Company Announcement

We’re pleased to announce that James Denman has joined Contino’s brand-new Sydney office as Director of Sales (APAC). Below I interview him about his background, how he wound up at Contino, and the current state of play in the tech scene and enterprise software delivery in the region.

James Denman Interview

Ben Tannahill: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background?

James Denman: Most of my technical foundation was gained during my tenure in the US Marine Corps. I was based at multiple US Embassies all over sub-Saharan Africa. After my military service, I worked as a technical consultant to the Department of State and Department of Defense through various contracting organisations abroad, mostly in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Prior to coming to Contino, I was the third hire and later a partner at Levvel, a professional services consulting firm based in the United States that focuses on payments technologies and integrations. They were an amazing group of guys and girls and it was there that I really cut my teeth on the hard stuff in tech. I was mainly an open-source linux hacker, focusing on AWS cloud migrations, server-side engineering and deep configuration management with Chef and Ansible. This was the period where DevOps was beginning to make inroads into the Enterprise based on the works of AWS, Netflix and Flickr. I watched every Gene Kim talk I could, read Continuous Delivery a few times and immediately knew that DevOps was what I wanted to focus on. I was charged with leading the DevOps Practice at Levvel and it quickly became a key part of the company as our clients were routinely asking for these kinds of innovations.

In every one of our discussions with banks, insurers, healthcare orgs and other large companies, we saw the same themes repeating. They were experiencing a lot of pain every time they wanted to make a change. Everything was so highly coupled, so manual, so interdependent, distributed across multiple locations and teams and subject to an ever-increasing list of seemingly arbitrary bureaucratic demands...any release would be a whole evening for an entire team. There’s a saying that goes “Technical debt accrues at a worse rate than financial debt.” and I think that pretty much sums it up.

Two releases a year doesn’t even remotely allow an organisation to be competitive so DevOps transformations became the key way of turning the IT organisation into a profit center rather than a cost center, allowing teams to operate at speed and scale, and allowing businesses to drive better ideas through to their clients in record time. Business cases aside, after implementing DevOps tooling and processes, we saw team members start to actually like their jobs again and amazingly be able to spend time solving real problems rather than being mired in make-work and processes. In my work at financial services organisations we saw the deepening of DevOps practices (now DevSecOps) to include CIS benchmarks, PCI compliance, automated reporting to regulatory agencies all enabled by instituting modern Infrastructure-as-Code practices. I remember how awesome it felt the first time I was able to report to the CIO of a major bank that a server build/deploy that used to take 8 weeks now took 13 minutes! It was at this time that I established direct partnerships with HashiCorp, Chef and Ansible, as well as personally becoming a Docker Authorised Training Partner and Consulting Partner, one of only a handful in the States to hold both Docker classifications.

BT: How did you get involved with Contino?

JD: I originally met the Contino team a few years ago at DockerCon in Seattle. Ben and Matt were really interesting guys and we hit it off straight away. I was really attracted to their direct focus on enterprise DevOps - rather than having it as an add-on or simply using it as a buzzword as almost every major systems integrator and proserv organisation seems to be doing nowadays. Contino are actual SME’s, and they understand the entire DevOps philosophy both from a cultural standpoint as well having complete mastery over the modern tooling and technologies commonly associated with DevOps. They really excelled at the intersection of ultra-modern tools and processes and big, complex, legacy organisations looking to modernise. It’s a very tough, very niche space and Contino are filling a huge market gap. Legacy vendors and PS/SI orgs are simply retrofitting of poor software, providing an overly simplistic API to work with Docker or just bolting on some ineffective automation. I see a lot of big companies - large system integrators - trying to reimagine their legacy software offerings and repackage them under a thin DevOps rebranding. I couldn’t see myself working with or selling those types of solutions. As an engineer, there’s an intellectual honesty in Contino’s work that I don’t see in other organisations and that honesty and technical excellence why I chose to come here and declined an offer from one of the big 4 in NYC.

BT: And where did Australia come into the equation? What’s so interesting that market?

