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Communication, automation and security – how DevOps teams can thrive in the post-Covid era

remote work
(Image credit: Image Credit: Gpointstudio / Shutterstock)

A remote-first approach triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t stop most DevOps teams in their tracks, but instead drew attention to one of their biggest strengths: their ability to collaborate effectively to get quality work delivered safely and quickly. However, for teams that had largely been operating in face-to-face environments, the challenges were significant – and some still remain today.

As we entered a global state of lockdown in early 2020, organizations across the world found that they needed to respond to the situation by changing their ways of working and upgrading their online collaboration tools. As a consequence, teams not already remote-friendly were at a disadvantage when compared to early adopters that had mastered remote working practices prior to the pandemic and were forced to change quickly. Fast forward to today, and it seems like enabling effective collaboration without being in the same office space is somewhat a solved problem - at least for now. 

As we gradually transition into a hybrid working world, it will become an active choice for organizations whether to maintain a culture of remote work or go back to “business as usual”. In this context, what should DevOps teams be focusing on in order to thrive when reaching this end post-pandemic destination?

Better communication 

In a remote world, most interactions take place over video conferencing and messaging platforms, and often in smaller groups than perhaps would have been assembled in a purely office-based environment.

This means that teams need to make a conscious effort to keep everyone in the team on the same page, as it’s easy for decisions to be lost in the ether. Teams must ensure not only that workflows transparently, but that direction and decisions are effectively communicated to everyone involved. DevOps is about joining these invisible dots and making them work together in a visible way – with a little help from advanced toolings such as source code management, continuous integration, artifact storage, cloud orchestration or deployment.

However, the right tools and techniques must be supported by the right attitude, and trust in each team member. In this respect, in emerging from the pandemic it will be important for the C-suite and management to not only trust DevOps teams to make the right decisions, but to encourage a culture of open communication across the entire organization. Modern, agile and collaborative ways of working that extend individual teams and cut across the business need to be championed from the top, as well as from DevOps teams themselves. In turn, this empowers everyone with the autonomy to collaborate and get things done.

As DevOps teams expand in the post-Covid era, it’s important for organizations to make sure that there’s structure behind bringing new staff on board, as sitting next to an incumbent and absorbing everything there is to know won’t just happen naturally. Those joining DevOps teams will need to identify and build a full picture based on all the small pieces of knowledge across the organization, and be open, honest, and trustworthy in these interactions. More importantly, everyone new and old must keep communications channels open and actively share information that is critical for the team to know. Those who rise to this challenge and bring skills around communication will most certainly thrive. 

Automation through AI and ML technology 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help us to automate some of the tasks that traditionally kept us busy, by giving us intelligent automated insights where previously we relied on human judgment. Spotting trends in operational data and adjusting course – be it through server availability monitoring, or monitoring of user patterns in a web application, or anything in between – takes time to get right. Similarly, to how successful DevOps processes tighten feedback loops, deploying AI and ML technology can facilitate better and faster decisions as a result of better judgments based on less human subjectivity. For collaboration, this also means an improved shared understanding of the numbers, all of which springboards DevOps teams into being able to act and collaborate even quicker.

These technologies enable better decision-making by teams through better data. By being able to predict performance and outcomes in a more precise way, based on scientific analysis of past performance, teams can make better-informed decisions on what to deploy.

Coming out of the pandemic we will see more teams using AI and ML to automate more business as usual work, freeing them up to add value.

The right level of security 

One thing that will remain true in the post-pandemic era is that security can’t be taken for granted. In today’s digital and remote-first world everything is up for grabs, and the only way we can truly respond to it is by being proactive and assuming bad intent at every step – if there’s even a miniscule chance of a breach happening, it probably will. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a sharp rise in cyberattacks, and the smart approach is to fight them on multiple fronts. It’s vital that we prevent a cascade of attacks resulting from a single component being breached – this is where zero trust security becomes essential to daily operations. In this context, the main thing to remember is that nothing and nobody can be trusted – which is an odd dichotomy considering the big tenant of agile DevOps being about increasing trust. 

Shifting left with a DevSecOps approach, which involves building security into software and systems from the get-go, also ensures that teams make the best use of the people who know security best. Some of these threats will be imagined, but many will be very real and better processes must be put in place regardless of the organization’s location – whether it continues in a remote work environment or involves returning to a physical office space.

Being efficient while rising to new challenges

Effective DevOps teams know how to make sure everyone is on the same page and have historically excelled in situations that require filling in the communications gaps formed when groups of people make decisions without informing those who aren’t present. While many industry reports indicate high performance and successful approaches within the industry, many challenges have emerged that will become increasingly complex as we move into a hybrid working world. 

In a world that is on the cusp of coming out the Covid-19 pandemic, DevOps teams can help resist a bounce-back to older and ineffective ways of working by re-emphasizing the drawbacks of the traditional 9 to 5 office work – namely those of focus, energy, active meaningful collaboration, and delivering value rather than encouraging a culture of presenteeism. High-performing teams will need a wide degree of collaboration to be efficient, and DevOps teams are already at the center of this world. 

In the months and years ahead, it will be highly unlikely that we see a wholesale return to a world where DevOps teams are gathered in the same physical space and decisions are made in the same room – nor one where fully synchronous communication takes place. Despite this, those organizations that allow cross-functional teams to form – unencumbered by traditional boundaries and time zones – will be at an advantage. They’ll be able to quickly get the correct people together, communicate using modern tools, and get the job done. We must aim for a highly agile way of working, and those organizations and DevOps teams who are on board with this will thrive.

Matt Saunders, Head of DevOps, Adaptavist

Matt Saunders is leader of London DevOps meetups and Head of DevOps at Adaptavist.