DevOps: Turning the IT "Problem" into a Business Solution
Each day, IT professionals are faced with immense responsibility. In a world that revolves around tech, employees, executives, and customers have high expectations for their digital experiences, and leaders who fail to adapt will be left behind.
Most IT departments don’t operate efficiently, and are often perceived as bottlenecks, cost centers, and unworthy of executive support. Unorganized and outdated workflows allow this vicious cycle to continue, not only hindering department performance, but also stunting business growth. Eventually, an organization may drop their expectations for IT as a strategic asset and look for solutions elsewhere.
DevOps is a methodology and a practice that can be used to eliminate these harmful patterns, and bring new clarity, efficiency and performance to the entire organization. Those who successfully adopt DevOps will outperform their peers. (DORA, 2018 State of DevOps Report)
If you’re ready to shift the perception of IT, transform your business, and start achieving real outcomes, it’s time to take a closer look at DevOps.
DevOps: A New Solution for Old Problems
In the past, Waterfall processes allowed teams to work slowly and methodically, pass work from one department to the next, and march toward deployments often months or years apart. However, today’s tech-centered world demands that teams speed up, push to deliver quickly, and adapt constantly, or be outperformed by their peers.
In the effort to keep up, many IT departments have lost control, trying to fit an outdated model into a new set of needs. As a result, IT and Operations are often at odds, merely throwing their work “over the wall” with little collaboration or consideration for each other. Long-term projects become quickly bottlenecked, with a constant accrual of technical debt (which means more employee hours and resources to fix coding issues). Then, as deployment approaches, testing comes in too late to catch major bugs, resulting in a last-minute scramble, sacrificed quality, and unmet expectations for customers.
Each of these issues contributes to the ultimate suffering of an organization — an organization that’s unable to keep employees happy, let alone meet its long-term goals. In fact, DevOps experts suggest that approximately $2.6 trillion of value is untapped each year, due to the inefficiency of technology (Kim et al., 2016, p. xxix).
As an example, back in 2009, Etsy struggled with inefficient workflows and long lead times. Site updates were disastrous, translating into immense downtime, frustrated customers, and lost revenue.
But, with fresh ideas and new management, Etsy successfully applied DevOps principles to transform into a leading organization — one that can now smoothly deploy over 50 times a day.
DevOps aims to reverse the odds stacked against IT, and ultimately turn an inherent “problem” into a strategic solution.
How Can DevOps Help?
DevOps primarily focuses on two initiatives: the optimization of your current business, and transformation into new business opportunities. Before you begin your DevOps transformation, you must first ask what you’d like to achieve. What is your “why” for adopting DevOps?
Those who focus on business optimization might aim to:
- Improve customer experience
- Increase customer value delivery
- Improve employee productivity
- Improve employee and customer retention
- Diminish cultural divides
On the other hand, organizations that take a transformational approach will focus on the ultimate growth of the business. This might include:
- Production of new products
- Expansion into new markets and industries
- New revenue streams
- New customer and employee experiences
Evaluating your organizational goals will give you an idea of where to begin. (But don’t be fooled into thinking you have to pick one area over another.)
In many cases, organizations find that they can unlock the ability to transform over time through optimization. Optimized business practices allow for more time to experiment, explore new ideas, and build and deploy at a faster pace (Kim et al., 2016, p. xxiii).
But What is DevOps?
So, what is DevOps exactly? DevOps isn’t a “quick fix.” It’s a set of principles that lead to the holistic transformation of an organization. By our definition, DevOps consists of six major components that work in harmony to achieve positive business outcomes. These are:
- Culture & Organization
- Lean & Agile Practices
- System & Data Architecture
- Continuous Delivery
- Infrastructure & Operations
When performed well, these practices take companies from good to great, and can help your team reach its full potential. While you may already focus on one or more of these initiatives, take a moment to consider each element and the impact it could have on your business.
Six Components of DevOps Success
Culture and Organization
Culture is one of the most difficult things to change across an organization. Yet, it’s one of the most impactful for business success. Though deep-rooted patterns are often difficult to break, those who find the greatest DevOps success are those who can instill cultural DevOps adoption from the ground up.
For years, organizations have worked in an environment where Development, Operations, and other departments don’t often meet. Instead, each department traditionally focused on their work, then threw it over the wall to be picked up by the next person in line. These silos leave little room for collaboration or consideration for each other. When issues arise, taking accountability is slow, and individuals or teams may be quick to place blame for fear of being punished.
