrum culture as a core principle, the CCoE team adopts an iterative approach with repeated phases every 90 days to deliver small and quick wins and learn for the next. At the start of each sprint within a phase, they run through sprint planning and review sessions amongst the team members to discuss the most urgent and impactful user stories to work on during the sprint as a self-organised cross functional team. They are given the authority to decide on what to do and to act on those decisions. We have observed that the consensus model of decision making with discussions around different points of view increases the general understanding of the whole team, resulting in higher quality information and better decisions. They fully understand the responsibility we place on their shoulders by empowering them in the decision making.

What have we achieved for the first 90-day of CCoE?

In the first phase, the CCoE sponsors and CCoE team identified three applications from both business and technology perspectives. We worked with business units to find a few innovative and revenue generating first-mover applications that have needs for continuous iterations. We expected the CCoE team to accelerate delivery and promote experimentation within Astro. By having the small number of applications for the first phase of transformation, they were able to experiment at speed, and fail-fast without having to deal with the possibility of large magnitude of collateral damages in the event of failed experiments.

The CCoE objectives developed are measurable and contain key performance indicators that can be used to assess the success at the end of each phase. We identified three metrics to use where technology has to be developed, integrated and adapted into solutions – Operational Efficiency, Operational Availability, New Features per release cycle and Security Compliance. These measure the success of the technology transformation and validate the value of the programme from multiple perspectives.

The CCoE team decided on Efficiently run Operations in order to deliver consistent and high-quality services to our customers, and to continually improve the customer experience by providing automated technologies. We can quantify productivity gains by the amount of time they have helped the application teams to save. By doing this analysis, we could determine whether we are succeeding in working efficiently and cost-effectively.

Operational Availability is a key performance indicator of CCoE where we aim to achieve the highest percentage of improvement possible. The CCoE team focused on defining and validating the architecture governance structure based on business impact with clear R&R and processes. Along with the architecture governance structure, we have also redefined the Cloud Operations processes including change management, Incident/Event management, etc. in order to address the increasing use of Agile development and the need to drive adoption. A key point of the reinvented operation processes is to turn the operation from a sequential, event-driven process to one that is outcome-driven by adopting a “trust-but-verify” stance with respect to DevOps delivery of applications. By having well architected framework as part of our governance, automated operation processes and application monitoring toolset, we were able to ensure at least 99.99% uptime for all cloud applications.

The CCoE team also focused on delivering DevOps techniques such as CI/CD and automated testing to make infrastructure services becoming part of how the application functions. For example, the CCOE team automated the complete deployment process and managed to improve productivity by 83% while completely removing human errors. It also helped to consolidate and digitalise our governance processes, security and compliance and translated our enterprise architecture standards into codified deployment artifacts that could be automated. This improved the number of feature releases per development cycle (every 2 weeks) which ultimately provided quality features to our end customers.

In addition to the Technology related measure of success, the CCoE team also designed business related success factors to establish continuous discipline of the program from business perspective. Cost Optimisation, the Number of Knowledge Sharing sessions and Agile Maturity are main key performance indicators. We created a new function – Cloud Business Office (CBO) within CCoE to act as a central point of governance while driving the broader transformation through advocacy and community-building, training, and organisational change management. Thanks to the CBO leadership during phase 1, the CCoE team has successfully achieved double digit percentage of cost reduction while maximizing business value, assessed agile maturity level to set a baseline and goal for the next phase, and completed numerous internal knowledge sharing sessions across Astro’s technology departments.

People are key in successful change management

The challenges that the CCoE addresses require all team members to cooperate within a common Agile framework. Guided by their specific roles, CCoE team members contribute effort in different but complementary areas of expertise. With this principle in mind - the roles & responsibilities of individual contributors within CCoE were crafted and openly published to ensure transparency. This eliminates doubts and uncertainties over roles and responsibilities. Team members have the clarity to pursue their individual role-related goals that are in line with their personal ambitions, while enabling management to identify areas where investment in training or optimization of resources is required.

When it comes to individual Performance Measurement, CCoE moves away from a “quantitative mindset” to subjective feedback-based approach. The individual’s impact on CCoE outcomes are a key factor in defining performance. Additionally, the demonstrated behaviours to achieve these outcomes are gathered regularly from peers as the team members know better the contributions of each individual on an ongoing basis. Like the CCoE itself, the development of Performance Measurement is a journey, requiring us to make stepped adjustments based on learnings within each Phase, feedback from management, and the maturity and scale of the CCoE team. The eventual goal would be to embed this new mechanism as part of our formal performance measurement system.

What’s next?

We have completed Phase-1 and currently in Phase-2 iteration with more applications being onboarded. As operational maturity increases, elements of the CCoE will be absorbed into other parts of the business. Greater operational maturity will allow teams to more effectively automate, standardise and benefit from the cloud platform. With the avoidance and reduction of overall ‘technical debts’ the CCoE is envisioned to continue to move forward as a vehicle to achieve aspirational targets and higher technological goals within Astro.

The CCoE has successfully produced tangible and significant benefits in areas such as cost control, security compliance, increased deployment velocity and application performance. These benefits were predefined as CCoE outcomes based on the Epics compiled and agreed by various stakeholders across technology, product and business. Clearly defined, outcome driven metrics also plays a key role in motivating the CCoE team members to focus on success. We continue to track the metrics defined for CCOE to drive continuous improvements in Cloud performance.

As an agent of transformation, the CCoE is expected to challenge our existing practices and structure. With a dedicated team working on this meticulously, having a fail-fast approach and with the understanding and continued support of Astro’s management the CCoE will be a key asset to address new business challenges in an ever increasingly complex environment.

Click here to read previous blog entries.