Jon Hammant of Accenture: The Only DevOps Constant is Change

In this episode of DevOps Radio, host Brian Dawson talks to Jon Hammant of Accenture. Hammant explains his role at the organization and how the company has been able to scale its own DevOps transformation.

Brian Dawson: Hey, this is Brian Dawson from CloudBees and I'm here with Jon Hammant. Did I produce that correctly, Jon?

Jon Hammant: That is correct.

Brian: Of Accenture. It's a pleasure to have you. Jon you and I were talking before we started up the podcast here and it was interesting to learn that you have a wide range of deep and pretty impressive experience in terms of IT. To start out actually, can you tell me a little bit about your current role, what you're doing today, but then I'm also really interested in kind of hearing about what you've done in the past and what brought you to the point where you are today.

Jon: Yeah, sounds good. So at the moment I work at Accenture as managing director. I've been with Accenture for a bit over a year so coming up to about 15 months or so. I run DevOps for the UK and Ireland for us, which is really interesting so Accenture is a fascinating company in the way it organizes itself so effectively I run the DevOps group that we...

Brian: Internal or no?

Jon: Internal and external. So we've got about a sizable number of people sitting in the UK and that's dealing with clients, we do a number of different things, so we do DevOps advisory, we have a platform team, shared service, and then also on top of that, I run the DevOps platform globally for Accenture and for you guys actually.

Brian: So you get bored. You don't have anything to do. No, you've got your work cut out for you.

Jon: I can honestly tell you it is the busiest I have ever been in my life.

Brian: I can imagine.

Jon: I mean in theory we're going to, well our strategy at the moment, which we're executing out we're going to try to grow 100 percent year-on-year this year and 100 percent year-on-year next year so it's busy.

Brian: Right, very modest goals. So I'm going to want to go back into your background because you told me some interesting things, but something popped into my mind as you were talking there. It sounds like a major portion of what you do for Accenture and Accenture is doing for clients is answering the question of the how of DevOps.

Jon: Yep, yep.

Brian: I'm curious on thoughts to sort of prime it. You know I think we're at a place in terms of industry understanding and maturity where the why is a given.

Jon: Yep.

Brian: People know they need to do it, they have a general idea of the concepts, but I'm hearing that and running into it's DevOps supplied that is presenting people problems. Does that … is that correct and is that ... what are you seeing there?

Jon: Totally. So the difficulty we see with, I think it's with DevOps and with cloud honestly, is we see a lot of people trying to go down that route and they'll go to a point where they have one or two POCs or they have kind of the good teams doing it. Where we see our customers at the moment really struggling is how to scale that across whole organizations and that's really tricky, really, really tricky. And I think it's … so for the portfolio of clients we have there's very few I think and we're moving that way, but there's very few that do it properly at scale across the whole business and I think globally there's about a handful of companies that have done it. So it's a really, really interesting time to be involved.

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. So I've observed a similar thing where there's a steep drop-off. So I often ask, “How mature are you in terms of having a connected and continuous process from left to right?” We get a certain number of responses, 85 percent, 65 percent. Okay now, “How many are you, how many of you are doing that on most to all of your teams?” And as you can assume, right, the drop-off is just a cliff. So you are as part of Accenture, you are helping people kind of cross that chasm to enterprise adoption.

Jon: Exactly. So one of the really interesting things about Accenture is we're a a massive company about half the size of Birmingham.

Brian: How big is it?

Jon: Four hundred and forty thousand give or take or around that, so it's big, and out of that we've got a very large percentage of that are developers. There are hundreds of thousands of developers.

Brian: Wow, okay. It's unique. It'd be hard to find an organization that had that many developers in one place.

Jon: It is huge in all honesty. So it's interesting where we're trying to take it at the moment because we... I think one of the ways this thing works well is we're most personally selfish, but selfish for clients in a weird way. So lots of the things that I'm now doing with external clients are based on the things that we've done internally. I mean we've done them internally to save money, to move faster, to deliver better, and it's really interesting taking those learnings and that scale and now trying to flip it over and help clients do the same. It's a really nice kind of win-win solution for us and for our clients. It's very good.

Brian: So kind of merging our initial question and your response to that and thank you for the response, so we've kind of talked about the state of DevOps today, right, companies are struggling to scale it; yeah, they get it. You happened to have shared with me that you were practically born into IT.

Jon: Yeah.

Brian: Now you started doing some level of programming or coding as early as 3 years old?

Jon: Yeah, the BBC model 64K model B, I think I started getting into it when I was about 3.

Brian: Wow.

Jon: So basic, you boot the thing up you had to do it to run games, and I still remember doing print and echoes. I mean it was print and echoes, what an original name, and I was blown away from it. And for me it goes back. I've struggled up here on my fingertips, I've worked really hard, but then it was nice. My dad was a prototype wireman. He wired the world's first ever MRI scanner or body scanner as it was known back in ...