But DevOps suggests a more efficient, collaborative approach that urges departments to work together. This collaborative, team-centered approach not only eliminates silos, but also increases accountability across the company. Through DevOps, developers can be given autonomy to own and manage their work through the entire development process, allowing them to see firsthand how their code will impact the customer. In return, developers hold a greater sense of accountability and increased buy-in. And Operations is free to spend time focusing on other tasks.
In addition, DevOps fosters an environment where a mistake is seen as a learning opportunity. Positive response to failure may not only increase employee satisfaction, but enable employees to push themselves, take risks, and ultimately reach their full potential (DevOps Handbook, 2016).
Leaders have an important role to play in the culture of their organizations. A successful cultural shift often requires the buy-in of a top executive leader who can support deep-rooted transformation that means real change.
Lean & Agile Practices
Achieving a cultural shift within an organization may first begin with a shift in process and practices. For many, this is achieved through the adoption of Lean and Agile practices.
Lean practices suggest that the quicker businesses can deliver value to the customer, the better the quality, customer satisfaction, and employee happiness (DevOps Handbook, 4). Along the same lines, Agile breaks work into small parts, so that value can be delivered quickly and incrementally. This contradicts traditional Waterfall practices that operate on single, large projects that may not deliver value for months or years at a time.
If the greatest measure of a company’s success is based on the velocity and efficiency of delivery, this is something leaders will want to get right.
Kanban Boards, Value Stream Mapping, and Dojos are some common practices that have proven to boost organizational change. Through training and collaboration, IT departments should aim to create small, self-sufficient teams to operate quickly and independently.
Like cultural change, implementing practices like Lean and Agile may require steady, consistent effort over time. Target is a great example of a company that transformed its culture from the ground up through the use of Agile. They began their process by first implementing Agile practices on a few small teams who were able to test the concept and start creating buy-in. DevOps Dojos were brought on-site to mentor these teams on the job, without interrupting normal business practices. Before long, grassroots teams were trained to operate more quickly and productively, and soon everyone wanted to get on board. Target has since created their own Target Dojos , offering specialized training to encourage a positive cultural shift company-wide.
System & Data Architecture
Before your business and technology can effectively work together, you’ll need the right architecture in place. Effective architecture can enable your technology to become a strategic asset to your organization. To accomplish this, DevOps experts suggest architecture that is componentized, decoupled, and highly accessible to maximize workflow.
Highly coupled architecture often produces hundreds or even thousands of dependencies within a single system, making deployments inflexible, slow, and complex. As a result, developers spend too much time sitting and waiting on others, losing productivity, and increasing the amount of work to be redone. At the organizational level, the intricacies of highly coupled architecture may even inhibit the ability to scale.
By moving to a DevOps-focused, loosely coupled architecture, companies can be freed from the ample dependencies of the past. Building a highly accessible system will minimize roadblocks, boost productivity, and grant developers the freedom to test and deploy without countless hours of downtime. The lack of dependencies within the system will allow organizations to minimize fatal errors, hand off waste, and successfully scale over time.
With the right type of architecture in place, IT can support the achievement of organizational goals, no matter the size of the business.
Imagine a world where you could deploy code hundreds or even thousands of times a day. For many IT leaders, this might seem like a pipe dream, but for those who adopt the concept of Continuous Delivery (CD), it’s a reality.
Similar to Lean and Agile practices, CD builds on the idea that work is completed most efficiently when broken into small parts. By delivering value incrementally, it’s possible to bypass some of the major pitfalls of long deployment lead times that are error-prone and require high-pressure heroics.
Continuous delivery requires a constant flow of feedback for developers. It lets them work autonomously to build, test, and deploy their code multiple times a day. Often, updates will be pushed without the customer even noticing they occurred, and failures can be dealt with quickly and inconspicuously. Anyone who has ever had a major project go awry understands the value of detecting errors early ,before they disrupt the entire value stream.
Veracity CEO and DevOps expert, John Esser, first heard about CD while acting as Director of Cloud Engineering at Ancestry. As his team worked to increase the speed of value delivery, they focused on shortening the time between deployments. But due to the sheer amount of code being written, deployments fell behind, and often took several days to complete.
When Esser picked up a copy of Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble, he knew he found the answer to this problem. Soon, Esser and the team at Ancestry implemented a tool to deploy code quickly and incrementally, eliminating previous long deployment times and delays. This tool enabled continuous delivery for hundreds of independent developers and allowed Ancestry to rapidly scale through the next six months and beyond.
Each project, organization, and value stream come with its own set of moving parts. Between Development, Operations, and countless other departments, leaders have a lot to manage — and consequently, a lot of room for error.
