Big name companies, will they be around in 20 years?

In the age of the startup business, many big and well-known brands are starting to feel threatened. In talking to many ‘C’ level directors the reasons for that feeling is consistent. They can’t react to changes in their market quickly enough, their cost of doing business is too high and their business lines are inflexible. Having a great brand is no longer good enough!

Compare this situation with a typical startup company and they couldn’t be more different, to the point where the inverse is true. Many are true agile businesses and as a result they are taking market share from the big brands and making money. The operational and change costs are a fraction of the big brands and they have an innovative culture. It’s not difficult to see why the there’s a question mark over the viability of some of those big brands and their demise is probably only a matter of time.

So, is it all doom and gloom for the big brands? Of course not, we should never underestimate the survival instinct of their leadership team and also the pressure for change that can be exerted by shareholders. But how do they go about changing and fighting back against the startups? Simple, fight fire with fire.

The key to the fight back is all about people and culture. Culture is something that is notoriously difficult to change, but it doesn’t stop you starting it afresh. There’s no reason why the big brands shouldn’t create their own startups. But it takes significant courage and forward thinking to do this successfully. To help I’ve created a set of 5 simple rules.

  1. Don’t try and do this internally, bring in new talent that already exhibits the kind of cultural traits you’re looking for.
  2. Ring-fence your startup from the rest of your organisation and unburden it from unnecessary corporate governance, give it room to breathe.
  3. Ensure it has robust executive sponsorship so that it can do things ‘it’s way’ without undue interference.
  4. Select a new business line for the start-up to operate in or pick a problem area in an existing business line and create a direct competitor.
  5. Don’t let the startup grow too big, if it gets to c200 people split it and create another startup.

In time, the ‘children will consume the parent’ and the cycle will renew. But in essence the strategy is to make change and renewal the norm. When your culture starts to exhibit signs of stagnation, don’t try and change it, by the time you make headway another startup has already taken the best bits of your business!

So, what makes a startup culture? That’s a subject for another time. If you’re curious, get in touch.

The stated aim of UK Government is to have a digital strategy which includes Government as a Platform.

“Government as a Platform is a new way of building digital services. We’re creating a set of shared components, service designs, platforms, data and hosting, that every government service can use.

This frees up teams to spend their time designing user-centric services rather than starting from scratch, so services become easier to create and cheaper to run”.

This is exactly what our enhanced Platform as a Service ePaaS does. We provide the DevOps infrastructure, security, management and monitoring. All you need to focus on is your user-centric digital services and product, although we can help with that too.

If you’re a Government agency you can procure our services from the Digital Marketplace.

The latest and greatest, in an overflowing armoury of silver bullets, is ‘Digital Transformation’. This type of change programme requires both a new way of thinking and usually a lot of new skills and new tech. It is a pretty complicated affair.

This complexity is made a million times worse when organisations inexplicably lump all their other change initiatives under the banner of ‘digital’ too. For example, and to name just three, Agile Transformation, User Centred Design and Journey to the Cloud change projects all will fit snugly into a Digital Change Programme.

So, what’s wrong with that you may ask? Well, nothing in theory, but there is the small matter of size and why you think you will succeed at all? Certainly, if you are a big company and are already stumbling on any of the ‘lesser’ components of digital transformation then logic would tell you that a much larger programme is almost guaranteed to fail.

As I alluded to in a previous article sometimes we just have to say to prospective digital transformation customers ‘don’t bother, it will be a waste of time and money’. Certainly, in our experience, any initiative with the words ‘global transformation’ associated to it is a doomed one.

Of course, there are always the odd exceptions and a few large organisations transform successfully but usually because they were forced to do so. For example, UK Governments digital by default agenda is one that should be singled out for praise, however, they are still some way off realising the £billions of annual savings that justified their transformation in the first place.

So, what should you do if you are a big enterprise?

Well, if you already decided to go the traditional transformation route, you may want to consider ‘chunking’ up’ the programme into much smaller components. Unsurprisingly, given our expertise, we always start with trying to help operations work more collaboratively with their IT department. This sounds like a big culture change, and it is, but there are some simple techniques and tooling that you can use to show the benefit before having to win the hearts and minds of all the stakeholders involved.

The key is to start with something small that if implemented successfully has irrefutable financial savings. We will explain how we would go about this in more detail another time. 

The second, and our much-preferred option, is don’t try and transform anything at all. This means setting up a new well-funded, start-up business within, or to the side of your existing enterprise. This approach is not only exciting but deserves several articles on its merits and how you would go about it. So, I will leave you some anecdotal evidence that it really does work instead.

If I were to have asked the average Brit ten years ago, who would make and own one of the most commercially successful Digital IoT services in the UK I am fairly confident none of them would have said British Gas. However, the Hive remote mobile phone thermostat and their telemetric smart boilers have been an enormous success. Did British Gas try and transform themselves from a utilities provider into a funky new-tech engineering business? No, of course they didn’t. What they did do was recruit some highly intelligent and gifted people and said here’s some money, go and make this business a success, and they did!



If your situation is anything like the hundreds of prospects and customers that we speak to you will almost certainly be at one of the following three stages with DevOps:

1/ You have gone and cracked it – well done!

In business terms this means you have massively reduced your infrastructure costs AND you can deliver high-quality, scalable, digital product and internal systems faster than any of your competitors.

In technical terms it means you wouldn’t consider building software unless it was test-driven and within a continuous delivery framework – all well and good but many are at this stage. However, you also have high quality infrastructure as code (IaC) meaning you can spin up and tear down data centre scale environments in minutes. Security is baked in from day one and failover, auto-scaling, auto-healing is not a problem and Chaos Monkey is your friend. You know not only how to spell Kubernetes but can actually make containerisation work at scale. Your system response times are lightning fast due to content delivery networks and in some cases serverless cloud solutions. Naturally you are also making full use of what the cloud was designed for so nothing is ever up and running when not in use and things like clustering for your latest big data project is a breeze.

Your developers don’t laugh nervously, cry or resign when you tell them that new system they are building they will also be providing free 24/7 support for?

2/ Somewhere in the middle

If you’re working for an organisation that have accomplished all of the above then please contact us immediately, in confidence, as we want to offer you a job!

More likely you have accomplished some of the above. Tell-tale signs of this stage can be varied but some of the more high-level ones can include:

3/ Don’t know what DevOps is

Why isn’t it called OpsDev out of interest?



By now you will have worked out that we have been slightly underhand as, with a few honourable exceptions, practically everyone falls into stages 2 or 3. However, we really can, and do, get our customers to stage number 1 if they’re ready to go there.

We have consultants and engineers available in April 2017. We have a finite number which we will offer on a first come first served basis. Prior to this we’re very happy for you to check us out so if you require case studies or references please do contact us.

As a consultancy we’re used to and actively encourage flexible engagement models. So if you need someone for a day, or a year, fixed price or T&M we are here to listen to what you need.