DevOps Chat: Digital Transformation with Exadel’s Jonathan Fries
In this DevOps Chat, Jonathan Fries, VP of Engineering and Digital Transformation at Exadel, tells us about the new Innovation Lab by Exadel—a place for organizations to accelerate their transformation. We also talk about the state of IT in general from his perch at Exadel, a company with 20 years of empowering IT.
You can find out more about the Innovation Lab at exadel.com/innovation-lab/.
As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by the transcript of our conversation.
Alan Shimel: Hello, everyone, it’s Alan Shimel, DevOps.com, and you’re listening to another DevOps Chat. This episode of DevOps Chat features Jonathan Fries of Exadel. Jonathan, welcome!
Jonathan Fries: Hi, Alan. It’s great to be here.
Shimel: Hey, it’s great to have you here, Jonathan, and I wanna thank you. It’s always nice to have a new company coming up on our chats here, so it’s—you know, some fresh blood for the audience. I assume most of our audience is not familiar with Exadel, so why don’t we start with that, Jonathan? Tell us a little bit about Exadel.
Fries: Sure. So, Exadel is a global software engineering services firm. So, we help our clients write software. We have—we’re a global company, so we have offices in Eastern Europe, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland being kinda the big ones where we have our offices in Europe. And, you know, we help clients in a variety of areas. Probably our big verticals are health care, finance, transportation, media and entertainment, and high tech. And, you know, we have some really good clients in those areas. Health care, McKesson is one that people have heard of. Finance, we work with Deloitte. In the high tech world, we have HP and Google as our clients.
So, we’re doing offshore development for a lot of it. We have teams that are either all in Europe or usually a hybrid of some people here in the U.S. and some people in Europe. We’ve got about a thousand developers in Europe, so that’s where a lot of our work gets done. We’ve been around for 20 years, and so yeah, that’s a bit about Exadel.
Shimel: Another overnight sensation, huh?
Shimel: I said another overnight sensation.
Fries: [Laughter] Yeah, it’s been a gradual sort of buildup of working with clients and, you know, getting to work with a lot of interesting companies and them recommending us to others.
The name of the company actually comes from a combination of excellent and delivery. I always think that that’s an interesting fact to bring up, and I think it’s an important part about kind of who we are and where we come from and how we got that list of clients. You know, we’re all about building really great products, software products for our customers, and that’s how we’ve grown the business.
Shimel: Sure. So, and Jonathan, you know, kidding aside about overnight sensation, that’s the right way to build the business, right? You don’t just—I mean, yeah, everybody wants to be a unicorn, but unicorns are mythical, right? [Laughter]
Shimel: [Cross talk] the world and all of that, so good for you guys. But you know what I didn’t mention is, what exactly—and just sharing with the audience, what’s your position with Exadel?
Fries: My title is Vice President of Engineering and Digital Transformation. So, my background is in the software development world doing software development, leading teams, eventually sort of managing engagements and things like that, and also today heading up the digital transformation practice inside of Exadel.
So, my background comes from the technology world and software development, and that’s why I’m proud of—I’m proud of our engineering capabilities and what we’re able to do for customers.
Shimel: Good for you, good for you. So, Jonathan, you know, digital transformation is such a buzzword today, right?
Shimel: We’ve all heard it, you know, and the one thing I’ve learned is that, for many organizations, you know, digital transformation is hard, right? I’ve heard so many people say, “Well, this wasn’t as easy as it was made out to be.” And I think one of the issues is, is that, if you can’t define something, how can you achieve something? Right?
Shimel: And so, it starts with, “Well, what exactly does digital transformation mean?” And so, I’ll throw it back at you—what does digital transformation mean to you?
Fries: So, digital transformation for us is about helping our clients with the—you know, the doing and the engineering work of doing digital transformation. So, it’s about software development—you know, in particular it’s cloud development today—QA automation, and DevOps. I mean, those are really the big three areas of expertise within the company that we’ve really brought together under the digital transformation sort of heading as well as our agile methodology expertise, and so, bringing kind of those four things together. And they completely make sense together, because, you know, DevOps is really kind of the technology reflection of agile methodology and agile methodology is kind of the methodology reflection of the DevOps technology mindset. And QA automation is so tightly wound into DevOps and really the way that we’re delivering software and the way that our DevOps solutions work are very much married a lot today to cloud development.
