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How FinOps can empower developers

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth April 15, 2024
Summary:
Developers that understand the economics of the cloud, focusing on FinOps, are able to partner with digital and finance leaders effectively

2d rendering Cloud computing cloud third wave concept © jijomathaidesigners - Shutterstock
(© jijomathaidesigners - Shutterstock)

Cloud FinOps is being used by leading CIOs to optimize the cloud estate of their organizations, and develop deeper collaborations with the finance department. FinOps also has a vital role to play in flattening organizational structures in businesses and technology teams. 

As we saw in part one, developers can easily spin up cloud instances, a possibly negative outcome of the move to DevOps. Those reduced barriers have led, in some cases, to out-of-control cloud budgets, over-provisioning of services and poor analysis of what cloud infrastructure a business outcome really requires. One response could be to remove those responsibilities from developers, but digital leaders don’t want to return to a previous era of bottlenecks and slow delivery times. Instead, Cloud FinOps enables digital leaders to educate and then empower developers to remain agile, but cost-aware. Liv Wild, Director of Platform Engineering at Checkatrade.com, a web service for tradespeople in the UK, says: 

By making the data available to your engineers, they understand why it is important to the business to make good and effective decisions.

She adds: 

As an engineering leader, DevOps, FinOps, and GreenOps are all about pushing the data down to the engineers and making it transparent so that they understand business value.

Sean Harley, CIO of digital commerce firm Flywheel, detailed in part one how the adoption of FinOps led to a monthly steering committee to direct cloud budgets and optimization, which he says was then taken to the development heads to ensure they had full awareness. He adds: 

We are now considering giving the developers the accountability for the services they use and to justify the costs of those services. The developers will be responsible for making technology that is as cost effective as possible.

Conor Whelan, CIO with financial services firm Experian, has a similar experience: 

The data has changed how we build systems and the developers think about how they write applications. They were blinkered before and only had to think about performance.

At Sportradar, Ian Poland, CIO, has also empowered developers with FinOps and says he has put in place some checks and balances along with continual education around FinOps. Ben Conrad at John Lewis, who introduced FinOps to the UK’s tax collecting agency HMRC, says the education piece is vitally important: 

It gets people over the fear about the choices they are making.

Wild says she finds this plays to the personality type of engineers: 

Engineering teams are task oriented. So one thing I have learned is that if you celebrate opportunities for optimization then you get the gamification and it becomes fun. I get really tired of people saying engineers don’t like money, actually they like numbers and if you tell them which direction the numbers have to flow, they will make it happen. And if you celebrate that they will do it even more.

Financial implementation

Like its cousin DevOps, digital leaders advise peers to start small with the adoption and implementation of FinOps. This can help bring together the communities of finance and technology. The size of the organization and vertical market will also define the shape of the FinOps business unit. Whelan at Experian has a financial partner and a technology analyst as the foundations of his FinOps team of six; he says this brings knowledge of the organization’s consumption and configuration needs, along with skills in unpicking the charging methods of the cloud providers. 

This has led to a change in structure within technology at Experian, which now has service owners who are responsible for the technology that they provide, as well as the commercial responsibility for the cost of providing that service. 

FinOps must not be mistaken for a heavy stick with which to hit the cloud providers. Successful implementations - as is often the case - benefit from working in the open with the service provider. This was CIO Harley’s experience: 

We realized with both AWS and Google that the right thing to do was to work with them and partners. So, a billing partner has provided us with an insight tool into our Amazon capabilities, and it told us we were using old services, that there are new and cheaper services, and also what instances we should reserve. This led to a saving of 10% to 20% a month. You get a big hump of savings early on.

Like Harley, Sharp worked with a partner and says it is important to take the insight of FinOps and change behaviour in the organization: 

We put in a process so that when developers needed a new environment, the process asked some questions on the business need, the space required and the time of usage.

An area of concern for digital leaders is the paucity of FinOps skills available on the market. This is a concern not only for the adoption but also for the continued usage of FinOps, as Burdsall says: 

You are not won and done with FinOps.

My take

Enterprise cloud computing has given the power of digitization to all areas of the organization - but with great power comes great responsibility. 

Generative AI, Large Language Models and the need to address the climate emergency all require organizations to address their cloud usage, whilst at the same time ensuring the organization can grow. FinOps, I feel, should be a bigger topic of debate and higher up the business agenda, not only to meet the competing demands, but also to bring the entire organization and its knowledge base into the cloud era. 

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