The dependence of businesses on technology over the past three decades resulted in infrastructure teams building well-defined, optimized systems to ensure their availability to support business needs and business continuity.
All this optimization created rigidity in these systems, resulting in the inability to keep up with the increasing rate of advances in technology and operational changes in business, while leaving them brittle and unable to sustain the shocks of events like our current crisis.
Cloud technologies have quickly become popular because they create flexible infrastructure capacity and capabilities, which are essential for infrastructure teams. The organizations who have embraced these technologies have become more resilient, but that is no longer enough. We must leverage these technologies to go beyond resilience and allow organizations to become antifragile and better able to withstand shocks and stress.
“The Chaos Monkey’s job is to randomly kill instances and services within our architecture. If we aren’t constantly testing our ability to succeed despite failure, then it isn’t likely to work when it matters most — in the event of an unexpected outage.” Jeff Atwood, Coding Horror
Lisa Cavanagh: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Lisa Cavanagh. I’m a Practice Executive here at Micro Strategies and I’m here with Bob Claybrook, who leads our Hybrid IT practice for Micro Strategies. We’re here to have a conversation today around how hybrid technologies are really enabling organizations to embrace a world beyond the crisis that we’re experiencing, and really focusing it on how we’re evolving from optimized in that hybrid world to resilient and really taking into consideration that anti-fragile mindset to really support and drive business operations. Bob, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Bob Claybrook: Hello, everyone, I’m Bob Claybrook, 25 plus years of leading technology teams. Currently working with the hybrid practice here at Micro Strategies to really try and work with multiple clients and take those years of experience and really apply them to our clients and our businesses. Just really as the technology landscape continues to change radically, it’s difficult to keep up with. I think taking that experience and applying it to the current business problems in the event that we’re facing today, obviously with COVID is extremely rewarding and challenging and valuable. I’d like to stick with that.
From a Micro Strategies perspective, Micro Strategies is a technology solutions provider, enabling business by leveraging technology investments to drive business outcomes. It’s really all about optimizing business process or creating effective and efficient digitization or digital processes. Bringing the right level of technology or compute hybrid technologies, which is a focus area for me to solve the problem to optimize in again, elastic capacity just in time, whatever you want to refer to it as.
Then from an analytics perspective, or from a data-driven perspective, really taking the data that’s generated from those processes and systems and injecting that back into the business drive value, and then to optimize that business value. The last thing we like to do is try and help people operate their environments. At the end of the day, if there’s a need, or something that they’re struggling with, or a resource challenge, we’ll apply resources for folks to help everyone out and really, again, just optimize and drive efficiency.
Lisa: That’s great. Well, I’m excited to be part of the conversation with you today, Bob. I know that really the focus for our conversation as we had was really how organizations today are really embracing hybrid technology in a way to be able to help organizations evolve beyond this crisis. I know we’re really focusing on how we’re leveraging that hybrid technology to really evolve from that optimized world that we’ve been experiencing to really that more resilient and really driving towards that anti-fragile business to really help organizations drive those business operations and achieve business outcomes, like you said.
I really just would be curious from your perspective and technology perspective, what really drove us to become so optimized from a technology perspective?
Bob: Really, I think, going back 20 years, but it was expectations and service level agreements that we wanted to optimize and have the most effective use or most availability of the technology. When you start to look at that, and you compare that with the cost to do so, duplicating everything as an example, and really trying to deliver effective, efficient solutions and consistency, we created rigidity in the process.
I think that’s where we, when you look at a lot of systems that are around today, that’s really what’s come about and really it’s about that rigidity, when we kind of experiences like we do today with COVID is how do the systems and processes handle that? How can they bounce back?
Lisa: Really the expectation is, as technology really became very interwoven, I would say within organizations, the expectations of the technology teams were just so significant that they really had no choice but to optimize. Is that really what you experienced?
Bob: That’s what I experienced, most definitely. It was the expectations of the business teams, right, and the consistency of the performance of the solutions. Then you had to again, you weigh that against the cost, you had to optimize everything down to the cost level. You couldn’t have everything for everybody. I think the one thing where we are today is really decoupling that decoupling the technologies and or call it loosely coupling the solutions that we utilize today. If that makes sense.