JD: I was originally sent to Australia by Levvel. It’s a market unlike any other - it has the right combination of a few crucial ingredients: a very strong economy, a very skilled workforce and very modern business solutions across banking, FIS and telco. At the same time, though, its geographical distance from the major tech centres of power (i.e. western Europe and the US) gave a temporal lag to the adoption of these technologies. To the benefit of the Aussie tech scene, I believe they hang back and wait to see what London, NYC and Silicon Valley do right (and wrong), as the churn rate on new tech adoptions can be quite disruptive. Then they can make more informed decisions as the market coalesces around some general themes.

In some sectors, Australia is starting to experience true technology-informed competition and market differentiation. AWS cloud services, Amazon (the retailer) and international entrants in other sectors are fundamentally changing the internal discourse around what measures must be taken in an IT organisation in order to remain relevant and competitive.

All industries now have the opportunity to innovate and leverage technology to better serve their clients. Companies in all sectors, and especially financial services, now have the ability to competitively differentiate themselves, both in APAC as well as in the broader global market. Some will choose to take these opportunities to innovate...others will be forced to at a later date or will be made redundant.

BT: And how can Contino help in this context?

JD: Contino has been in the trenches partnering with larger enterprises all over the world, especially those coming to terms with complex technology within  heavily regulated environments.  We’ve led some amazing transformation initiatives in those organisations - restructuring them and giving them the tools and skills to adopt DevOps and fundamentally recreate their IT teams into high-performing, secure centers of innovation and technical excellence.

In Australia, enterprises can leverage Contino as a trusted transformation partner with deep domain expertise within financial services.  Our customers are benefiting from our experiences gained hands-on around the world guiding very similar enterprises through the complex transformations. This is a huge value for our clients and any Australian organisation looking to leverage that experience stands to benefit from an immense competitive advantage.

There’s certainly an appetite for change, and you can see that in the rapidly growing investment in the region, high attendance in Meetup groups and the great conversations we’ve had in recent weeks with global partners in the region. I believe it’s got one of the highest rates of digital transformation investment currently in the world.

And this isn’t limited to Australia. There’s huge potential in Singapore, particularly in the financial sector. Hong Kong has very strong aviation, finance and telco sectors. The same with New Zealand. The demand is off-the-charts. The great thing about Contino is that we already have direct relationships with many of the global financial services organisations who also have offices or subsidiaries in these countries so we’re able to really rapidly integrate and leverage the experience gained at the company’s corporate HQ’s.

BT: So what should Australian enterprises be doing?

JD: Leaders from almost every IT organisation who we’ve spoken with have expressed some level of discomfort and unhappiness with their delivery processes… they’ve been to the conferences and Meetups, they’ve watched the presentations and they know that improvements in their SDLC  are necessary. They’re asking for immutable infrastructure, cloud capabilities, continuous delivery, increased test coverage, automated provisioning and configuration, etc. Sometime’s they’re asking for technologies by name, showing deep interest and investigation on their part.

But what they don’t know most of the time is how to make an effective business use case in their own organisation. Normally the supporters of transformation are a tiny subgroup that experiment with new technologies (Terraform, Docker or Ansible) but they don’t know how to create a roadmap to success or detailed architectural roadmap. They don’t know how to elucidate the broader benefits to the C-suite to get financial sign-off. It’s important to these teams that they don’t waste an inordinate amount of time in the planning and experimentation stage, performing huge 6-month assessments that ultimately go nowhere, for example. They also don’t want to burn the team out by setting the tech-adoption bar too high or by running through endless PoC’s for things that don’t end up getting completed or adopted.

IT leaders who want to retain and empower the best workforce they can have should start having dialogues with their teams. They need to be open to change and innovation. Certainly I’d welcome the opportunity to have a discussion with anyone who simply wanted to discuss options, trends and themes in the industry and I suggest that IT leaders have discussions with lots of different vendors and professional services providers. But at the end of the day, there are better ways of working, of developing software, of transforming business ideas into products and services and of competing in the global marketplace. I truly believe that Contino are the best-positioned team to guide these organisations in their transformations and I look forward to helping build the culture of innovation in Australia. And I’m looking forward to settling here and building out my own future alongside!

BT: Thanks, James! 

JD: Thanks to you as well.