Report from Atlassian Team Tour: Government Symposium

Selfies with Astronaut Mike Massimino

By Dick Stark

This past Tuesday through Thursday, RightStar exhibited at the virtual Atlassian Government Symposium. Also known as Team Tour: Government, the conference focused on, “how Atlassian is shifting its R&D investments and building new agile solutions to help government agencies address the rapid and dramatic changes the world is undergoing.” Here is a short summary.

Mike Massimino, Keynote Speaker, and former NASA Astronaut, and Professor, Columbia University gave arguably the best presentation of the conference. Who wouldn’t want to be an astronaut? Mike got the bug when he was six while watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and he never gave up on his dream. Most of us would have “thrown in the towel” especially after three NASA rejections, the last one due to a medical disqualification for non-perfect vision. Instead Mike worked with a child optometrist and trained his eyes and brain to see better–normally a procedure that only succeeds with children. It was enough to improve his vision to qualify for the NASA program.

Mike holds the record for the most spacewalking time by successfully completing a complicated repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. Mike explained that “failure was not an option,” after he stripped a screw that prevented him from removing a handrail that was blocking access to the repair. His solution? He ripped the handrail off with his “bare hands” to successfully complete the repair—again showing his determination and calm demeanor under pressure.

In the question and answer session later that day, hosted by the Northern Virginia Atlassian Community group, I asked when NASA will return to Mars. His answer: the moon by the end of the decade, and Mars, ten years later—something for all of us to look forward to.

Transformation in a dynamic environment, was the topic of Atlassian’s conference opener. Led by Anu Bharadwaj, Head of Atlassian’s Cloud Platform. Anu began with a brief history of the world, from hunter-gathers to the industrial revolution to the Internet to the Cloud, and finally to the Pandemic, where the world changed faster than ever before in just a matter of months. Anu asked, “How do you manage this rapid dynamic change?” Her answer: by unleashing the potential of individual teams. She went on to show how government agencies at the team, program and enterprise level can reach their full potential, especially with Atlassian toolsets, and specifically those in the cloud.

Anu summed it up this way, “Atlassian is now a cloud first company. We know that we can serve our customers better with no hassle upgrades and migrations with no worries and the best possible experience.”   

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IT Predictions: 2021

On Thursday, I tuned into an itSMF/Freshworks sponsored IT Predictions 2021 webinar with presenters Richard Pastore, The Hackett Group; Peter Baskette, Riverbed Technology; and Joy Su, Freshworks. The panelists presented the dynamics shaping 2021 and explored how to harness disruption to drive meaningful change and growth. Discussion centered around the results from the Hackett Group’s Key Issues Study and how organizations plan to adapt to a new normal and how that impacts the workforce and the IT operating model. I was relieved to hear that despite the SolarWinds breach, 2021 is not predicted to be another year focused primarily about security. And I was glad to hear that RightStar (and XTIVIA) are on the right track for 2021. Here are some reasons why.

Most Important Objectives of IT for 2021

Other than security at #1, the top four are:

  • Act as a strategic partner to the business
  • Align IT skills and talent to changing business needs
  • Cultivate a customer centric, innovative IT culture
  • Accelerate IT digital transformation

I was surprised to see that other than security, the next most important objectives are all interrelated and fall, at least to some extent in RightStar’s “wheelhouse.” On the DevOps and Lean Agile PPM side we offer the tools and consulting services, especially with Jira, Confluence, and Jira Align, to not just keep digital transformations moving forward, but also with Jira Align to monitor progress and ensure that the Agile work scales to meet the specific business goals and objectives.

Of course based upon everyone’s current work from home environment, tools like Jira and Confluence promote collaborative team work and offer a unique opportunity to affect change throughout the organization. Indeed, even in the absence of an Agile process focus, just having Agile based toolsets (based upon principles such as keep it simple, automate and optimize, and start where you are) means organizations can become Agile without really having to try.