Benefits of an Antifragile Operation
Lisa: When you optimize, what values did they drive for the organization? What were some of the benefits that you experienced as you lead? You’re going to play very strategic roles. I’m sure you probably were pushing some of your teams for that optimization. What were the benefits that you were trying to achieve with that?
Bob: Again, continuity, so zero downtime, availability of system, e-commerce systems became available, again, 20 years ago. You don’t want the website down they’re open 24/7. That was the expectation that really became of everything, both internal and external public-facing solutions, there was no downtime anymore. Again, the expectation of always-on availability.
Again, with that it creates flexibility, but at the same time to deliver that level of service, just a few years ago, it was expensive at the end of the day. The cost rose, and we had to think about other ways to accomplish those things. It’s really how the public cloud became known as a part of our world, part of our technology, the flexibility that it gives you at the end of the day.
Lisa: There’s one other question I want to ask. What were some of the downsides? What were some of the challenges you got to this optimization? What did you experience as a technology leader that constrained you, as a result of that optimization?
Bob: The rigidity and the connectivity. As things became more open and the connectedness continued to expand to all of our daily lives from the cell phones that we carry to the cars that we drive, you start to talk about all those data points to try and have that connectedness across those, call them ERP platforms, those legacy systems that we utilize in business, that was really where the rigidity comes in. It was very challenging to be able to connect things together because we had that optimized stack that we were running to provide those service levels that were expected by the business teams.
Lisa: As the demands of the business increased and they were forced to really deliver and obviously the disruption of technology has been increasing. It continues to be increasingly greater in organizations and the demands of organizations to respond to different companies that are coming in. They will do things more quickly and more dynamically. How do the demands of the business really have to change as a result of that?
Bob: I think the business demands started to change. Then when you look at what drove that change is born on cloud companies. When they had the capability to come in and compete with large organizations and they didn’t have to build out this technology infrastructure because everything was software-defined, or just-in-time, as by the drink, however you want to say that, it’s just a just-in-time technology software to find solutions. It really allows smaller organizations to compete. I think that’s the paradigm shift when we talk about public cloud. That’s what it is.
Again, software-defined resources that are there for you to utilize and do anything you need for your business. You don’t have to have them sitting there 24/7, at the end of the day. Now, you do pay a price for that per slice or per instance of those, they can get expensive when you try to run them 24/7, but just that flexibility of having them available, it’s no differently than an Uber ride, right? Buying a car versus an Uber ride, it’s there when you need it. If I had to drive an Uber every day, that would get expensive.
Lisa: With respect to the demands that organizations have on delivery and trying to compete with, as you said, the Born on cloud technologies and trying to leverage cloud technologies. Is the answer to just go to the cloud? Is it that simple? What are the things that need to people need to consider. You compared it to Uber and different cost considerations. What would you be considering as you’ve gone through and evaluating these organizations? What types of things would you consider when making those decisions?
Bob: For the organizations that I work with and myself, it’s not about the public versus private. It’s about the technology that you’re running, they’re the software-defined technologies utilizing. When you look at the software-defined capabilities that are in the cloud, those really have nothing to do with the computers that they’re running on at the end of the day. Those technologies are available on-prem and in the cloud.
The analogy that I like to use is, we all rent, or we own a home. We could stay in a hotel if we chose to, but it gets a little expensive over time. If you have 24/7 needs, it’s probably better to have a home a little bit less expensive than living in a hotel all the time, although we all like the benefits of having a room cleaned for you every day. I think that analogy is probably the best one I could come up with. I mentioned Uber versus owning a car earlier.
Those are the types of things that just to put it in the context of folks, but when you think about an Uber and the flexibility that creates, how convenient is that that you push a button on your phone and someone shows up to your house to drive you safely to where you want to go? Those types of features are available, but you’re going to pay a premium for them.
I think being on-premise, not to say we want to optimize where we were 10 years ago but at the end of the day, I can use the needs that I have just as a home it’s what I need it’s not everything, it’s what I need to run my own business and it gives me the flexibility that I need to operate in my life. I think those are probably the best analogies. It’s about the software and being out having that flexibility to scale when it’s needed.
Antifragility, Resiliency, and the Cloud
Lisa: You talked a lot about software-defined and that flexibility. In business terms, what is it about the cloud technologies that make them more resilient and able to provide that flexibility and provide that speed of response that organizations need today?