Brian: So you were around some very, actually hard to access and expensive hardware?

Jon: Not really. It got given to me in my arms. I'd love to say it, but I think and I'm really dyslexic. I'm really, really, like on the dyslexic scale I'm the really … I forget everyone's name, I've got loads of challenges around that, but for me IT just clicked.

Brian: Now we're not going to be able to fully sort of dive down that topic. I was actually having a long conversation sort of about learning disabilities, so it's really interesting and we'll have to bookmark this for another conversation, but what it sounds like you're saying is you suffer from dyslexia, you're sharing that, but you … computer science was a place where you weren't ...

Jon: It fits. So I'm uniquely good at picturing things in my head and kind of rotating them around and doing ... I've got a very visual mind internally and for whatever reason that just fits with IT. So I went from my BBC Model, coded on that, went over to a _____ 500, I still remember 512K giant, loved the thing, and then yeah, did that through the PC era. Installed Linux a very, very, very long time ago so it's weird for me because I've done this since the beginning and so it's all kind of interesting going forward because it's … I feel like it's easier because it's always been something I've done.

Brian: Right, so there's an interesting thing and a lot of ways I'd love to go with this. I wish I had more time. But so first actually let me thank you for being open and sharing the dyslexia because I think that's important. We here at DevOps World and Jenkins World are carrying on conversations about diversity in tech and I think when we talk about things like dyslexia that's an aspect of diversity and it's important for people to understand that someone can start there and have achieved what you've achieved so thank you. Now so actually yeah, it's really interesting. So now having had kind of that passion and that experience with computer science, IT, and programming, what's different today as opposed to you know 10, 15, or even 20 years ago in this space?

Jon: So I think we're really at a tipping point so it's interesting seeing IT. For a long period of time it got very commoditized I think and there was probably about 10, 15 years ago a view of IT being a cost center a little bit more so it was cut costs, make the whole thing cheaper. And I think where the real change is starting to happen is people understand the value of what's going on.

Brian: That's interesting and when you say the business understands the value of what's going on now.

Jon: Yeah, exactly.

Brian: That's interesting. You know what, I hadn't and I appreciate you thinking of that and sort of inspire that thought because yeah, part of what's at the core of DevOps we call it dev and ops, but it's a mutual understanding as well not only between dev and ops, but DevOps and the business would you say?

Jon: Completely and I think it's … I mean there's many challenges around DevOps we find. So for a very long time I think its been a qualitative side. People have thought DevOps is a good thing because it's ... it feels like the right thing. Where we're seeing it now start to land is going into that quantitative benefit of other things and that's a lot of the work we're doing is to ... we've got all kinds of interesting delivery models we can offer of how financially people even pay for things and a lot of that goes down to actually proving the benefit of what we're doing. And that's hard, it's really, really hard, but it's amazingly valuable because I think at that point you can understand where to spend money what actually makes sense behind it.

Brian: So what are some examples of what proving the benefits actually looks like? Is there a specific metric? Can you go a little bit more into that?

Jon: I think it's difficult. So for us, DevOps shouldn't be seen as something that makes stuff cheaper. We still people go into it in different ways and we see people that view it as a cost-cutting exercise. It doesn't tend to be the most fun outcome and they don't seem to ... it's not the right way of doing it. So where we see it as a real advantage, as a differentiator, it's that time to market. You can get products out the door quicker, you have happier developers, it's that speeding up the transformation. So it's interesting looking at how the market is changing. So one thing I always think is monitoring products. So I grew up and it was big brother, _____, a few very –

Brian: A handful of...

Jon: Yeah and they stayed the same for 10, 15 years.

Brian: You kind of had a DIY, do-it-yourself audience.

Jon: Yeah and it didn't, you know, it was relatively static whereas now you look at the monitoring products and they're, every year there's something new. So the only, we've almost got to a point where the only constant is change and that's a really interesting that's a very different way from before where you can't rely ... no one wants to be the next Woolworth's or HMV or company going under, so the only thing you can actually try to structure your company around is the ability to change quickly and that's where I think DevOps is the key.

Brian: That's interesting. That's a key thing and embracing it, right?

Jon: Yeah, yeah.

Brian: I guess if we look back sort of 20 years ago the approach, and I talked about this in an earlier conversation, was more about, “How do we minimize change? How do we prevent change?” Because change is risk and we've sort of flipped that on the head, right and said, "You know what, change is happening. Let's embrace it."

Jon: Change is good. Change is good and it's this whole change from effectively going for a small number of large, monolithic changes that you.. I mean I come from a financial services background so...

Brian: Stuff was fast all the time.

Jon: Well more that you'd try and limit the number of times you did a release and I think some of that even goes back to almost releasing stuff on floppy or ... You think how often you used to ship stuff it was every year or two years and now it's completely opposite. So we want to get to a point where we release as many times as you possibly can and each change should be small and contained and that, we think, is the way to get value out faster and then also just to reduce ... it actually reduces your risk rather than increasing it.