Most Common IT Transformation Initiatives Planned for 2021

The top three are:

  • Revise/automate workflow to reduce manual dependencies
  • Improve ability of data to enable business value
  • Upskill/reskill IT staff to better support business needs

Richard Pastore discussed the importance of process automation to eliminate manual dependencies and bottlenecks. The Hackett survey found that 73% of IT respondents cite this as a major 2021 initiative. Automation is certainly top-of-mind for RightStar ITSM customers with employee on-boarding the most common digital workflow. A large county made a commitment several years ago to automate key department processes at organizations outside IT like HR and Finance, and we are working on a similar initiative at a similar county, also with the Remedyforce platform as the technology enabler. A commercial organization is standardizing on Remedyforce for its customer care/field service system. With integrations to systems like Replicon timekeeping, they see Remedyforce as a mission critical system to be used by all the support teams within the organization.

How will IT Performance be Judged?

The top four are:

  • Business operations stability/continuity
  • Progress on digital business transformation
  • Cybersecurity incidents
  • Impact on the bottom line

This certainly mirrors Atlassian’s and BMC’s push to the cloud for SaaS delivery of all its current offerings. And what better Agile tool is there than Jira Align to monitor digital business transformation progress.

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Raymond James Software Disruptor Day

By Dick Stark

Earlier this month, I received an invitation to the Raymond James “Software Disruptor Day,” featuring several private software companies in the Automation, Developer, DevOps, Security, and Identity spaces. The event was a fireside chat format with key executives from each company presenting. Participating companies included: Redis Labs (Database), Nintex (Workflow Automation), Illumio (Zero Trust), Auth0 (IDaaS), Puppet (Infrastructure Automation), DataRobot (Data Science) and GitLab (DevOps). Below I’ve summarized the content from three companies that apply to RightStar’s business.

DevOps Tools: GitLab is an Atlassian competitor and strong player in the DevOps tool marketplace. While starting out as a code repository, GitLab is now doing more than $150M in revenue annually. Its DevSecOps toolset platform supports the entire software development lifecycle including Agile development, CI/CD, source code management, and value stream management.  

And it is gaining in popularity. GitLab claims its end-to-end lifecycle model is unique among competitors such as Atlassian and Microsoft. The good news is that this is a growing space–Raymond James estimates the DevOps toolset space at $14B, meaning there will be plenty of business to go around.

Automation: Puppet and Nintex highlighted a recurring theme: Customers are increasingly automating processes wherever possible to improve efficiency while reducing IT/developer workload. This is also true in the ITSM space as BMC and ServiceNow use Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and run book tools to speed up repetitive processes such as onboarding tasks.

Nintex was founded in 2006 with a current revenue run rate now in excess of $200M annually. Their target market is IT Ops managers looking to automate basic IT process using a “low code” process similar to DocuSign. Nintex focuses on visual business process mapping, automated document generation and deep integration with SharePoint, O365 and Salesforce.

Puppet is an IT infrastructure automation company founded in 2009 and focused in the DevOps space helping customers manage and automate server configuration, security risk mitigation, compliance, and patch management. Puppet helps customers scale the management of their IT infrastructure across a large number of servers and across varied environments both on-prem and in the cloud.  (BMC’s TrueSight Automation for Servers performs similar functionality.)

So, what are the takeaways and how does this impact our customers?

  • Automation is becoming increasingly important to our customers and partners. We’ve seen this firsthand with new automation functionality in both the Atlassian and BMC toolsets. And just last week one of our government customers mentioned that they made a huge investment in UiPath to automate many ERP functions.
  • Ready or not, automation and especially RPA is here to stay.
  • Developer/DevOps toolset consolidation is happening and will benefit the market leaders, especially Microsoft, Atlassian, and GitLab. This should be good news as RightStar continues to grow its Atlassian business.