And so, we’re bringing all of those things together, which are all things that Exadel had lots of expertise in, but figuring out how to make sure that we were weaving those strands together, if you will, in a really sort of explicit way and building up some solutions for clients. Not just, “Hey, we’re really good at those things, and we have people who can be really good at those things for you,” but we can bring all of our best practices together and some technology solutions together.
So, that’s what it is for us. It’s very much, you know, we’re a software development, software engineering firm, so we really—you know, we’re not sort of going after the cultural transformation part of that, or the, you know, the change management. I mean, we certainly have experience with those things, but for us, it’s really about the development side of it and our expertise in helping clients take on hard projects and succeed.
Shimel: Absolutely, absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about something new that Exadel recently delivered, and that’s the Innovation Lab. Talk to us—what exactly is the Innovation Lab?
Fries: Yeah, the Innovation Lab is, it’s a new offering that we’re bringing to the market that combines some things that we already have into one thing. So, you know, we’ve all heard about the importance of innovation and even innovation labs. You know, some companies have them or are creating them. Exadel’s Innovation Lab is sort of more of a virtual innovation lab as opposed to, say, a physical place that we help someone create.
So, we already have something called Appery, which is a cross-platform, low code development environment for creating cross-platform mobile apps as well as, like, a low code backend that runs behind that. So, that’s a way to build software very quickly to create real, working software.
We already have a lot of expertise in agile development, as I mentioned before. And so, that’s also part of what we do. We have really great resources, all of those developers that we have, you know, in Europe and some here. And we have some packaged solutions that are a part of those practices.
So, we’re bringing those all together to help our clients innovate. So, you know, what we wanna do is help our clients who are looking for a way to move faster, experiment, try something, get some features in front of customers or business stakeholders more quickly, and the Innovation Lab is our sort of packaged solution for doing that.
So we can, we bring all of those things together—low code development, agile, on-demand resources when there might be something. Since a lot of what people what to experiment today are things like artificial intelligence and blockchain and how can we make those things work for us, so that’s—you know, often, we might have to bring in, you know, we might have to bring in an expert to help out with that as well.
So, it’s really, it’s all of those things to help our customers and new customers innovate more quickly.
Shimel: Got it. So, you know, and to me, when I look at it, Jonathan, you know, we talk about digital transformation, and what I said before about how, if you can’t define it, how can you be successful, and even once you define it, it’s an experiment in a lot of ways, right? It’s kinda that classic DevOps where you deliver, you learn, you get feedback loops, you iterate, you reiterate, and you keep reiterating.
And an innovation lab is kinda the perfect place to kinda have that sort of learning that propels, that helps you define and then succeed in your digital transformation, right?
Shimel: You know, you don’t wanna practice, I guess, on live TV or stuff like that. But you need—you need these labs to push the envelope and find out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.
Fries: Yeah. I very much view it, you know, as an extension of the product owner, you know, life cycle from scrum. You know, there’s the regular sort of software development life cycle within scrum where you’re doing your sprints and you’re delivering software.
Fries: But a big part of what the product owner should be doing is developing the product backlog which includes, you know, testable hypotheses. That’s kinda the way that the scrum community talks about it.
And so, the Innovation Lab is a way for product owners to test some hypotheses that they might not be able to test, you know, if they already have a product. Like, you may not wanna do all the work to develop it and test the hypotheses over here, or that hypothesis over here. You may wanna use something like the Innovation Lab where we can use some of the tools at our disposal to create something that you can deliver and test out one of those—you know, test a hypothesis kind of on its own, if you will—but with working software. Which, you know, as we know is also a big part of agile and DevOps. You know, wireframes and requirements are great and they have a place, but they’re not the best way to show people what you’re doing or get feedback, and this really allows us to help clients do that and do it more quickly.
Shimel: Got it. I agree 100 percent. Interesting—great idea. Moving off Innovation Lab, there’s other stuff going on at Exadel. You wanna share with our audience a little bit?
Fries: Sure, yeah. We just launched the practice areas. As I mentioned, I’m the head of the Digital Transformation practice, and we also have a Digital Marketing Technology practice and a Products and Platforms practice that, much like digital transformation, the other two are also things that, you know, in places where we already have a fair amount of expertise and were kind of collecting all of that together in one place.
So, for Digital Marketing Technology, we have some pretty significant clients for whom we’ve done work with Adobe Experience Manager to build global, localized, large scale websites. And since we had really done that several times, the Digital Marketing Technology practice is all about packaging that solution and delivering that to other clients for kind of building those large scale worldwide type of websites with Adobe.
