DevOps: Where it's going and how to make the most of it

DevOps could help you to deliver faster and better applications if you understand where and how to apply it.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

DevOps can help deliver great software development -- but not without the right team.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

DevOps is much more than a set of practices for smarter software development. The benefits of Agile-type thinking -- such as iterative development and continuous delivery -- are being pushed beyond the IT department and out into the wider business. Here's how adopting small, quick changes will deliver new benefits to businesses and their customers in the future.

1. Tailored agility will help push cross-organisation integration
CIO consultant Andrew Abboud is an IT leader who believes in the power of agile thinking. "DevOps is here to stay -- it's an essential part of a truly agile organisation," he says, before adding some important caveats.

"People talk a lot about the importance of continual release. That can be crucial if you're an online retailer with a significant online presence but most organisations don't need to do that. You have to tailor DevOps to the specific needs of your organisation."

Abboud, who was previously CIO at Laureate Education, says there is a link between the increased use of DevOps and the broader use of technology to automate what were previously manual and labour-intensive processes. Increased business agility, however, is no replacement for great leadership.

"You still need people in your IT department with the skills to manage projects -- that's where the value comes from," he says. "Even with all the increasing amount of automation that's taking place in modern business, IT is still about great people. Each new way of using technology still requires people to make the most of those tools. DevOps is integral to that joined-up way of thinking."

2. Measured customer feedback will improve service quality
Scope CDO Mark Foulsham says it is not possible to have effective DevOps without a strong alignment to the creation of products and services. "If you're not involving your customers in your development process, then you're not doing it right," he says. "You must look to build the customer into your development chain."

Foulsham says possible approaches include getting customers involved during the testing stage for a new service. Alongside his work at Scope, Foulsham is helping a range of organisations in various sectors to make the most of digital technology. Key to these developments is a focus on customer service measurement.

"By getting the customer to feedback useful information, you can create a situation where Agile, DevOps, and consumer feedback all meet -- you can start to build the customer straight into your business development practices. Setting objectives is important and there's now an opportunity to build the measurement of those aims into your business model," he says.

"There'll always be a place for traditional waterfall methods, particularly around IT infrastructure. But when you're producing a product or service for a customer to consume, then I think Agile comes into its own."

3. Talented people in the right context will help organisations excel
Camden Council interim CIO Omid Shiraji says DevOps is being consumed as part of a broader spread of Agile-type thinking across the business. Like Foulsham, he says people will be key to the future success of Agile -- and Shiraji believes the skills gap remains a key challenge for IT leaders looking to embrace iterative development.

"We've got a DevOps function in Camden that's great at the delivery of change as early as possible," he says. "What CIOs need to recognise is that the challenge comes in terms of ongoing support and maintenance. Finding people that can fulfil that role effectively in a DevOps environment is always like to be tricky."

Shiraji says IT leaders must strive to find people with the right mindset. These individuals must fulfil two roles -- they should be able to work across multiple Agile teams for project delivery, and they must then manage the ongoing support for the products and services that are created for the business.

"That is two different mindsets -- most people will end up being really good at either delivery or support. I don't want to steer clear of Agile because it's excellent when it comes to delivering business benefit early -- and that's the right thing to do when it comes to change projects. But CIOs who use Agile have got to make sure they create the right environment and put the right sort of governance and procedures in place," he says.

"And then you need to pick and choose when Agile is important. If you're running a nuclear power station, for example, you'd want much more rigour around the support services for the products you deliver. It's the same for us, too -- we must ensure we have the highest possible rigour around areas like adult social care or children's services."

4. Federated IT departments will cope with the rapid pace of change
Paul Pogonoski, director of cloud foundation services at consultant Capgemini, says the inherent benefits of DevOps and Agile can help organisations to experiment and to then develop better business models. CIOs who embrace agility now could give their organisations a competitive edge in the future.

"Digital means a business is engaging with its customers in the way they want to engage," says Pogonoski. "There is an emphasis on doing things quickly. More and more, you get applications that only last two or three years. CIOs must recognise how the IT lifecycle is changing over time."

Pogonoski says businesses that embrace iterative development can expect to see several plus points. He says Agile allows organisations to break up their work and to inherently fail fast. He also points to the opportunity to encourage experimentation and learning.

"When you add in things like continual delivery, you start to get things developed very quickly. Whether that approach should be used in a small project or across the whole business depends on how agile you want your business to become. Do things differently, measure it, work out whether it's good or bad, and then keep measuring," says Pogonoski.

"There's a difference between being on the bleeding edge and being a successful follower. You don't have to keep inventing new things, but you do have to react quickly. You need the capacity in your organisation to change rapidly and you can only do that if your business starts to experiment. IT must become less centralised and more federated; control but don't manage. Agile development can help CIOs move in that direction."

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