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December’s High Tech Prayer Breakfast

By Dick Stark

To no one’s surprise, this year’s High-Tech Prayer Breakfast (HTPB) was held virtually. Although I missed having a real breakfast, the message, “The Reality of Reconciliation: What is our role in bridging the gap of division in America,” was an antidote to these racially divisive times.  The HTPB is an organization centered around bringing the gospel of Jesus to the business community in DC and Northern Virginia and annually hosts a breakfast in the December timeframe usually where one or two leaders discuss how Jesus impacted their lives. Moderated by Lee Self, a business consultant, here’s a brief report:

Joshua Symonett, a pastor, leadership consultant and former NFL football player kicked things off by discussing bridge building, which he described as uncomfortable but work that helps break barriers.  Joshua’s parents didn’t have the opportunities he had and placed him in diverse environments so he could understand the world better. Joshua pointed out, “The American dream is not about comfort. Reconciliation must be about sacrifice. Jesus put himself in an uncomfortable position and look at what Jesus had to deal with–sacrifice. These interactions are critical if we have a unified future.”

Up next was Steve Park, founder and executive director, Little Lights, a non-profit that empowers under-served youth and families in Washington DC. Steve discussed how both healing and unity are needed. He teaches a class, Race Literacy 101 which confronts race history and helps Christians understand the history of race and why we are so divided. Now his classes are full. Steve exclaimed, “Education makes people realize that we are not a post-racial society as we have hoped. We have to do the hard work of understanding why we are so divided. There is worked to be done and singing kumbaya is not the answer.”

Also inspiring was Travis Mason, technology leader with years of experience designing effective regulatory and public policy strategies for emerging technologies. Travis told a story about a Russian experiment that put six people together in the desert for a 520 days to simulate long space voyages. The findings included: It is the small details that matter and it is the connections between “you and your neighbor” that matters more than anything. It is not the money spent on the spacecraft. Travis concluded, “The investment you make on relationships with people is more important than on the spacecraft…. When we think of the current situation, for example, COVID, diversity/divisiveness it reminds us that we are all on this spaceship together. COVID moves and shifts…Our future is incumbent on how we interact with each other.”

My prayer for 2021 is for healing, not just from COVID but from the racial divisiveness of 2020. Let’s lean and move forward to a deeper sense of unity in 2021. Happy New Year!

See: December High Tech Prayer Breakfast Replay

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RightStar, Powered Now by XTIVIA

On November 20, we announced that RightStar was acquired by XTIVIA, a company like RightStar except bigger. I’ll stay on for a minimum of three years running XTIVIA’s RightStar business unit. Not much is changing. RightStar will remain as a separate entity, reporting to XTIVIA CEO Dennis Robinson. What follows below is an excerpt from my Weekly Star article to RightStar employees.

It was a labor of love these past six months trying to find the best company that would be a win/win for all. I truly believe I hit the jackpot. XTIVIA is not a venture capital firm or equity partner only interested in cutting wherever they can and selling for a higher price later. They are looking for a long-term partner that will be successful over the long run.

XTIVIA has promised no personnel cuts and I believe them. While we can’t guarantee employment, I think (and XTIVIA agrees) that there is plenty of life left in RightStar and much to keep us busy moving forward. We have a good BMC pipeline going into next year to sustain our BMC business with several upgrades and new opportunities to start off the year.

Our Atlassian and Agile business units are also picking up steam. We’ve had several Jira Align calls recently and are building an impressive pipeline. Atlassian’s push to the cloud also creates enormous opportunity. Additionally, we have continued DCIM potential with Nlyte and roadmapping/strategy opportunity with our newest partner, Aha!

Don’t forget the tremendous cross-selling opportunity that XTIVIA creates. At some point we will start selling Remedyforce to XTIVIA’s Salesforce accounts. Or, Jira or Agile coaching to their software development customers. Don’t forget that Matrix, XTIVIA’s parent is also a BMC and Atlassian partner.

I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and viewing the pictures of our first All-Hands meeting from October 2003, more than 17 years ago. Big thanks to those for your 17 years of service to RightStar. Thanks also to others who are not far behind.  I said 17 years ago  that the future is so bright we’ll all need shades, and I meant it. Now, I’m happy to say the same thing, and I mean that too. Thanks everyone for your service to RightStar all these years. The best years are still to come.

