What can your organisation learn from the devops movement?

'Devops' has gained a significant amount of traction, but it’s not just in development and operations where organisations should be paying attention – there’s a lot to be learned from the core cultural tenets of the concept.

At its essence, the term 'devops' – short for development and operations – can be described as different departments working with one another to achieve a common goal.

That sounds like it should be common sense, but to successfully apply it requires a certain managerial nous and human understanding, underpinned by a desire to actually create a sense of real collaboration in the workplace. No small feat, then, for global organisations with departments that might be more used to building walls to protect their own interests rather than knocking walls down.

"A lot of the things devops embraces – lean, agile and all these things – came out of manufacturing," says Mandi Walls, consulting director EMEA at software automation business Chef. "A lot of it came out of Toyota in the 1980s, talking about empowering individuals in the workforce so when something's wrong they can say that it's wrong without retribution. Everybody's work is valuable, and these more human practices came out of a place you wouldn't expect it."

And according to Carl Caum, senior technical marketing manager at Puppet, there are numbers to prove that paying attention to devops is a win-win for the company and the workforce.

"The biggest takeaway IT organisations can learn is devops is not just some hypothetical set of practices that were dreamt up by a consultant," Caum says. "What we know of the devops movement was learned from actual people on actual teams."

"Not only do high-performing devops teams deploy 200 times more frequently with 24 times faster recovery time, but they do so with a great sense of engagement and alignment with the company's goals," he explains. "If you decide to opt out on devops practices, you're also making a decision that can have a detrimental effect on your business."

But how could this actually look in practice?

Director of strategy at software company Delphix, Jes Breslaw, points towards the handling of large sets of data.

"To be successful, organisations need to adopt new technologies that facilitate a devops mentality," says Breslaw. "For example, by combining data masking with data virtualisation then virtual copies of protected data can be distributed throughout the company without jeopardising security. Through this approach, risk is better placed to work more effectively with each unit and with IT to support company objectives."

"In the long-term, applying key learnings from devops programmes, such as more effective collaboration on common goals, will help promote unity, and that will result in a more agile and productive workplace."

Of course, that's no easy managerial feat, especially across large organisations. But the good news is the tangible benefits even at large global institutions like banks are starting to be felt, so in theory it might not be too long before the cultural aspects leak into organisations outside of development and operations.

According to Chef's Mandi Walls, there was a backlash roughly 10 years ago when businesses believed IT didn't matter – and that it would simply be cheaper to outsource everything rather than foster a healthy internal approach to technology.

"IT was seen as a cost rather than something that would actually help get work done," Walls says. "But I think in the last five years or so, a lot of the more larger companies are beginning to see they can work more efficiently, the can be more effective, they have better velocity for their customers if they are handling more of that work internally. Rather than relying on outsourcing, they're bringing more stuff back in."

"It's been interesting that the value of work has increased, especially on the operations side," Walls says. "I was a sysadmin for a long time, and the less it costs to actually run a system – with cloud and other services that are super inexpensive compared to the capital investment required 15 or 20 years ago, the actual human work now has a lot more value.

"You have a lot of other things you're doing on a much more pro-active basis, with monitoring, and metrics collection, and business intelligence and customer response, and all of those things really help the company move forward. I think a lot more larger companies are catching onto more of these practices, whether that's insurance or banking or retail, because people are moving their lives online and companies are responding to that. And they're moving towards these more collaborative technical environments, including devops culture, as part of that."

Walls explains this approach by comparing IT to the medical field, where a team of professionals will have to assess the patient as a whole to make the appropriate decision. "If it's a cancer patient, you want your cardiologist, you have all these other components, your oncologist," she says. "They all need access to information that's available to make the best choice for the patient.

"So we're starting to see more and more of this larger view of how things work in the marketplace, where IT is just one piece towards a more open aind information-based business," Walls says.

Automic's Scott Willson, whose official title is 'Automic Release Automation Evangelist', picks sport, not medicine, to make his analogy: "Devops encourages a culture of collaboration and respect, not a 'me versus them'," he says. "I often liken devops to an American football team. There are eleven specialists on each side of the ball. They each have an important role to play, and each player must respect and value the role of each other.

"If anyone fails to do their job, or even pick up the slack of a player who missed a task, the whole play fails – it's beautiful chaos, 11 people orchestrating their efforts towards a common goal.  They must all be on the same page and helping each other."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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