Bob: It’s the elastic capability and the ease of use. Now you can deploy resources onto your business teams, you can have developers embedded in your business teams, and those technology resources are delivered just in time. Not thinking about where they are, whether they’re on-prem or in the cloud doesn’t really matter, it’s the means in which you deliver those. We say things like Kubernetes and containers, cloud-native applications, and things like that, and microservices, that’s that decoupling or loosely coupled, however you want to say it, of technology perspective that really takes the technology right out to the business teams.
Now I have embedded developers and technologists really working with my business teams on a just-in-time. So if you think about if I’m working on delivering solutions for a company and I want that nimbleness going back to the born on cloud folks, if I have a roadmap, it doesn’t really matter how large the organization is, if I break that work down I can deliver the compute resources to deliver those features to my business in an hourly basis even, a daily basis versus years ago we had two releases a month. Now you can have 100 a week releases a day from a feature perspective and driving business value.
It’s really matching up the business need of the business value with the technology in a just-in-time world at the end of the day. Technology is all around us. Technology is no longer the challenging factor; it’s just making sure that you’re utilizing it properly and it’s more about your business processes than it is about the technology now. You can’t just implement cloud technologies and expect your business to be corrected, that that’s not what it’s about. It’s about how you operate every day incrementally driving value and removing all the bureaucracy and the silos that were created over the years from that rigidity that we talked about earlier.
Lisa: You touched on a point that I was going to ask about which is, the cloud technology sound great, what are organization struggling with as far as implementing them? Obviously, there’s been a huge transition to the cloud but if there are so many benefits from it, why don’t we see 80% adoption at this point in time as opposed to 25%, 30% adoption at this point in time? Cloud technologies, not necessarily public cloud like you’ve said.
Bob: Again, I think that everyone should use some public cloud, not all public cloud in most cases, but it’s a balance of the flexibility to have the capability to go to either one. I think the struggle is the business processes and how you work.
Embracing Hybrid Technology
Bob: People talk about digital transformations and things like that, what does that really mean? I talked about in the intro how Micro Strategies operates with delivering digital workflows and things like that. How do you optimize or make things more efficient, more resilient?
I think that folks aren’t willing to go back and companies aren’t willing to go back and really break down what their processes are and figure out what the true value-driven processes are. They just have a lot of silos and administrative things around them that you have to push through to get things done, versus being very nimble and coming up with an idea and implementing that in the technology like I said earlier within a day. It shouldn’t take so long to implement change in an organization and recognize that value.
There’s cloud technologies and the technology that’s around us, IoT being different things but how your business operates is the important part, it’s not the cloud technology that are given now at the end of the day and if everyone’s utilizing them in some form a fashion, when we think about what we just went through with COVID from everyone’s connected from their homes and we are using virtual desktops, we’re using different types of technologies, our phones on this video conference that we’re doing right now.
We weren’t doing these things. Large organizations weren’t doing this nearly as frequently just 90 days ago at the end of the day. It’s changed us forever in that dynamic in scalable fashion to be able to communicate effectively and really embracing it as a business will forever change that the corporate office is forever changed as a result of COVID, there’s no question.
You look at the positive benefits and you go back to answering your question, why are people struggling? They couldn’t get past that it took a horrifying event like COVID to break through the corporate structures and show that people can really work dynamically and in a more real-time fashion. Just think about how we all pulled our business plans back, it was no longer 90, 120, 12-month plans. We were planning next week. I think that dynamic nature and you go back to the earlier part of the conversation with born on cloud, it’s all the same thing.
Don’t be afraid, embrace them, accept them, and figure out how to bring them into the fold and start to deliver business value with technology in technology, incrementally, every day. It’s not that I work with the IT team once a month, or once every 90 days, I’m with them every day because that’s where folks are. When you look at an Uber and how they operate, that’s how they’re able to do it. Delivering features just-in-time for their business and adapting to their customers.