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The Delicate Art of Bureaucracy

I’ve just started Mark Schwartz’s newly published book, “The Delicate Art of Bureaucracy, Digital Transformation with the Monkey, the Razor, and the Sumo Wrestler,” and like his 2017 book, “A Seat at the Table,” it is an excellent read. Mark Schwartz, by the way is the one that is credited to helping bring Agile into the Federal Government when he was the CIO at USCIS and this book is a reflection of his experiences in government and how big government can become more agile and efficient.

Schwartz says that although we have a natural aversion to bureaucracy, we can’t manage without it. I remember in one of my first meetings right out of school while working for a large company, one of my managers slammed his fist on the table and proclaimed, “I am not a bureaucrat,” implying that this was a bad thing. And Schwartz has several stories like the $3000 coffee pot and where the Army spent $5400 and 160 days to save $100 on $11,000 in spare parts.

Schwartz also mentioned that shortly after he first joined US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and EOD’d (entered on duty) he sat in on a meeting to discuss making a minor change to the USCIS webpage and was told it would take eight months to make the change. Why? MD-102, Management Directive 102, a DHS policy used for overseeing the delivery of IT systems. It defined 21 distinct roles in the oversight process. Not exactly agile…. Like a Chaos Monkey, Schwartz and his team determined that the only way to change the process was to invoke the monkey—to provoke and observe.

Like a sumo wrestler (think use your opponent’s strength against them) Schwartz and his team investigated new ways to improve the process and came up with a solution—a new Management Directive, which they named MIS-CIS-OIT-001, which carefully defined what they meant by agile. Although, technically a non-policy, since Schwartz didn’t have the authority to create his own Directive, it worked well. Outcomes like “frequent delivery of valuable product,” and “work that flows in small batches and is validated,” were among the desired outcomes.

Finally, by invoking Occam’s Razor (think: don’t add extra work that doesn’t add value) Schwartz trimmed procurement times and up-front business case building, and created almost instant infrastructure access via the cloud.

Schwartz summed things up this way:

“By mastering the ways of the Monkey, the Sumo Wrestler, and the Razor, we not only transformed IT, but we’d also set up checks and balances to make sure it stayed transformed. We’d gone from releasing new IT capabilities once every eighteen months to three times a day for some of our IT systems. We’d taken a project that had been “underway” –writing documents but not doing anything –for four years, and in just six weeks begun deploying new IT capabilities that had measurable, meaningful business impact.

Now that’s what bureaucracy can do!”

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Report from BMC’s Virtual Exchange

By Dick Stark

Instead of multiple regional live events, BMC’s Exchange was held as a virtual conference last Tuesday/Wednesday to an excellent turnout. The good news–BMC continues to lead the industry in key areas such as innovation and user experience. Here is a short Exchange update.

BMC’s Exchange event was bolstered by the recent Gartner ITSM 2020 Magic Quadrant report. BMC Helix continues in the most holiest of places– the upper right-hand quadrant. Even better, the Gartner Critical Capabilities Report, a companion piece to the Magic Quadrant showed BMC leading the industry in 9 of 13 ITSM critical capabilities. And Helix leads the Agile and DevOps support use cases by a significant margin.

See: Gartner Critical Capabilities 2020 Report

BMC’s new CEO and President Ayman Sayed kicked off the event by leading an autonomous digital enterprise discussion with BMC customers Chris Adams, Park Place, and Christine Shoneweis, SAP. Ayman discussed how rapid technology advances can turn a potential disruption into a major competitive advantage for Autonomous Digital Enterprises such as Park Place and SAP.

I also attended “The Next and New for Every Autonomous Digital Enterprise.” Ram Chakravarti, CTO, and Ali Siddiqui, Chief Product Officer, walked us through the five prongs of BMC’s Autonomous Digital Enterprise Strategy: Automation Everywhere, Data Driven Business, Adaptive Cybersecurity, and Transcendent Customer Experience. This framework is layered on top of IT Operations focus areas of Customer Centricity, Agility, and Actionable Insights.

What this provides BMC is a united platform for engagement, observability, and actionability. Combined with an integration platform, Helix offers integration with third party tools and DevOps processes and tools. The bottom line: BMC offers a platform that beats Service Now in the Gartner defined critical ITSM capabilities of Development Integration, AI ITSM, User Experience and Flexibility, process and workflow design, and collaboration, to name a few. This means that Helix is winning in the one area that can make a difference: innovation.

