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Cargill, Commonwell set sights on NoOps

Deloitte on Cloud Blog

When IT operations can be automated and abstracted from underlying infrastructure, there’s a world of opportunity to deliver new business value.

June 19, 2019

In their ongoing efforts to get more out of their IT investments, CIOs around the world are increasingly embracing DevOps, NoOps, and serverless computing—trends that use automation to free operations talent from numerous traditional systems administration tasks. For agricultural giant Cargill and Canadian Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group, those efforts are already delivering results, paving the way for strategic transformation and new business outcomes.

Cargill's future-ready foundation
By the year 2050, the planet is projected to be home to some 9.5 billion people. That's a big number—one that requires companies to think and act differently. For Cargill, a 153-year-old leader in the food and agriculture industry, that means placing an increased focus on innovation and technologies that will help it transform and effectively address some of the world's greatest food challenges.

Cargill views its sole purpose as nourishing the world in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way today and in the future. Towards that end, it's making improvements to its software engineering capability by automating the development life cycle. This technology-enabled shift not only drives the business but also empowers Cargill's developers to write code without the worry of deployment or packaging. "A strong digital foundation helps us work better while serving our customers and businesses more efficiently," says Keith Narr, vice president of Cargill Digital Labs.

That renewed investment has been an important part of Cargill's core modernization and cloud journey; it also supports the ambitions of technology-minded but business-focused leaders throughout the organization. Development and operations standards are being embedded in technology platforms and automatically enforced behind the scenes. Cargill developers have also embraced automated security scans leading toward DevSecOps and are providing the backbone for API-based development as well as creating a path toward open standards and open platform adoption.

Narr and his team worked to ensure that the resulting cloud journey wasn't relegated to a lift-and-shift exercise in which the same old capabilities simply end up running on a new technology stack. Instead, he used the opportunity to transform Cargill's IT landscape by exploring new ways to work. A refactored core and a modern architecture, rooted in autonomy and DevOps with an eye toward NoOps, enables the development of modern applications that run and operate on a scalable platform and can self-monitor and self-heal. "The technology is the easy part; it's the mental shift that's difficult," Narr says. "As part of this journey, we are retraining ourselves to think differently about our expectations of technology and how we consume it."

A big part of the NoOps journey is rooted in breaking down the walls between traditional IT and the business. While building the new platform, Narr and his team started by seeking out business units that possessed a startup mentality, understood the value of the platform, were already using DevOps processes, and were eager to embrace a NoOps philosophy. The IT team continued to build out the platform capabilities based on what those business teams needed.

To achieve a corresponding shift in thinking, Narr's team also looked to raise awareness beyond early adopters. To demonstrate the potential of the NoOps model, Narr took leaders through a six-hour "DevOps 101" boot camp so they could see the impact the capabilities could have on their individual businesses. The team was fully engaged—writing code snippets, checking in source code, deploying, and witnessing first-hand the power of a fully automated platform for continuous integration and deployment. The effect was eye-opening for the business.

"The first 12 months of the journey were intentionally grassroots and focused within IT, building out a core set of capabilities before people started asking for them," Narr says. "As adoption grows and success is mounting, the emphasis has shifted from the platform to the outcome: the prototype, the business proof of concept, or the new product rapidly brought to market." As Cargill's strategy evolves, the platform is becoming an embodiment of the "future-ready foundation" that is a cornerstone of the company's technology road map for its business strategy.

Commonwell's business-IT partnership
When the Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group set a goal to significantly increase its premium growth rate, the company aimed simultaneously to maintain high standards of member value, member service, and employee engagement. Leadership recognized this would require a fundamental shift in how supporting technology was deployed. To drive innovation, Commonwell's small IT department built a partnership with the business, and their common goals led to a core systems modernization project. Executed within a DevOps framework, the project is not only changing the way IT delivers services to the business but has also given rise to the organization's next major transformation: moving toward a NoOps model and serverless environment that will further enable business transformation and change how the IT team operates and manages its infrastructure.

Because Commonwell's IT department is streamlined, it has chosen to implement a cloud platform that provides an automated and secure foundation. The solution is based on an "infrastructure as code" approach, enabling better agility. The IT management processes—backup and security features, in particular—will be written into the configuration and deployed on containers. The serverless platform will allow the IT organization to build and deploy applications as cost-effective services that provide built-in availability and scalability. This will enable Commonwell IT to focus on business outcomes instead of managing servers, with automation provisioning capacity on demand.

"Our previous solution required a significant amount of infrastructure and human intervention to maintain and service operations," says IT vice president Jennifer Baziuk. "The platform and NoOps model is a fundamental shift from that traditional approach; we're looking to leverage cloud computing, software as a service, and an ecosystem of partnerships to help us manage operations rather than internalizing those costs with our own hardware and human capital."

According to Commonwell solution architect Justin Davidson, it is less about accelerating infrastructure than about enabling IT to be as agile as the business in driving speed to market and delivering continuous value. While the transition to NoOps is still in progress, Commonwell's IT team has already seen a significant impact from the move to DevOps and a serverless environment. Additionally, that success has built a groundswell of support and enthusiasm from employees and leadership for the shift to NoOps.

"From a qualitative perspective, one of IT's aspirations is to be a trusted adviser to the business," Baziuk says. "As a result of the success of our DevOps and NoOps strategies, we've earned a seat at the table for business strategy and development discussions, driving forward the conversation about how IT can be a strategic differentiator. We're freeing up our capacity so we can be the partner we aspire to be and help make digital part of Commonwell's business path forward."

DevOps, NoOps, and serverless computing are increasingly relieving IT organizations of many of the administration tasks that traditionally occupied the bulk of their time. As Cargill and Commonwell Mutual Insurance Group demonstrate, these new approaches can help shift IT's focus to higher-value work and create a stronger foundation for new business outcomes.

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