Pivotal Shows Web Summit The Secret to Faster, More Predictable Software Development

November 10, 2014 David Oro

featured-WebSummit-Pivotal-2014Once known as ‘The Big Smoke’ (a reference to severe smog problems that endured through the late 1980s), Dublin today combines old world charm with modern sophistication. The city today shows little signs of its industrial moniker, and recently played host to what has quickly become one of Europe’s largest, most exciting gathering of technology professionals, the Web Summit 2014.

Last week, hundreds of start-ups, tech visionaries and the likes of Eva Longoria, Tony Hawk, and Bono descended on this vibrant city to talk shop, share grand ideas, and explore what’s next in tech. The conference expanded dramatically from just a year ago, doubling in size to over 20,000 attendees, with several new break-out summits that explored the intersection of technology, machines, food, and sport.

Sponsoring for the first year, Pivotal showed up strong with a bevy of meetings, keynotes, parties, dinners and a whole lot of networking. Pivotal Vice President and COO of Pivotal Labs Edward Hieatt’s keynote proved to be a Pivotal and Summit highlight. With just over 500 people in the audience, Edward talked about how enterprises can and should “rediscover software development.”

Edward started with an overview on the profound changes in enterprise computing models over last 30 years—from the mainframe, to a client-server model, and now to the cloud. Underscoring Marc Andreessen’s now well-cited dictum on “Why Software is Eating the World”, he illustrated how enterprises are no longer entitled to their own business model. Much of the disruption we have seen has come from start-ups who have leveraged cheap infrastructure, storage, networking and open source technology in the cloud – all of which has allowed them to run their businesses with software at the core.


In this new dynamic, how can the disrupted enterprises disrupt the disrupters?

Edward looked at two things essential for businesses when it comes to software development: Speed and Predictability.

Speed is critical. Software must be built much faster than in the past–at times in a matter of hours instead of weeks and months. The ability to change direction quickly based on customer feedback and market conditions is also part of this new calculus of speed.

Predictability allows enterprises to eliminate surprise as they get close to product releases and general availability. Edward argued that businesses prefer “fast and predictable” over “sometimes very fast, and often mysteriously slow.”

But how can enterprises achieve high, predictable productivity in the face of product flux, large teams, legacy technology and ingrained team structures?

Take A Bold Leap—The Platform and the Culture

Edward asked enterprise to start small in scope, but to be bold in their embrace and leap to technology and cultural transformation. The transition to tomorrow’s computing won’t work if you try to do it half-heartedly.


He then outlined the crucial building blocks to making the transition. First, look at how the disrupters grew up, and adopt their secret sauce by moving to a platform which allows for rapid application development. That platform is by and large a PaaS (platform-as-a-service). PaaS increases developer productivity, unifies IT environments, centralizes and enforces convention (security, scaling, etc), and generally allows developers to get back to doing what they do best–writing code that moves your business forward.

Cultural transformation is just as important. Edward noted how it starts with a simple framework based on disciplined agile development practices. This includes a clear separation of product and engineering roles, team co-location and pair programming, test driven development, and repurposing of QA. Then he suggested something that gives many more traditional enterprise leaders pause: Let it go.

Enterprises can start small, but they must commit—to begin with real applications that matter to the business, and to allow teams to experiment with the process and find their voice in how they develop software. That mindset includes loosening the grip on dearly-held original specs or timelines, as product needs change and technical challenges will come up during development. Instead, Edward urged companies to go live early and often, fail-fast and experiment. This is when it gels, when teams really start to collaborate and begin to deliver software faster and much more predictably.

After some sage advice, the question left to the audience was who has actually made this leap? Not to worry!

For more than a year, Pivotal has been working with Humana, a large health organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, to transform how they build and deploy software. Humana is one of hundreds of customers that Pivotal has worked with over the years.

But importantly, Humana is one of the first to take such a big and bold leap. It’s cultural transformation is manifest in the Humana Digital Experience Center in downtown Louisville, which mirrors a Pivotal style development environment.

Pivotal worked in collaboration with Humana’s design and engineering teams to imbue Humana developers in the ways of agile, along the way enabling the development of a healthcare app that redefines the way users track and share data. To be successful, Humana embraced the cultural aspect of this change, going all out to create an environment and workspace that was almost unrecognizable to their previous development teams. It was ideal to drive the collaboration required for rapid software development.

Rediscovering software and product development requires both a technology and cultural transformation, and it helps when everyone agrees that both matter to the business. As Bruce Broussard, CEO of Humana, said at the opening of the Digital Experience Center, “We have to be agile. This environment is demonstrating that agility. It allows you to do things as a team and do it quickly.”

Software development and how it is done has become one of the most important catalysts in business transformation today. But for enterprises looking to transition to a whole new way of software development, the first step is always the scariest. As Edward and Humana show, there are no half measures: Start small, but strike boldly!


Edward Hieatt’s presentation at Web Summit can be found here.



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