Lisa: You talked a lot about the change that COVID obviously pushed on all of us and how organizations had to respond. These technologies and the cloud was disrupting before COVID hit but you didn’t necessarily see organizations shifting as much for saving some were, some aren’t, depends on the core applications that they have. Do you think that with the change that COVID’s brought upon us, or the impacts I would say that COVID’s brought upon us, that these changes will really last? Do you think that people will just go back to the way things were once the dust settles and we move to the world beyond or do you think that these changes especially talk about the remote workers and how people have to operate will really start to become ingrained in what people do and impact in that culture?
Bob: I believe in anti-fragile organizations and what does that mean? We didn’t obviously create this event, it was thrust upon us. I like to live in a world where we create disruption, the Chaos Monkey theory, trying to throw a wrench in the wheel to test your resilience as you’re moving along. I do think the proportion of this and how its hit us, it’s going to change us. It’s changing us at our core at the end of the day. Do I think that all the offices are going to shut down? Absolutely not. We all like to go to work and now we miss it at this point.
We’re social creatures there’s certain things we like to do in person but I think the rigidity of traffic and the 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM or punching the clock as I always say, I do think that’s going to be impacted. Because I think that people finally have the vision to see that making people deal with traffic on the way at work is not an optimal use of anyone’s time, it’s not really fair. I think the other thing we’ve all done is with this technology, we’ve been connected 24/7 at the end of the day. Children are out of school, you’re not able to do things during the day you’re doing it there in the evening, doing it during the night time.
I think that flexibility that’s created I don’t know how we could ever go back to what it was before and I hate to use this term, but like the desk checking that used to go on in corporate America just seems so far-fetched at this point because of what we’ve been able to do. We’re resilient by nature and I think that there are many companies out there that are surviving and thriving as they say. To answer your question, I don’t think it’s going to go back. My hope is that we can make a big dent in traffic because I really don’t like traffic at the end of the day.
Lisa: To that point, we talk about traffic, traffic is one of our realities or was one of our realities. Do you really think that people have a vision for what is coming in the future or do you think that people are just really dealing with the reality that’s in front of them?
Bob: I think we’re still dealing with the reality. I think we’ve all got our heads above water right now and I think we’re starting to look to the future, but I think there are several people recognizing the benefits of what COVID did for us. You think of all the lives lost and everything. I think we might end up in some cases with a better world, taking down some of the corporate structure that’s around us, not all of it but some of it and then changing minds.
Again, I think it’s here, I think there’s benefits that we’ve all realized, and I think the technology enablement that we’ve seen, SpaceX, going to the moon that was an amazing thing, those cameras. I was so impressed and you think about where autonomous cars are and where things are going with IoT and things like that. I do believe that several people don’t understand it and I think that taking the time to learn and understand–
What was it 5, 10 years ago, I was like, everyone should write a line of code at the end of the day just to try and understand. I think embracing cloud technologies and the connectedness of what we have and who we are, not to our demise by any means or to hurt us by any means, but just to create the flexibility. I think it’s definitely going to take time and I think we seem to be set in our ways and changing is a challenge, but I think if we take the time to understand and absorb it, and just look at how people are reacting and what people want to do it. How they’re most productive, I think at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to happen. This has opened us up and put a lens on how we were operating. I think there will be benefits well beyond COVID, for sure.
The Future of Antifragility
Lisa: Probably organizations are putting some of that vision in place and saying, “What do we learn from this?” You mentioned Chaos Monkey earlier, do you think that organizations should identify their Chaos Monkeys now so they can continue to be better prepared for the future and what the future holds?
Bob: I absolutely do. I don’t know if I said it earlier, but I think you should have a random cycle of just something simple. Notify a department they’re not going to be here today. Notify them in the morning, “Don’t come to work.” Do any type of disruptive thing on a regular basis. I’m not saying that we can ever duplicate COVID. It’s a catastrophic event. Why we introduce more of it so that people aren’t as immune to it.
One of the challenges which I think from a technology perspective we’re about to face is we’ve had all these corporate people in offices working in office or organizations, we sent them all home to work, we gave them computers. In many cases, they didn’t have laptops, they went and bought them and they loaded software on them and they got them connected. Now the IT teams got everybody up and operational and things like that, and now we’ll probably start to see a lot of security issues as a result of that.
