Report: For DevOps inspiration, look to the retail sector

An annual survey from DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) finds that the retail sector stands out for its software delivery and operational performance.

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The retail sector took a beating at the start of the digital era, but the brands that survived the retail apocalypse have set new standards for leveraging digital tools to elevate the customer experience. According to the latest research from DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA), the retail industry has some important lessons for other enterprise businesses that want to improve their software delivery and operational (SDO) performance. 

DORA, which was acquired by Google Cloud in late 2018, published its sixth annual Accelerate: State of DevOps Report on Thursday. The report takes a comprehensive and scientific approach to evaluating the state of DevOps, and it offers practical guidance for organizations that want to get better at delivering software. 

In previous versions of the report, no one industry seemed to have an edge. This year changed with the retail sector as a clear leader in terms of speed and stability of software delivery. 

"Those who excel at delivering profitability, productivity, and customer satisfaction survive," the report says with respect to the cutthroat retail business. "Anything less than excellence leads to failure... Keeping up with the rate of technological change is essential for organizations in these competitive environments who must keep demanding customers happy and satisfied while delivering consistent revenues to keep stakeholders satisfied."

Nicole Forsgren, leader of the DORA team, said the most important takeaway from the report's findings is that large enterprises shouldn't shy away from embracing DevOps just because of their size. 

"You can absolutely lean into what is possible and be one of the highest performers and deliver value in a way that five years ago no one thought was possible," she told ZDNet.

Specifically, the report notes that retailers were among the first to embrace A/B testing to understand customer habits and preferences. Additionally, the industry has embraced cloud computing to burst capacity during peak shopping periods like Black Friday. All the while, retailers have managed to stay nimble while operating in a heavily regulated environment. 

Over the last six years, using research and data from more than 31,000 professionals worldwide, DORA has developed and validated four metrics that provide a high-level systems view of software delivery and performance and predict an organization's ability to achieve its goals. Last year, the group added a new metric focused on operational capabilities.

Those metrics are: lead time of code changes from check-in to release, deployment frequency, time to restore (the time it takes from detecting a user-impacting incident to having it remediated), change fail rate and availability. 

Speed and reliability are often seen as trade-offs, Forsgren said. The research shows that an organization doesn't have to sacrifice speed for stability, or visa versa. 

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The report offers two different research models for organizations that want to embrace DevOps -- one for organizations that want to improve SDO performance, and one for organizations that want to improve productivity. Both models can help organizations reduce employee burnout, and both stress the importance of fostering a culture of psychological safety. Both also highlight the
importance of good tooling and systems.

Aside from finding significant leadership in the retail sector, the 2019 report offered other pieces of useful insight. For instance, it found that elite performers were more likely to use open source solutions.

The report also found that the highest performing DevOps teams were 24 times more likely than low performers to execute on all five capabilities of cloud computing, as defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These include on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service. 

At the same time, most organizations using cloud computing aren't using it to its full potential. Just about three in 10 met all five NIST cloud computing capabilities. 

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