Disruption within the IT industry will accelerate in the next several years as enterprise IT customers learn how to take advantage of new technologies to generate business value. At the heart of the current state of confusion sits DevOps best practices, with traditional waterfall development approaches giving way to faster, more fluid practices, characterized as “Agile Development” and enabled by containers.
Technology vendors describe waterfall development as building bulky, monolithic applications in large blocks, with release cycles that run anywhere from six to 18 months. In contrast, vendors talk about agile development cycles taking mere weeks with “continuous update cycles” that allow changes to containerized code and developers to push out to the live installations multiple times per day in extreme cases.
While the market moves to containers and agile development, we haven’t yet reached “Peak Confusion,” the point where competitive entrants in the technology area begin to consolidate around fewer and fewer leading giants. Within the container arena, we are far from seeing competitive entrants decrease. Indeed, we expect to see a flurry of activity in this space over the next several years before the confusion abates.
Agile Development’s Regional Implications
Within the waterfall development cycle, India offshoring as a business model worked well. The time span between milestones minimized the impact of the time-zone differences between the India-based development houses and the U.S.-based companies they supported.
When shifting to agile development, however, teams have to interact with one another, particularly when bugs arise between code modifications in one container and their connections to the other containers with which they have to interoperate. In such code red situations, the need for instant, real-time collaboration becomes paramount. Waiting for the other development team to “wake up” to answer the question can throw the whole project timeline off schedule — and a few hours in a multi-week project have an exponentially greater impact than a few hours in a half-year project.
This substantial operational challenge leads us to believe that this DevOps transformation represents a large, immediate opportunity for nearshore IT vendors, largely due to the region operating in the same time zones as North America. While customers determine how to shift to agile development, they will need outside consulting and support services to aid them in determining reorganization of their internal DevOps teams.
In addition, they will require programming talent versed in the newer container methodologies and programming languages, particularly for developing mobile applications. Stop-gap measures, including the time-honored tactic of shifting working hours, may stem the tidal shift away from India for awhile, but over the longer term the 10-hour time difference with the traditional outsourcing locations won’t work during this transitionary period in our industry.
To grasp this opportunity, nearshore U.S. technology companies will have to insure they have skilled labor capable of addressing each of the following areas.
- Base Container Technology
This space represents the easiest element to embrace and will provide no differentiable market value on its own. The Open Container Project, launched in June of 2015, will begin laying out the technology roadmap with Docker playing a prominent role.
- Container Management and Orchestration Layers
Numerous competitive entrants and offerings will emerge in this space to take what becomes easier to build on the development side of the equation and manage, provision, and monitor the operations side. The tech industry hype cycle goes full throttle with well-established vendors stitching together assets to create an automated DevOps process flow around containers. Venture capitalists fund new initiatives such as ContainerX, Inc while established vendors such as Red Hat, VMware, Microsoft, and IBM build out container ecosystems with heavy reliance on open standards and alliances to speed time to market.
Recommending companies build out capabilities around technology standards that have yet to reach the “peak confusion” phase sounds like a tall order. In many instances, the decision to support different software assets being promoted within this area will consist of investing in training and certification programs by the vendors.
From that vantage point, each firm in the area planning to bolster its investments in agile development methodologies can quickly set their priorities with a few simple steps.
- Listen to Your Existing Customers
Selling new capabilities to existing customers is one of the easiest ways to diversify a product/service portfolio. A few anchor accounts who have standardized on the enabling technologies provide you with both the revenue stream to justify the skills investment and a trusted account who will accept the shared risk through transparent sales negotiations.
- Diversification with Reference Accounts
Having mined the existing base for the seed accounts, the next logical step will be finding prospects fitting a similar profile. With the certifications and reference accounts in hand, and the ability to extol the time zone benefits of trying someone new for agile development work, regional suppliers can begin displacing incumbent vendors with large India-based programming factories.
- Diversification by Acquiring New Skills
After building the reference base around, say utilizing Docker and Swarm technology, the next logical step will be to gain training around Mesos to broaden the capabilities on the company line card. In most cases another trusted account who wants to use Mesos over Swarm can be the one to provide the initial seed money to make that investment.
- Cross Pollinate the Staff
Multiple certifications will provide for greater workforce flexibility and therefore greater project scoping capabilities. The few certifications required to start will always have value, and the investments in adding staff can be utilized to follow the market as peak confusion abates.
The pace of change will depend primarily on skills and experience, two areas where LATAM developers can influence their own destiny and have seen previous success. This has already been noted by Bianca Wright, in a September article on Nearshores Americas, “How LatAm Developers Can Capitalize On The Drive For DevOps.”
The time is now and the steps to success are clear: invest in skilled people, deliver to current clients, and build lasting relationships that become trusted partnerships. New ways of doing IT don’t diminish business fundamentals – they just make characteristics like agility, dependability, and accessibility more critical.