Lessons learned from Cloud World

Two snapshots of real-world enterprise IT progress in a world dominated by cloud computing group-think show that the cloud is now an essential part of today’s IT strategy.

cloud world london 2015
Credit: Informa Ltd

It’s easy to despair about the cloud computing industry and its seemingly endless navel-gazing. It often seems that the cloud crowd is more interested in internecine warfare than actually helping customers realize the benefits of this emerging platform. The prime example of this tech narcissism is the ongoing industry slugfest regarding private/public/hybrid cloud and what the “right” solution is. 

Out in the real world of enterprise IT, however, organizations are adopting cloud computing with enthusiasm, which was displayed in full force at London’s Cloud World Forum in June. One of the strengths of this conference is how it’s able to entice end users to present case studies of their actual experience; this is a refreshing change from other cloud events that seem to serve primarily as opportunities for vendor marketing departments to pitch their products. 

[Related: The real cloud computing revolution] 

At this year’s conference, two presentations captured this zeitgeist particularly well: one by Anthony Headlam, CTO of Jaguar Land Rover (commonly referred to as JLR), and the other by Simon Parkes, architect at the UK Ordnance Survey. Both outlined IT organizations under considerable stress that responded by adopting new products and processes, resulting in significant improvement. 

JLR: reorienting IT toward growth 

JLR is, to a certain extent, proof that beloved brands can’t be killed. Despite many changes of ownership, insufficient investment and, it must be said, the British automotive reputation for poor quality, both Jaguar and Land Rover have steadfast, dogged adherents. Jaguar and Land Rover were separate brands owned by Ford, which merged them to gain efficienc  ies of scale, before abruptly auctioning the combined entity to Indian automaker Tata Motors during the worst of the financial crisis. However, JLR has had a stunning comeback, as indicated by this chart:

cloud world london 2015 - jaguar land rover JLR

Jaguar Land Rover's growth has been impressive since being sold off by Ford Motor Company.

As you can see, JLR has blossomed under independent ownership, doubling the numbers of cars sold and its total workforce, and tripling its revenues and investment. 

It wasn’t all good news at JLR, though. As Headlam explained, JLR’s IT reflected infrastructure and practices of the previous decade; moreover, it suffered from extremely long application development and deployment processes. Finally, 90 percent of IT employees were consumed with merely keeping the lights on, which is a terrible – if not fatal – shortcoming, as cars become the ultimate mobile platform, always-connected devices generating scads of data. (JLR’s own research into reading driver’s brainwaves is only one example of how forward-thinking the automobile industry can be.) Clearly something had to be done. 

[Related: IT is not the bogeyman it used to be] 

Today, JLR IT is significantly improved, although Headlam acknowledged it remains a work in progress. How did it make this improvement? Headlam pointed to the following: 

  • A move to standardized infrastructure. Previously, JLR infrastructure and software packages were a jumble of one-of-everything. Now it’s focusing on using external clouds to run applications where possible, thereby enabling JLR to focus on applications.
  • Greater adoption of agile practices to accelerate application development and deployment timeframes.

Widespread use of open source componentry to build new applications and IT tooling. One of the primary drivers for this adoption is the far lower cost of open source, critical in a small player in the highly competitive auto industry.

cloud world london 2015 - jaguar land rover chart JLR

JLR’s conceptual architecture shows both improvements and growth opportunities within its stack.

Headland presented JLR’s conceptual architecture (see slide above), but noted that while the company had achieved great agility at the “Consume” layer, it still suffered from legacy capabilities lower down the stack. Nevertheless, JLR has realized significant benefits from moving toward its IT vision. Today, instead of the previous 90 percent, only 25 percent of IT personnel are devoted to maintaining the legacy environment. The rest can focus on transformation and next-generation applications. 

Ordnance Survey: meeting the digital challenge 

Ordnance Survey (OS) is well-known to U.K. hikers from its maps, which are extremely detailed and form the basis for tramping around the hundreds of miles of British footpaths.

cloud world london 2015 - ordinance survey map OS

Ordinance Survey is known in the U.K. for its detailed topographical maps aimed at the hiking community.

However, OS is responsible for far more than making it easy for hikers to find their way around the English countryside. Its work is involved with climate and weather, public works, satellite mapping information and more. In other words, just as JLR is transitioning from a physical to a physical-plus-digital products company, so too is OS. And, just like JLR, its IT processes were rooted in a time in which the digital component of its product offering was far smaller and less time-critical. The fact that its products are now digital means there are many more business opportunities based on repurposing the data, or combining its data with another entity’s to create a new offering. The clear implication: OS needs to move faster and create applications more rapidly. 

OS architect/consultant Simon Parkes’ presentation focused a lot on the nuts-and-bolts of migrating from trouble ticket-driven manual processes to automated DevOps systems. Upon tracking the flow of work from developers through to production, Parkes’ team identified all the places that work occurred and how long each step took. As you’d expect, this effort identified several bottlenecks.

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