We just increase our attack factor by X folds, tens of thousands. God only knows how– Because all these devices that were in the corporate world are now on home networks. You can only imagine what that’s going to do from a security perspective, what we’re going to start to see in the days and weeks to come. Now, again, it’s going to make us stronger, but it is something that’s probably one of the next pieces that are going to happen to us that’s going to be very challenging to take on. Aside from the impacts of COVID but that’s one of the pure technology pieces.
Lisa: Bob, as you’ve worked with these different types of technologies and worked with organizations trying to drive business outcomes, can you share with us how you’re helping organizations be able to take a look at their environments, to take a look at their technologies and be able to best utilize the nature of what cloud technology brings to the table so they can deliver more quickly?
Bob: I think there’s really two things for me, and I’m all about software to find everything. I mentioned containers earlier and understanding core computing needs, and setting up that dynamically scalable environment, whether that’s on-prem, scaling out to cloud, taking development systems and QA systems and things like that, and really make it even more dynamic. Delivering them just-in-time to the business teams that need the technology in real-time, basically. Then send that resiliency up whether they’re shooting the hybrid mix between on-premise and cloud.
That’s one area. Really working with people, explaining to them what containers are and the dynamic elastic capability that they have, and really breaking down all those boundaries. Breaking down all the silos, the technology, and the dependencies we’ve had on legacy technologies in the past. That’s one.
I think another one that I think we’ve missed a little bit because there’s been a lot of bad press for many years, is the whole virtual desktop. I think from a company perspective, from a corporate perspective, that a virtual desktop is a great means to keep everything out of your corporate environment, from a data loss protection perspective. Even if you’re at home working on your home network or you’re working on your phone wherever you are, as long as we put everybody through that virtual desktop, we can start to control what’s happening in the environment and again, reducing the attack vector from a hacker or from a security risk and things like that.
I think to me that’s another component and to me, whether it’s a large computer in the back office or in the public cloud, or in the data center or a machine at home that we’re using, it doesn’t really matter. You want to try and make that as dynamic and elastic as possible for everyone to utilize it. I think working with organizations and explaining those types of things to them, it creates a level of resiliency. Again, there’s a thought process in my mind that’s really antifragility and moving forward from a business perspective. It doesn’t really matter what gets thrown at you, you can work from anywhere, anytime, and you’re connected at the end of the day.
Lisa: When you’re having these conversations– I’m just going to say when you’re having these conversations, are there organizations listening and do you have some examples of how you’ve helped them implement this and the value that they’ve driven from trying to think about their organizations differently?
Bob: Yes, different examples. Again, I think it’s to get around and bring your any device, I think that’s where the virtual desktops come in. I think from a security perspective, a business value perspective, and really trying to move away from the corporate network. Now we want to get connected to our data centers. We don’t want to have people coming directly in using things like VPN and things like that. Putting cloud clients in the public cloud, give them access into those data centers, and really you’re going to eliminate the corporate network in many cases.
Because when you look at all the SAS solutions that are out there or the public-facing solutions that are available to folks, utilizing those, it’s just one more level. Now we can take those legacy technologies and make them available in a public cloud world and you don’t lose any of the security from that perspective of being in your data center. I think providing that visibility is extremely important. Again, it just creates the resilience of access from anywhere at the end of the day.
Lisa: Would you say that they’re listening to you? Would you say that organizations are responding and you’re implementing this with them?
Bob: Yes, I think that they are. I think that, like I said earlier, my concern right now is some of the problems we’re about to hit from enabling everyone to work from home. I think we’ll be having more conversations as well. When you start to understand the problem we have created with where we are with COVID and everyone being in the house. Before we get back to the office, I think you’ll start to see problems.
The other challenge is, I think the expectation has been set. People are not going to want to be chained to their desk anymore at the end of the day. If I’m operating a technology team, how can I manage those types of situations? It’s really providing a virtual world versus a fixed world where I’m responsible for that desktop. I let you bring your own desktop to work and your own phone, I provide a virtual environment on it and we’re good to go.
The same thing from a back-end technology perspective or business. If I need compute capacity or technologies to the line of business process, I can deliver that from private cloud on-prem or public cloud. I just need to give you the access to it so you can see it. You shouldn’t have to worry about everything that’s going on in the back end. As long as everything is software-defined, it will work very simplistically, it’ll be very smooth.
Lisa: Do you see organizations who have taken advantage of this and the values or the benefits that they’ve achieved?