Speaking of innovation, Ali Siddiqui pointed out that BMC Innovation Labs is not standing still. In-flight and planned incubations include: Helix Edge Computing, Data Enrichment, DevOps plus-ins for best in class orchestration, DataOps-DQ Governance, Lineage and Security, and Serverless Monitoring and Management.

In sum, BMC offers a single platform, single monitor, consumer grade experience for the enterprise.  And most importantly, market validation for why BMC. I’m optimistic that BMC’s success means continued growth and opportunity.

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Introduction to BMC Helix Monitor

By Dick Stark

Last Wednesday, RightStar presented a webinar, “Introduction to BMC Helix Monitor,” led by BMC’s Mike Bell.  Mike discussed BMC’s new SaaS based solution that combines broad monitoring and event management capabilities with a containerized microservices architecture.  What’s exciting is that the on-premise version known previously as TrueSight–the combination of ProactiveNet and Patrol, is now available in the cloud as Helix Monitor.  

I opened for Mike by discussing the movement in the ITSM space towards an ITSM platform that adds IT Operations Management (ITOM). At BMC this is called Data Service Operations Management or DSOM, and it includes both the BMC Helix ITSM (formerly Remedy) and BMC Helix Monitor. Given the attention paid to agility required by digital businesses, customers now expect an integrated solution. Three areas of strategic consideration we discussed were:

On-going transformation and innovation. Coincidently, Tesla suffered a network outage the same day as the webinar. This news spread over social media in just an hour.  Tesla’s stock dropped, some customers were locked out of their cars, Tesla’s website went down, and Tesla stores were unable to process orders. Although connectivity was soon restored, a Twitter commenter pointed out that Tesla’s network infrastructure was likely to blame.

I asked Mike if Tesla had Helix Monitor, could this have been prevented? Of course the answer depends on what caused the outage, but Helix Monitor does monitor the network and application infrastructure, looking for known and unknow events. For today’s digital business’ that require 100% uptime, integrated monitoring tools are essential.

Automation has the potential to provide a greater return on investment than any other IT investment. For example, proactive service resolution, a Helix Monitor basic function, creates incidents from events and efficiently routes tickets with the associated related causal configuration item to speed identification of root cause and reduce MTTR.

End User Experience and Productivity. The ability to improve customer satisfaction, both employee and external customers, has always been both an ITSM and ITOM objective. Helix Monitor acts as the “portal of portals,” or “monitor of monitors.” Its graphical visualization and drill down shows performance of all metrics related to an infrastructure. Configuration of monitoring, event management and alarm generation follows a policy-based approach that allows for a one-to many deployment model to streamline and simplify administration of the solution.

Mike Bell then concluded the webinar demoing several use cases.  Helix Monitor, when integrated with Helix ITSM can better deliver support for ongoing operations while facilitating digital and cloud transformation. This means the organization (think Tesla) can meet the demands of the business more effectively—no matter how quickly it grows and evolves.

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BMC Helix Cloud Migrations

By Dick Stark

Several weeks ago, BMC’s Joel Jacks presented a Helix cloud migration partner webinar. Joel discussed how current Remedy customers can efficiently migrate from their current Helix on-prem version into the cloud. This is a major focus for BMC and its partners– to preserve the BMC Remedy customer install base and migrate into a total SaaS based cloud solution. Here are some highlights.

Why migrate? It’s not just BMC. All software vendors now offer cloud solutions, and some like ServiceNow offer cloud-based software only. Once migrated to Helix, future software upgrades are mostly automatic. The good news: no more hassles about server provisioning, database implementations, middleware and operating systems. The BMC Helix platform eliminates the need for expensive upgrades, which has irked many a BMC customer over the years. Helix is not exactly brand new, as several years ago RightStar upgraded a local University’s on-premise system to Helix, and now they are a BMC and RightStar success story. Below are several other potential upgrade candidates.

