Have you ever thought what it would cost to do something simple like make a cup of tea from first principles? Gathering raw materials, fabricating a kettle, teapot and mug, carefully cultivating the tea and if it’s your thing, the cow as well? Expensive, slow and an outcome not, at best, discernibly different from a little bag of Yorkshire’s finest. Nobody reading this would regard it as a sensible investment of their time and money.
Strange then, that software engineering & IT organisations keep going back to first principles and do way more undifferentiated work than necessary.
At FundApps we’ve come to realise that our added value comes from the regulatory expertise and ability to consistently and reliably apply complex business logic at scale. Not our ability to manage a patching cycle, logging cluster or iterate to version 17.6 of the internal microservices framework.
As a CTO it’s potentially humbling to admit that a significant proportion of your team are doing undifferentiated work, but it’s also the first step in realising outsize benefits for the organisation. Imagine what you could achieve with a 3x larger team. Now imagine achieving all that without first securing a huge budget increase. Pure win. Cloud vendors have been telling us for years that these kind of improvements are possible. Let them do the heavy, undifferentiated lifting, adopt a cloud-native architecture.
A little over 2 years ago, we made that call. Too much time was being spent managing evergreen version updates and carefully attending to the needs and tantrums of specifically configured database and middleware products. We resolved that we could achieve better results for the whole business by allowing engineers to focus on building new and better products and letting someone else (in this case AWS) do the donkey work. With a simple mantra of “take the most managed service” we have moved away from self-hosted and managed EC2 instances towards cloud-native architecture.
The results have been fantastic. More time spent delivering significant new features, like our Room in a Name, Global Company Database, Rapportr and up-coming ASIC Filing products. Not to mention a brand-new, massively scalable rule calculation engine. More on that soon. Less time spent managing database patch cycles, reconfiguring poorly performing clusters or trying to build ambitious internal frameworks.
It’s clear to me that it’s never been easier for an Engineering or IT function to focus on adding value than it is today. The cloud, in particular, serverless PaaS and third party SaaS products make it so easy to focus your engineers on work that differentiates your organisation from everyone else. When Amazon take the strain to ensure Lambda is secure, patched and available, they’ve got more time, money, expertise and people than any of us have to get it right. When DataDog are dealing with ever-increasing log volumes, spikes and adding new features as quickly as we iterate our own products, why would we try and build our own? Do we really need all of those internal standards, especially if we don’t need a homogenous hardware and software estate to try and minimise support costs? Or are they just bureaucracy getting in the way of engineers building profitable things?
Sure, years ago, there might not have been a product in the market. Or the thought of an on-prem install and annual upgrade cycle might have been unpleasant because you were an Oracle shop and the tool was on MSSQL. So you went back to first principles, made that kettle and started cultivating the tea. You built a Shareholding Disclosure tool. But regulations change and evolve, your dataset grows and you find your team are spending far too much time maintaining their tea plant. What’s more nobody (other than me!) is going to argue that having the very best Shareholding Disclsoure system on the planet is a competitive advantage.
That’s why it’s sad to see so many organisations doing “cloud transformations” and not starting by assessing the application estate for things that can be replaced by PaaS or SaaS. Every workload you can offload to someone else, be that a cloud vendor or service provider is engineering capacity you can put to productive use in making your business better, faster and more profitable.
I’ll go further. I think as an industry and group of professionals we are doing a terrible job for our businesses by hanging on to far too much undifferentiated work because that’s the way it’s always been. Or worse, because just servicing that estate demands budget and headcount. If you’re about to embark on a “cloud transformation”, spin up a self-managed anything, or maybe just start a new internal tooling project, stop. Ask yourself where the competitive business advantage is and take a look around for someone you can pay a fraction of your cost to do an outsize job. Then refocus that team on adding profits instead. They’ll love you for it. So will the CEO. And the office tea will probably taste better as well.
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