By – Madhavan KrishnanSoftware as a Service (SaaS) is one of the fastest growing business models in our industry today. One of the main reasons for this upswing is digital transformation, which has become a business imperative across industries, and the pandemic has only accelerated the investments into it by several-fold. The typical product and…
By – Madhavan Krishnan
Software as a Service (SaaS) is one of the fastest growing business models in our industry today. One of the main reasons for this upswing is digital transformation, which has become a business imperative across industries, and the pandemic has only accelerated the investments into it by several-fold. The typical product and innovation cycle, in terms of timeframe that companies were used to, got condensed by half if not more, in many industries. This has fueled the rapid rise in adoption of business models that offer the shortest path to realize value. SaaS solutions that promise end-to-end solutions available 24X7 by subscription – without the need to worry about underlying infrastructure, software, releases, and support – have gained immense business traction, and evidently this trend will continue to advance.
This shift has put an intense pressure on the operations model of companies that are pivoting to SaaS in the middle of the change. Most companies struggle because the capabilities required to support fully functional SaaS operations, that can adapt to dynamic business needs, is much different from traditional product support operations. The former requires an approach and a mindset that is fueled by automation, dynamic infrastructure and software driven capabilities to address and resolve the root cause of operational issues. In other words, reimagining an operations support model that is driven by software engineering is typically what Site or Service Reliability Engineering (SRE) capability is all about.
This presents a quandary of issues to companies, not the least of which is a mindset and culture shift that this kind of an approach calls for, along with the prevailing skills gap. Even for the reasonably technically accomplished companies, their Dev (Product Engineering) and Product Operations units work at best as mutually interdependent divisions, with some necessary overlaps that are ‘managed’.
While companies like Google espouse SRE to achieve super efficiencies in software operations, the kind of cultural transformation and technical capabilities that this calls for is far too big a chasm for most organizations to fathom and implement.
This article examines an alternate approach to SaaS operations based on SRE principles but is achieved in practical incremental steps. The eventual idea is to achieve SRE in ways that are meaningful and tailored to an organization’s business context and change management capabilities.
1. Consolidate all product support functions into a full stack central function
One of the key threats to a sometimes-dysfunctional support system is fragmentation of responsibilities and lack of single point accountability. This often leads to inefficiencies and loss of credibility with clients and stakeholders who matter. Consolidating critical user support and systems operational activity under one umbrella can provide synergies of scale, one point accountability and standardization of processes. This is an essential requirement to be met to drive operating synergies and better system performance throughput for clients.
2. Establish Operational Governance on SRE metrics – benchmark, measure, and report key metrics, even if manually to start with
Most product companies today measure and report operating metrics that follow SRE terminologies such as Service Level Agreements (SLA), Service Level Indicator (SLI) and Service Level Objective (SLO) among others. While this is a good starting point, a key driver to SRE success is an understanding of the interplay between these metrics and their impact on budgets and investments.
3. Set up an Operations Engineering function – an independent software engineering group focused solely on operational tasks/process automation
A critical aspect of SRE success is the engineering capability infused into operations. While most organizations tend to view engineering and operations as siloes, a key driver for a modern SaaS operations function is to drive operations with a mindset and capabilities of a software engineering function. Solving operational issues with a software-oriented mindset is essential to driving success in SaaS operations. Perhaps the biggest take away with this approach would be how this allows for reimagination of the current systems and processes by eliminating redundancies and repeating errors by finding the root cause and building a portfolio of operations focused reusable tools and frameworks.
4. Inculcate a mindset of innovation in operations support organization
With SRE, the whole profile of an operations support organization, which is often misconstrued to be focused on mundane, manual task oriented and efficiency-focused, can be transformed into an energetic, challenging, creative and innovation-focused group. A culture of innovation and building code to improve operations, which in most SaaS organizations have a direct impact on improving profitability and brand impact, can cause a lasting cultural transformation and boost the morale of the team.
5. Achieve a cultural transformation – Encourage and reward right behavior to leapfrog
The journey to a successful SRE is not a straight-line path and is often fraught with uncertainties, risks and, most commonly, lack of adequately skilled talent to pull it off. Most organizations are constrained in terms of how much they can invest in their operations support function. So, the most prudent path to adopt is to develop SRE talent organically in-house with an infusion of specialized talent only for key roles. This is a difficult balance to pull off, but is something all organizations should aspire to. Key to developing SRE talent is early identification, training and grooming of in-house talent incentivized by reward and recognition. The cultural shift that is achieved is more than worth the organization’s investment in making SRE a reality.
The author is Senior Vice President, SaaS Operations and Engineering at Epsilon India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETCIO.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETCIO.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organization directly or indirectly.
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