Bob: I think we see it every day. I think from when you look at the backend core technologies and you look at the scalability of a Netflix or you look at Azure, all these platforms, Teams, everything is scaled dramatically. They’re all using cloud technologies, there’s no question. There are businesses that are adding millions of virtual desktops. I think there’s an article out there where Azure added 32,000 developers in two days, basically, to create a virtual desktop for them. The technology that’s available it’s rather straightforward to roll out and you only–
Again, we’re only providing what we need, we’re not building these large not antiquated, but it’s– When you look at the Office products, I’m not sure about you, but I use about 1% of Word and Excel, I don’t need the other 99%. What we’re delivering is a just-in-time solution for the folks. Again, go back to these comments I made earlier about being loosely coupled. You don’t want the connections that are having a rigidity to them, whether that’s to my corporate machine, my data center, my public cloud, whatever it is or people. At the end of the day, I don’t want people to be forced to be in the same room together to work at the end of the day. That same mindset of the loosely coupled processes and technology being delivered is really what it’s all about.
Lisa: How would you measure or how would you know that they’re getting the benefit from it?
Bob: The business results, at the end of the day. If I understand what my ultimate, my business drivers are. We all have to have a plan, not that the plan doesn’t change, but what differentiates you as a business? What is it that you bring to the table. Then I hate to say the age-old fashion of profit, but at the end of the day, if the business is delivering, and we’re operating efficiently and generating the revenues that we expect, or the goodness that we expect whatever that is, whether it’s community service, social awareness, whatever the case may be, you start to see those benefits.
Again, I think it will come through in the numbers of the business because at the end of the day obviously, there’s nonprofits out there but most businesses are in business to generate revenue and take care of their people I guess the best way to say it. I think you’ll see that the harmonic nature in the numbers basically.
Lisa: Bob with all of your experiences that you’ve had, what would you say is the biggest challenge that we should keep our eyes on as we look forward to the next two years?
Bob: I think as technology becomes into our lives more and more every day and like I said in the last 90 days, it’s been more a part of our lives than it has in our lifetimes, and the connectedness that we had, just from a human perspective, being aware of how connected you are and things like that I think that’s going to be important over the next few months. Because how we get away and how we walk away from it so that’s from a human factor side.
From a security perspective and safety perspective, being connected is being connected so being aware of what you are, who you’re interacting with and those things and from a business perspective, putting the right roles and responsibilities in place to make sure that things are secure. Then look for the opportunities I guess.
I mentioned traffic earlier I just think it’d be amazing if we can eliminate it. What’s the next cool thing that we can do to help the planet, to help all of us, give us time back in the day, just make us generally happier at the end of the day with better quality of life. I think, look for those opportunities, because I know that technology can get us there at the end of the day. Those are probably the three things just don’t be too connected, make sure you can step away. Make sure you’re secure both personally and professionally for your businesses, and then really look for the next opportunity, the next game-changer that’s going to come about.
Lisa: Any other final parting thoughts that you would want to leave with everyone?
Bob: I think that I said this before, the disruptors are the born on cloud companies that are out there. It’s not about the technology they’re utilizing, that’s available to everyone, it’s about how you use it. That’s a big one. We say older companies, newer companies, all those fun things, it’s about how you operate the technology. I said this a few times, but for me, it’s about software-defined everything.
Whether that’s containers and Kubernetes or BYOD or virtual desktops it’s really about the flexibility of private and public cloud. Being able to scale from cloud to cloud, wherever you need to be that’s the mindset you should have and you should be delivering that technology to your business, just in time to generate that value.
Then I think the last thing which again I think COVID has helped us with, we have to disrupt ourselves. We can’t sit around and start to cut nickels and dimes everywhere and become so rigid again that we can’t operate when we take a shock. You have to take a shock, learn from it, and get stronger at the end of the day. I think those are probably the top three for me. The technologies available now, if you’d like to talk about it, I’d be happy to do so but there’s really nothing we can’t accomplish in business these days as long as we have a creative idea that people are interested in at the end of the day.
Lisa: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Bob. I appreciate the conversation. I look forward to all the creative things and the disruption that you’re going to bring to the table to help organizations drive that business outcome. Thank you.
Bob: Thank you, everyone. Stay safe.