A DOD customer is making good progress with on-premise Remedy but understands the value a Helix cloud migration will bring to the organization in terms of process and productivity improvements. Thus, their decision to move to the Helix cloud was an easy one. BMC made the decision even easier by moving forward with FedRAMP IL4 certification which offers DOD accounts like this one the level of security they require.

RightStar is involved with another DOD customer where we will provide a long overdue on-prem migration to the current Remedy version. This is an important upgrade as it will provide an opportunity to upgrade the aging network and server infrastructure. Once upgraded, the next phase is Digital Workplace Advanced followed by an eventual move into the cloud.

A mid-Atlantic Hospital System has been a RightStar customer for more than five years. Due to the pandemic, budgets have been cut and it is a challenging time to spend money. The real challenge is the cost of not doing anything. And what about process maturation and the best use of their more limited Remedy resources?  When the Remedy team spends too much valuable time managing the ITSM infrastructure, the process improvement initiatives get put on hold or have their timelines slip. The good news is that the Helix cloud will offer real hard dollar savings. The organization currently has 17 servers and Oracle, so the server and Oracle cost savings will be significant.

A similar RightStar customer, by contrast just upgraded to Remedy on-prem version 19.08. The migration was a success. For similar budgetary reasons, they are interested in waiting until next year to upgrade. Server and software expenses are the obvious reasons to migrate, but like the above customer, a move to the cloud means that the Remedy team gets to spend more time on improvements like Digital Workplace Advanced and even chatbots.  

Joel Jacks concluded the partner webinar by highlighting several customer success stories.  BMC has worked hard to create a phased migration approach with successful end results. Like BMC, RightStar has excellent upgrade experience and more cloud migrations on the way.

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Upstream

By Dick Stark

I took a few days off last week to visit family and started Dan Heath’s latest book, Upstream,I’m a Chip and Dan Heath fan, having previously read Switch (how to change things when change is hard) and Made to Stick (about the idea of stickiness). Upstream in our ITIL vernacular is about problem management. It takes its name from a parable about two friends saving drowning children constantly being swept downstream. Suddenly one of the friends wades out of the water. The other asks, “Where are you going? The friend answers, “I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.”

The book was released in early 2020 before the pandemic hit, and is a study in problem prevention, with heath care examples cited frequently. For example, in the US we spend little time and money on health education, fitness, and nutrition (upstream) and great sums of money on the cure (downstream):  Why are upstream solutions so difficult and how does this apply to what RightStar does, i.e.,  ITSM or Lean Agile?

We are a nation of fixers and problem solvers. Question: what do astronauts and RightStar consultants/salespeople have in common?  Answer: problem-solving skills. Astronauts practice endlessly, work every contingency, and visualize failure.  They work the “problem” like it really happened. Several years ago, I blogged about astronaut Chris Hadfield, who likes to say, “There is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.”

Part of the challenge with upstream problem management is that it’s not sexy or exciting. Remember we celebrate the healthcare heroes on the front-lines, not the factory workers that make the masks.  Likewise, we praise the technicians that restore the computer system back to normal after a ransomware attack rather than cybersecurity engineers that could have prevented the outage in the first place.

Rapid development is all about the ability to maintain an environment that minimizes downtime and proactively prevents smaller outages from escalating into larger ones, As a BMC partner, we know that infrastructure management is an important component of any IT organization. For example, the DevOps Handbook calls out a study citing those organizations that rebooted their servers twenty times less frequently (upstream focus), on average had five times fewer server outages. So, problem solving/prevention always trumps, “when in doubt, reboot.”

At RightStar we have had success with the BMC TrueSight offering which proactively monitors and collects data in the form of events, logs, and data. (Other systems like Splunk, Solarwinds, and Data Dog also do this). This type of problem solving results in faster MTTR, and a win/win between Dev and Ops, especially when speed of development matters.

All organizations solve problems constantly and ITIL and DevOps provides an excellent incident and problem management framework.  The end result—fewer outages, heightened quality of services, and reduced operational costs should make upstream problem management an important part of any ITSM or Lean Agile upgrade or roll-out.

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