FinOps is a popular topic in the tech industry at the moment. People usually assume that it’s all about money or it’s all about the tools, but neither completely encapsulate what FinOps really is about.
Ian Watson, Head of Delivery at Burendo, explains FinOps from his point of view in the latest version of our Burendo expert blog.
"I’ve come to realise that FinOps is really about people, their behaviours and culture. How did I come to this conclusion? Let me explain. While I’m sure there are some companies out there who have had a carefully planned strategy of how they’re wanting to move to the cloud. I’m sure for a small subset of these it went roughly to plan, but honestly, I’ve not seen it often. The reality being full of ‘exciting’ surprises."
For many of organisations the strategy often only went as far as “we should leverage the cloud” and then a few good people start doing many of the right things. Alternatively, it’s the dreaded “shadow IT” and before the wider company is aware, there are already end users reliant on cloud offerings.
For this example, it’s the former:
It had started out with a small footprint in the cloud, managed by a single team. This was OK and sustainable and small enough that the team had a fair understanding of what was being used and how much was being spent on it. The one team basically did everything and to a decent level of maturity.
Such was the success that in no time at all, more accounts were added and more teams and even 3rd parties were working happily in the cloud. Delivering rapid change and innovation to the delight of customers.
So – all good right? Well, this wouldn’t be a good example if it was all smooth sailing…
So, when we first started to talk about FinOps approaches everyone’s assumption is “its job is to save us money”.
But I don’t think that’s the right way to think about “why FinOps” and “why change how we do things”.
Where we started
It was simply impossible to make sound business decisions and understand really important metrics like ROI. It would have been entirely possible that a product was looking great and bringing in thousands of pounds a week, while unknowingly costing tens of thousands to run. In this case, it wasn’t that extreme, but it could have been.
For me with FinOps, whilst saving money is usually one of the outcomes, it’s more about spending responsibly and with awareness. Awareness of how much we’re spending and awareness of how we can spend it in the most efficient way possible. Really it relates back to Lean concepts of reducing waste.
Culture change can be one of the hardest things for an organisation. Finance, Development, IT Operations & Platform teams all need to be thinking in a different way to that which worked for on-premise infrastructure and for data centres. For Finance teams in particular, this can be quite the journey as the old ‘annual budget & purchase order sign-off’ approach really falls down completely in a ‘coin-operated’ world like public cloud where costs and spend change by the minute, let alone monthly and the purchasing is done by developers directly and instantly.
Even though it’s always about people, tools are great. They’re great for adjusting people’s behaviours which in turn changes the culture.
First and foremost, visibility needs to be easy and accessible. Busy people already would rather not think about these things. Simple clarity both reduces a barrier to getting things done and also removes any plausible deniability and opportunities to claim ‘I didn’t know’.
It’s important to note that the cloud providers don’t necessarily make this as easy as it could be, so 3rd party tools really can help here – aggregating and displaying data from multiple clouds in the same dashboard. In this case, we did actually bring in Cloudability from Apptio (plenty of other tools are available) and it brought a lot of benefits very quickly, immediately giving easy visibility of:
Now we’ve looked at the tooling, what about people?
The final key change was building a collective understanding of how to use cloud services responsibly.
Working together. While there’s a natural drive for people to live in their silos and optimise their area particularly, we know from the theory of constraints (do check out Dr Eli Goldratt’s excellent book from 1984, it’s still highly relevant) that this is rarely the best approach. And indeed, cost management works best at an organisational level with everyone learning and sharing.
We introduced regular catch ups (only monthly so not too onerous) with someone representing each area and simply running through the recommendations.
Often this will lead to budget holders going away to ask questions of their teams and gradually understanding more about their area. Do we need those services? Can we turn them off sometimes?
Every month, we aimed to make more reservations and any other appropriate actions to start to improve our collective performance.
Started to collectively understand best practice. Partners are important here as we would always have questions that we may not be able to answer ourselves and it’s always great to learn from people who have experience going through the learnings themselves.
In summary (TL; DR)
Hopefully all that helps and the next time someone mentions FinOps you’ll be expecting to talk people, culture, processes and tools.