Brian: Yeah, it's interesting that you say that so I was going to ask this and we'll move again to some future stuff, but so being facetious, DevOps is just about going fast for the sake of going fast, right? And it’s, “No.”

Jon: Not quite, not quite.

Brian: Right. No, when I heard you say, and the reason I want to go through this, is that actually we are going faster. Not only do we deliver value faster but what's often lost is we are reducing risk in a lot of ways by going faster.

Jon: Totally. I think one of the hard things around it though is what you're delivering there's more and more focus on that being correct because if the end ... if you're changing your website and you want to be able to release very quickly, if what you're releasing isn't very good and is going to lose you money as a company, you're just going to lose money quicker. So it changes I think the owner so actually what you do has to be from a business perspective really and it's that … what really interests me is this kind of fusing of business and technology and bringing them close together and that's...I don't think in my whole career I've ever seen anything that's quite like this. The change is on its way without and it's really interesting to look after.

Brian: It's kind of exciting, yeah. I agree fully. I get a little bit excited about it. So we were going to talk about the future.

Jon: Yeah.

Brian: So I want to merge a couple of things. You already started to ... we talked a bit earlier and you led into what the future of DevOps looks like.

Jon: Yep.

Brian: And I also see that you guys as Accenture, and I believe supported by your DevOps team, are focusing on the future in another space by wholehearted deliver efforts in the space of blockchain, cryptocurrency.

Jon: Yep.

Brian: Okay, so a couple of things. I'm just going to open it up and let you go. What is the future of DevOps? What is the future do blockchain, distributed ledger, cryptocurrency relate to DevOps? Is there any commonality? Go.

Jon: Definitely. So the future of DevOps for me, serverless is coming and you know the … I started my career as a sysadmin, I was very close, I loved working in a data center, I was very close to it on that, but the server is going and everywhere in view it's getting to a point where it's either functions or containers; that's just the reality in the next few years and that's an interesting change for many different ways. So conflict management for example, so conflict management probably won't be around for that much longer in the current sense I think because you get to a point where you have nothing to conflict manage so it kind of disperses. You've got that on one side. We're doing a lot. So some of my team at the moment are doing a number of blockchain prototypes on Ethereum and Hyperledger. We're doing some interesting stuff, a lot of interesting stuff from a disintermediation perspective. And from a DevOps perspective, it's a really interesting paradigm because you've got the whole ... you've almost got the release quickly, release fast but when you start rolling some of this into the blockchain it's a one-way process so it's really challenging how you start to test and simulate that in a way that you can still have that agility, but enter an immutable system and it's all full of challenges actually.

Brian: That's interesting. And so you guys are actually applying or working in a space where you're applying distributed ledger, or maybe not distributed, we'll just say blockchain technology to the DevOps supply chain or DevOps lifecycle.

Jon: Yeah, yeah, yes. So we have a group within Accenture called the Liquid Studio; it's a fascinating, fascinating area.

Brian: It sounds fun. It sounds like I want to work there.

Jon: It's cool and the whole point of it is they will work, they'll apply design thinking principles, and they'll effectively take you from a point where you come up with an idea into a POC and a really ... and so I have a member of my team sit in there because the only way they can do that is by using DevOps because otherwise ...

Brian: You can't move.

Jon: You can't spin the cogs. So we're doing a number of projects with them around the blockchain. We've done some interesting stuff around identity so there's a project ID 2020, so I think close to ...

Brian: That's going to change a lot, the identity space. I'm sorry to cut you off.

Jon: No, no.

Brian: But that's another place that's going to transform in terms of how we interact and manage identities.

Jon: Totally.

Brian: So just so you know, I have to wrap this up, but I can actually sit here and talk to you for a couple of hours if I have my druthers. Jon, before we wrap it up let me give you a chance to say, do you have any final words or any final thoughts for our listeners?

Jon: I mean it's been really interesting coming to the conference. You guys are doing fantastically well.

Brian: Thank you.

Jon: It's good. For us the space is interesting. We are aiming not to win, but we are aiming to outgrow all the other companies in this space in the UK so it's a really, really interesting year or two ahead of us and then I think beyond so it's good.

Brian: Well awesome. I'm excited. I see you guys doing some big things. It's exciting to watch and you know progress for somebody like Accenture in terms of DevOps, machine learning, et cetera is progress for the community. So Jon, thank you for joining us. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the show. I look forward to talk to you again soon.

Jon: Thank you very much.

Brian: All right, thank you.

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Brian Dawson

Brian is a DevOps evangelist and practitioner with a focus on agile, continuous integration (CI), continuous delivery (CD) and DevOps practices. He has over 25 years as a software professional in multiple domains including quality assurance, engineering and management, with a focus on optimization of software development. Brian has led an agile transformation consulting practice and helped many organizations implement CI, CD and DevOps.

Follow Brian Dawson on Twitter.