Dell CIO praised for cutting developer teams’ ‘work and waste’

The global computing hardware leader showcased hundreds of software innovations at Dell Technologies World – 500 updates and new features coded into its storage products, integrations with major cloud providers and API-driven cloud environments for its own products – an achievement that was only possible with a radical reorganization of its development teams, led by Dell veteran and chief information officer Jen Felch.

“We are blessed,” Jeff Clarke, co-chief operating officer and vice president of Dell, said of Felch. “She’s a manufacturing engineer. She worked for a long time in our factories. She is very process-oriented. She brought that process rigor to our IT organization and worked on the first thing: standardization. You can’t do and fix anything on a large scale unless you normalize. All it did was systematically add process, structural, and engineering rigor to the way we do computing.

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Felch – who holds degrees from MIT in mechanical engineering and computer science – took over as CIO three years ago, moving from his roots as a Dell manufacturing engineer to chief information officer at one of the largest technology companies on the planet. She said back then, software engineers — who build new solutions, refactor apps and move workloads — were burdened with time-consuming ticketing processes.

“They’re the critical path to our transformation, not just for IT, but for the business, and what we found was that they were spending about 20% of their time writing software, and the rest of the time doing administrative tasks,” she says. “By creating efficiencies for developers, we’ve created efficiencies for infrastructure and for our operations teams.”

Dell developers’ ticket-based workflow meant they were constantly tracking things like infrastructure access, a security review, or meeting with teams to talk about software interconnections, activities that consumed up to 80% of their time.

“It was super pointless and not very exciting,” Felch said. “That’s not how developers really want to spend their time, is it? No one wants to spend their time doing this… When you think how hard it is to find great developers and great people who can build large-scale systems, then if you’re only using 20% ​​of their time at doing the things you specifically recruited them for, that sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? »

Automation has come to the rescue in some areas, such as adding self-service access to infrastructure, Felch said. Developers were then reorganized into “product groups” which she says are teams that each own a single product.

“Teams are fully responsible for their application,” Felch said. “The legacy version of it. The new version of it. Modernize it. Patch it. User incidents, so if someone has to call you because it’s not easy to use, it belongs to a team that is fully responsible for that job. It gave context to our developers, and we reduced what I consider to be toil, toil, and waste, and we said, “Let’s get this out of the system.” And the other thing we did was eliminate a lot of meetings.

Development teams were able to cut a number of meetings by moving from a “project-led” to a “developer-led” organization, she said, and productivity soared.

“Our cycle time has been reduced by more than 50%,” Felch said. “Production has increased by more than 75%. We have reduced vulnerabilities by over 90%. We are rolling out more virtual safes. The most important thing is to invest in our employees not just to learn new skills, but to practice them. »

Clarke told CRN one way development teams would use this added efficiency to improve the services offered through Dell’s public cloud offering, Apex.

“The answer is yes,” Clarke said. “What you’re going to see is there won’t be a classic line between what IT does and what a product development organization does. It’s actually going to be a very fluid organizational concept that we have built.

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