Boeing’s digital transformation… it’s cultural

Larger enterprises need to transform to survive in this age of disruption.

That was one of the main messages that came out of the Cloud Foundry Summit in Basel, Switzerland last week. In part, organisations can achieve this required transformation via the cloud. Its adoption doesn’t only improve agility and flexibility (or any other buzzwords you can think of), but it facilitates seamless interactions between huge organisations and a global community of developers who write code and build the software needed to improve and transform operations and customer experience.

Information Age spoke to Boeing to find out more about how large enterprises can transform at scale.

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Boeing’s digital transformation

Boeing’s digital transformation is overseen by Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President Ted Colbert, who described the effort as “a game-changer for Boeing. The productivity improvements we’ve seen from DTE partnering with our businesses is beyond our expectations, and we’re ready to expand the effort.”

The aerospace giant uses the Cloud Foundry Foundation to help run its applications at scale and transform. But, this is just a drop in a deep cultural transformation of the company.

Boeing’s cultural transformation

Boeing’s transformation, overall, is more deeply rooted than the typical number of developers on a platform. The organisation is creating what it calls balanced teams of business product owners and product managers, product designers, UX designers and developers and engineers, working together towards a business mission.

To achieve this ethos, the aerospace company has created four labs, or engineering centres, populated by 300 to 400 people. Here, Boeing trains employees on the basic principles of different business disciplines.

“On the other side, we had about 2,000 developers on our platform. We are working to make this easy to get onto, and free for the developer, so they don’t have an unnatural barrier to entry into the system. And then we made it extremely stable and feature-rich, and created a community around it,” said a Boeing spokesperson.

“This was the start of transforming how we build software across The Boeing Company.”

That’s how the enterprise created the digital transformation environment. The drive came from senior leaders in the company seeing the same pattern that all the other leaders are struggling with: how to transform the people, the process and the technology in order to create opportunity.

The relationship with Cloud Foundry

Colbert wanted to focus on the people delivering business value. And that’s where the Cloud Foundry came into play.

One of the biggest inhibitors for transformation is tools and technology. This is because organisations focus and silo the solutions, without thinking about the business use.

To overcome this transformation challenge, the digital transformation team wanted to really make infrastructure an abundant commodity for people to be able to get to as quickly as they could.

In order to do that, Boeing went down the Platform-as-a-Service path. “We tried a couple and landed with Cloud Foundry,” according to the Boeing spokesperson.

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“This relationship changed the game from talking about technology and infrastructure, to talking about business and how do we form the right balanced teams to solve real business problems. And,how do we actually add value, rather than just discuss which infrastructure service we should be working on.”

The Cloud Foundry acts as a highway for Boeing’s transformation. But, a highway by itself doesn’t do anything.

“The easy access to infrastructure enables a faster time to market. But, it’s really about the overall cultural transformation that we’ve done with the teams.”

Transformation results

“We have three metrics that we’ve been measuring so far in our transformation efforts,” said the Boeing spokesperson.

1. Value

Value is the biggest driver for transformation at Boeing, whether cultural or digital. Value is measured in either net new revenue or reduction in cost, or avoidance of cost.

“Each person working in this holistic, culturally transformed way is achieving measurable value on the long-range business plan. For example, we have a team of 20 working on the optimisation of our sales process. In the past you needed 50 to 100 people to achieve similar value,” continued the spokesperson.

2. Productivity

Since embarking on this transformation journey, Boeing has seen somewhere between 100% to 300% more productivity from the software development teams working in the DTE labs.

“Infrastructure is part of that, but having the right mission and right team working on the right problems in the right setting, with the right tools and infrastructure together gives us the whole boost. But, definitely Cloud Foundry and infrastructure is a key piece of that overall transformational environment.”

3. Time on tasks

This next metric leads into the improved productivity: time on tasks/product.

“How much time are we spending on value-add product development, how much time are we spending on processes that are not necessary or just superficial, or infrastructure set-up,” asks the Boeing spokesperson. “These things are really not consequential to the product development itself. We keep track of that and have been consistently higher on product development output.”

“We look at time to market in two ways. One is how long did it take to get an minimum viable product (MVP) out? Typically it used to take us many months or years to get a credible MVP out into production.”

“With this overall methodology and the new environment including the infrastructure, we were able to get MVPs out somewhere between a few days ranging to no more than three to four months, which is amazing.”

Overall, this helped improve agility and stop work that’s not necessary.

Achieving enterprise transformation

Enterprise transformation is daunting. It is important for whoever is leading it, to invest in the right places; or accelerate and invest further in the places where you see more value. In Boeing’s case, it’s proving to be successful in the software development environment and has improved the company’s agility quite a bit.

The concept of having a balanced team, with a very clear mission (and everything supporting them achieving that transformation goal) seems to have been incredibly valuable.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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Cultural Transformation