Q&A: The business return of putting DevOps to practice

Is DevOps here to stay?

Many IT teams are looking for a way out of the quagmire of delayed projects, questionable quality, and missed deliveries in which they often find themselves without writing blank cheques. The concept of DevOps has taken the IT world by storm, but has the day-to-day practice caught up? Brian Dawson, DevOps Expert, CloudBees discusses how this new approach can help these IT projects can progress and transform businesses.

Would you say DevOps is a technology or an approach?

Since the earliest days of DevOps there have been debates about what DevOps actually is so that’s a fair question! Fortunately, over the past few years there appears to be a growing consensus that DevOps is primarily about organisational culture. The DevOps culture is based on a set of principles an organisation initially aspires to, and ultimately adheres to. It’s a journey and organisations that have adopted this culture value collaboration, experimentation, and learning. In this culture all participants in the software delivery lifecycle (not just development and operations) align around a shared goal of rapidly delivering stable, high-quality software from concept to customer.

And the tech? Since DevOps is a cultural thing, you could argue it does not require specific tools. However, the automation of software development, testing and deployment through continuous delivery is widely recognised as an enabler of DevOps. Continuous delivery enables organisations to deliver software more quickly while ensuring operations can have confidence in what is being deployed, and customers get the quality, security, and stability they require.

Why should businesses care?

DevOps is becoming best practice for software development. Companies that have already adopted DevOps principles are disrupting industries, innovating faster and leaving competitors behind. By adopting a DevOps culture, these companies have aligned all stakeholders – from development and operations teams to management and more – around the common objective of delivering quality software rapidly and reliably.

It’s clear that DevOps has the potential to address the many challenges that IT faces. Organisations that have embraced DevOps – including companies such as Etsy, Netflix, Target, Walmart, Amazon and Facebook - have shown that DevOps principles can lead to competitive differentiation by enabling teams to deliver higher quality software, faster.

The challenge is for companies that you would never have classified as technology companies in the past to become software companies to best support their core business. Consider Ford Motor Company and its Ford F-150 truck which features more than 150 million lines of code. Perhaps more familiar to the UK reader, a lead engineer on the Ford EcoBoost engine team noted that the 'secret sauce' in the success of EcoBoost technology is software.

Companies that have embraced DevOps are better positioned to solidify their position in existing markets, expand into new markets, and even disrupt entire industries. DevOps not only helps Netflix deploy thousands of times each day, for example, it also helped the company disrupt the entire cable and TV industry.

Who benefits from it?

Any company that needs to deliver quality software faster needs to care about DevOps and the supporting practice of continuous delivery (CD), which enables continuous building, testing and deployment of software in frequent, incremental releases. As Henry Ford once said, 'Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.'

There are also organisational and social reasons to care about DevOps. In many software organisations, teams spend too much time fighting fires, moving endlessly from one fire drill to the next. Few people enjoy working this way, and the inefficiencies grind productive work to a crawl.

Companies that have adopted agile methods and CD practices in support of DevOps have seen an increase in satisfaction for development process stakeholders. Because they are applying modern practices, these companies are attracting and retaining better talent. When employees no longer perform tedious, manual tasks they are freed to innovate and make a difference. A large financial software company saw a 15 percent improvement in employee satisfaction just weeks after adopting CD in support of DevOps principles. Just as important, a happier and more engaged workforce means increased productivity, lower costs, and better software.

Is this just IT’s latest buzzword?

I can understand why someone would might think of DevOps as just another passing fad but the way software is purchased and used has changed. People expect apps to be updated with new features and fixes, websites have become a primary sales channel for retailers, and businesses buy office applications by the hour -- not in shrink wrapped boxes. As a result software has had to move from heavy waterfall processes to the agile methods and CD practices underpinning DevOps. Across many industries the momentum is behind more agility and flexibility, making it clear that DevOps is not a fad; it’s part of a long-term, sustainable trend.

However, with all this excitement around DevOps, there comes a sneaking suspicion that not everyone is talking about the same thing when they talk about DevOps. This suspicion is reinforced by CTOs who claim they are “doing” DevOps or vendors selling tools that magically enable you to 'do' DevOps. It can be helpful to reconcile the many interpretations of DevOps that muddy the water and potentially inhibit adoption. There is in fact a widespread misunderstanding of what DevOps is – a misunderstanding amplified by vendors who say buying their tool will make you a DevOps organisation.

To what extent are companies taking advantage of DevOps?

To answer this question, I’d like to provide two examples that are representative of the challenges experienced by many organisations that struggle to deliver software and show the kinds of disruptive, accelerating effects that DevOps can have. In the US when the healthcare.gov website launched and promptly fell over, there was plenty of blame to go around. Development teams had access to effective tools for software configuration management as well as continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) – two enabling technologies for automating DevOps practices. The teams failed, however, to fully commit to these practices and as such it took months to respond to the failed launch, and the resulting political fallout led to high profile resignations.

Contrast that outcome with that of JPMorgan Chase, which provided its customers with secure, stable mobile apps for traditional banking activities as well as new, modern capabilities such as remote check deposits and instant funds transfers. Providing customers with these capabilities early and rapidly helped Chase improve its ranking from the lowest in customer satisfaction among large banks in 2010 to the highest in 2014.

What’s next?

The growing consensus is that DevOps is here to stay and the benefits of DevOps extend to organisations in any industry. If they have not already started, organisations will need to transition to DevOps soon to remain competitive – even to stay relevant. At first, that may sound like hyperbole, but an increasing number of companies are finding out the hard way that almost every company is now a software company, that the developer they need will seek employment at companies where they can innovate instead of fighting fires, and that DevOps is a common sense way to gain a sustainable, competitive advantage.

Ultimately, the rapidly mounting evidence strongly suggests that if an organisation has not yet begun transitioning to DevOps it had better start soon, before its competitors do and leave it in an untenable market position.

Brian Dawson, DevOps Expert, CloudBees