Products and Platforms is—you know, given that we’ve developed Appery, which really is, you know, it’s not just an application, it’s a whole platform for building other applications, and we’ve done that both for ourselves with Appery as well with several of our other clients like GHX where we’re creating a lot more than just an application, it’s this whole ecosystem. And so, that Products and Platforms practice sort of brings together the best of our knowledge base about developing those really sophisticated, large scale platforms.
And Digital Transformation, of course, which is mine, is all about DevOps, cloud tech, QA automation, and agile. We have a solution that we’re putting together within the Digital Transformation practice that is a cross-cloud Kubernetes implementation that’s all done with Terraform and we’re actually getting ready to use that with the first customer now. We’ve kinda been just doing our internal dev on it, but we’ve shown it to some people and they’re pretty interested in that. The first customer will probably just use it on Azure, but it’s got some really sophisticated—you know, deploying Kubernetes with Terraform, autoscaling, a lot of really cool tech for containerized application development. So, I’m pretty excited about that.
Shimel: So am I. I mean, it’s an exciting time to be alive in IT. I mean, from a developer point of view, from an ops point of view, there are so many options and so—you know, such power at your fingertips.
Shimel: It really is, you know, it’s a golden age to be into this kinda stuff.
Fries: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I just—I think it’s an amazing time and, you know, I think there’s so much opportunity. There’s so much opportunity out there in what you can do and so forth and then how easy it is now to, you know, to bring computing solutions online for stuff, you know, and it’s what can be done.
It’s awesome, and I know that, you know, it’s a lot of change and it can be hard on people sometimes, but I’m definitely an optimist and an “all ships will rise” type of guy, so, you know, I see all those opportunities out there and it’s like—you know, yeah, there’s an awful lot exciting going on.
Shimel: Well, you know, Jonathan, I think in our business, either we can be optimists, or we can be cynics.
Shimel: I got into it yesterday, some guy, I don’t even remember his name, but he tweeted, “Oh, those DevOps people selling snake oil! There’s no such thing!” I think they reach a certain age where they just feel like there’s nothing new under the sun, and therefore, they’re just gonna bad mouth, right, whatever new comes along, and—hey man, you know, there’s a place for them on Earth, too, I guess.
Fries: Yeah, and I mean, I think there’s always, I think, a real reason to be concerned about automation and the changes that that brings to not just our industry, but all of society. I mean, you can look around and see how much automation is impacting everything and, you know, as somebody with—you know, I have kids who are grade school aged kids, and it’s like, the world’s gonna look a lot different 20 years from now, so here’s what you need to spend your time thinking about and learning. Because, you know, if you really wanna do this kinda job, it’s not gonna be there 20 years from now.
Shimel: And I have kids in high school and college and I’m telling them the same thing, man. It’s a crazy world. But you know something? To me, you know, we talk about being optimist, pessimist—Jonathan, the flip side of digital transformation is disruption.
Shimel: Right? And so, you get to the haves and the have nots. You have the empowered people who embrace transformation and are accelerating their business, and you have the laggards who don’t, and they may very well have to die off, right?
Shimel: I think that’s the choice that we—you know, that it’s nice to talk about this golden age, but that’s also the choice out there is, you can get with it or fall by the wayside. It’s compete or die. And, you know, that may be harsh to some, but that, I think, is the way it is.
Fries: Yeah. It’s kind of been true for, you know, for a while, honestly. Industrialization automated some things, and like I said, I think, at the end of the day, the new businesses that will be created by digital transformation, the businesses that will be completely transformed by digital transformation will create, you know, even more opportunity, and as long as you are looking at it through the lens of those things, even though automation can be—you know, it can be scary.
I mean, like I said, I came from—I was a developer and worked in IT and things like that, and you know, there was lots of things even 20 years ago, where it’s like, “Oh, these things are gonna change everything and jobs will go away” and it’s like—you know, that’s—
Shimel: [Cross talk] Doesn’t happen, doesn’t happen. Anyway, Jonathan—
Fries: No, it happens.
Shimel: – when we started, I told you, the 15 minutes goes really quick, man. [Laughter]
Shimel: And we’re way over already. I apologize, but I didn’t wanna stop you, you were on a roll, and I thought it was a good conversation. So, but we’re gonna need to pull the plug on this episode of DevOps Chat. Jonathan Fries from Exadel, thanks for being our guest today.
Fries: Absolutely, Alan. It was great. Thanks for having me.
Shimel: Alright! This is Alan Shimel, DevOps.com, and you just listened to another DevOps Chat.
— Alan Shimel