Wednesday, April 19, 2017

DevOps Culture: continuous improvement for Digital Transformation

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In contrast to even tightly-run enterprise software practices, the speed at which big Internet businesses such as Amazon and Netflix can enhance, update, and tune their customer-facing services can be eye opening. Yet a miniscule number of these deployments cause any kind of outage. These companies are different from more traditional businesses in many ways. Nonetheless they set benchmarks for what is possible. 

Enterprise IT organizations must do likewise if they’re to rapidly create and iterate on the new types of digital services needed to succeed in the marketplace today. Customers demand anywhere/anywhen self-service transactions and winning businesses meet those demands better than their competition. Operational decisions within organizations also must increasingly be informed by data and analytics, requiring another whole set of applications and data sets.

Amazon and Netflix got to where they are using DevOps. DevOps touches many different aspects of the software development, delivery, and operations process. But, at a high level, it can be thought of as applying open source principles and practices to automation, platform design, and culture. The goal is to make the overall process associated with software faster, more flexible, and incremental. Ideas like the continuous improvement based on metrics and data that have transformed manufacturing in many industries are at the heart of the DevOps concept.

Development tools and other technologies are certainly part of DevOps. 

Pervasive and consistent automation is often used as a way to jumpstart DevOps in an organization. Playbooks that encode complex multi-part tasks improve both speed and consistency. It can also improve security by reducing the number of error-prone manual processes. Even narrowly targeted uses of automation are a highly effective way for organizations to gain immediate value from DevOps.

Modern application platforms, such as those based on containers, can also enable more modular software architectures and provide a flexible foundation for implementing DevOps. At the organizational level, a container platform allows for appropriate ownership of the technology stack and processes, reducing hand-offs and the costly change coordination that comes with them. 

However, even with the best tools and platforms in place, DevOps initiatives will fail unless an organization develops the right kind of culture. One of the key transformational elements is developing trust among developers, operations, IT management, and business owners through openness and accountability. In addition to being a source of innovative tooling, open source serves as a great model for the iterative development, open collaboration, and transparent communities that DevOps requires to succeed.

Ultimately, DevOps becomes most effective when its principles pervade an organization rather than being limited to developer and IT operations roles. This includes putting the incentives in place to encourage experimentation and (fast) failure, transparency in decision-making, and reward systems that encourage trust and cooperation. The rich communication flows that characterize many distributed open source projects are likewise important to both DevOps initiatives and modern organizations more broadly.

Shifting culture is always challenging and often needs to be an evolution. For example, Target CIO Mike McNamara noted in a recent interview that “What you come up against is: ‘My area can’t be agile because…’ It’s a natural resistance to change – and in some mission-critical areas, the concerns are warranted. So in those areas, we started developing releases in an agile manner but still released in a controlled environment. As teams got more comfortable with the process and the tools that support continuous integration and continuous deployment, they just naturally started becoming more and more agile.”

At the same time, there’s an increasingly widespread recognition that IT must respond to the needs of and partner with the lines of business--and that DevOps is an integral part of that redefined IT role. As Robert Reeves, the CTO of Datical, puts it: “With DevOps, we now have proof that IT can and does impact market capitalization of the company. We should staff accordingly.”

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