DevOps enters the mainstream: Here's how to make it work for you

How can CIOs make the most of DevOps?
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Is DevOps here to stay or just a fad?

Image: iStock

DevOps is a much-hyped methodology that focuses on cooperation and collaboration between software developers and other more operationally-focused IT professionals. It is closely related to the iterative and efficient techniques used in agile and lean methodologies.

DevOps should help IT departments create continually evolving services that closely match business demands: analyst Gartner predicts that 2016 is the year when DevOps will become a mainstream approach used by one in four global organisations.

So how can CIOs make the most of these techniques?

1. Be attentive to measuring success

Johan Kestens, managing director and CIO at ING Belgium, says the creative form of development associated to DevOps is crucial for his firm. "Software starts with imagination," he says. ING uses agile methodologies to respond proactively to fast-changing requirements and to plan, change, and deploy applications. Kestens says ING has 400 DevOps projects up-and-running in total.

The projects run as a backlog, where the business helps developers to prioritise certain initiatives. Projects are then run in two- to four-week sprints. The bank also runs complex migrations driven by regulatory changes that often touch 40 or 50 applications.

Kestens says DevOps allows his firm to support a team-based approach to software development. Rather than being hamstrung by legacy ways of working, agile methodologies allow engineers to be more creative. CIOs, however, must be attentive to measuring change: Kestens says testing can play a crucial role in tracking DevOps success.

"Use testing as a tool to help show improvements to the rest of the business," he says. "With the right toolset, and if you understand the limitations of these measurement technologies, CIOs can get closer to understanding what real quality and productivity means."

2. Find the right business case

Chris Hewertson, CTO at hotel group glh, says the firm's application programming interface (API) platform has been developed using DevOps principles. The firm is a heavy user of cloud services and uses the API layer to provide a link to back-end property management technology.

"DevOps matters to us because we have a small team who need to deliver a high speed of output," says Hewertson, who has led a two-year transformation of technology infrastructure at glh. The firm relies on external service provision through the cloud and its remaining in-house IT team numbers just 13 people.

"We've done a lot with a very small, agile team," says Hewertson, reflecting on the huge transformation that has taken place at glh. "There isn't a text book you can take off the shelf to help you with what we've been building. We're having to learn and change direction, and we're having to do those things quickly."

He says DevOps provides the ideal development choice for the construction of the firm's API platform. "It doesn't work for everything," he says. "But because APIs need to run 24/7, DevOps offers the best approach, rather than having a dedicated team of people who spend a lot of time just sitting around."

3. Recognise that finding great people is tough

Omid Shiraji, interim CIO at Camden Council, recognises the importance of DevOps, especially when it comes to the continued creation of quality programs. "It's crucial that people who cut code are interested in its long-term development," he says.

Shiraji also believes, however, that development and operations are two very different skill sets, both of which require a particular personality trait. His experience suggests it is unlikely you will find a surfeit of IT professionals who are adept in both areas.

"The people who are great at cutting code do not necessarily have the detail to maintain its development on a day-to-day basis," says Shiraji. "DevOps definitely has a role, but finding the people that can perform both functions is tough. The jury's still out for me -- DevOps could still just turn out to just be a fad."

4. Think outside the box

Yet research from Danielle Jacobs, chair of INTUG, the international telecoms association, says DevOps and agility are right at the top of the IT leadership priority list. "My experience suggests CIOs really want to create a shift in how their IT departments work," she says.

Jacobs, who is also general manager of IT leadership association BELTUG, spends time speaking with executives and analysing the role of the CIO. "They want to bring IT and the rest of the business together," she says. "They want scrum agile development teams working on projects with very short implementation cycles."

The strength of the move towards agility depends on the culture of the host organisation. There is a tendency to believe agility is more confined to leading edge sectors, such as technology, media and marketing. Jacobs, however, believes this narrowed way of thinking can be a mistake.

"Digitisation is affecting all industries," says Jacobs. "Interaction across departments is crucial and companies are looking to find the right way to take advantage of agility."

5. Get a champion at executive level

Mark Ridley, director of technology at recruitment specialist Reed.co.uk, is another advocate for the power of iterative transformation. "As a business, we buy-in very heavily to lean and agile," he says. "We focused on agile development first and have now introduced lean principles across our operations."

Agile development -- including DevOps methodologies -- sits within the product side of the business, where Reed.co.uk developers create technical solutions to external customers' recruitment challenges. Lean is viewed as an over-arching approach to internal operations, and helps Ridley and his team to improve the integration between IT and the rest of the business.

The firm's champion for lean thinking plays a key role in promoting an agile approach. This specially-created executive position oversees implementations across the firm. The champion for lean helps the business run kaizen events, where people across the organisation come together to look for continuous improvements in the way the firm operates.

The aim, in terms of a broader IT strategy, is to help the rest of the organisation purchase and take responsibility for the technology it buys. "It's about getting the business to understand the value of systems and services, and to think more carefully about what activity is not really creating benefits," says Ridley.

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