In an outdated system, issues that arise could take hours or even days to identify and resolve, resulting in immense downtime and an impacted customer experience. In the scramble to correct these issues, the first course of action might be rebooting a server, followed by pointing fingers.
In a DevOps-oriented system, experts recommend implementing systems of high observability. Observability is the ability of an organization to monitor, log, alert, and analyze all data passing through the system. This data provides a constant stream of feedback that allows people to identify, adapt, and respond to issues quickly, before they ever reach the customer.
Etsy used observability to minimize risk through a major transition to a new set of tools. They began gathering data points from every step across the organization (from the top of the business down to IT) to analyze their progress and identify problem areas. Soon, departments began placing TVs around the office to make their key data points readily available, and they adopted the mantra, “If it moves, we track it.” Before long, they multiplied their data points to over 800,000, eliminated silos of communication, and gained the confidence to make the necessary changes to help their business move forward. (Kim et al, 2016, p. 197)
By using self-service APIs and open source systems throughout the entire development process, departments can identify issues at the root cause, promote organizational learning, minimize downtime, and enable their developers’ success.
Infrastructure & Operations
DevOps often blurs the lines between Operations and Development to make the flow of value more efficient. Effective infrastructure often involves the creation of an on-premises data center, or moving to the cloud, giving Dev and Ops the power to automate practices and increase their productivity.
For example, Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and serverless systems allow developers to provision their data simply and rapidly, eliminating manual work previously done by Operations. An experienced Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) can provision a server within minutes, producing code that can be easily scaled and that adapts easily to times of high-traffic.
Similarly, serverless infrastructure gives developers the freedom to build and run applications, without any manual hardware management. At Veracity Solutions, our experts have used serverless to increase the flow of value for many unique systems. In each case, serverless has enabled clients to improve the processing times of millions of files — from days to just hours or even minutes (for up to a petabyte of data), freeing time to devote to other projects.
On that note, one of Ancestry’s major roadblocks on their path to optimization was their infrastructure. In a 2013 interview for the PwC Technology Forecast journal, John Esser shared, “When working with physical machines, it would take as much as a couple of months to get new services provisioned and set up. We had long lead time, we didn’t have flexibility to move resources around, and existing hardware was dedicated to existing services.” For their transformation to take place, it was time to move to the cloud.
Adopting more agile methods and moving to the cloud enabled Ancestry to increase their agility and respond quickly to the different needs of their organization. When discussing the impact of their move to the cloud, Esser said, “Thanks to our changes in infrastructure and continuous delivery, we can respond to different market conditions, have a good foundation for innovation, and can rapidly iterate and try new ideas. We have achieved what I would call business agility.”
Operational practices like change management also work to improve DevOps processes by removing bottlenecks to speed up deployment — without losing quality. By removing lengthy change request processes and allowing developers to peer-review, work can be deployed quickly, and detrimental errors can be avoided.
DevOps explores new ways that Dev and Ops can work together to achieve their maximum output over time. By pushing to the cloud or customizing in-house solutions, businesses can streamline processes, prepare for unexpected market changes, and free teams to focus on other important tasks.
The Impact of DevOps: Bolstering Business Value
As demonstrated in cases like Etsy, Target, and Ancestry, IT has the power to change the outlook of your organization. The role of DevOps is to help enable technology so that business goals can become a reality.
Consider how your business could benefit from successful IT and the adoption of DevOps by reviewing the following:
Complete Business Transformation
John Deere is just one example of a company leveraging technology to undergo a complete transformation. After years of being labeled as a leader in farm equipment, John Deere decided to transform in a revolutionary way.
For an organization that seemed to have “peaked,” John Deere used digital transformation to rewrite their story, unlock new revenue streams, and create a business built to last far into the Digital Age.
Improved Employee and Customer Retention
Taking charge of culture could be one of the most valuable things leaders do for their businesses. Studies have shown that organizations that struggle with cultural divides, fear of failure, and broken processes may be working directly against the health and happiness of their employees. Long hours, high stress, and continued system failures often instill feelings of powerlessness, which, according to many psychologists, is one of the most damaging feelings humans can experience (DevOps Handbook, xxviii).
DevOps and digital transformation have the power to mend the damage from years of broken processes by eliminating cultural divides, encouraging autonomy, and improving processes. With the right culture, IT leaders can empower their employees and eliminate frequent roller coasters of stress, which can result in lower attrition, higher intrinsic motivation, and improved employee happiness.
Likewise, DevOps transformation can have a major impact on the satisfaction of your customers. By streamlining, refining and deploying at a higher velocity, organizations can deliver value without disrupting the customer experience. Satisfied customers lead to increased customer retention, sales, and a positive trajectory to meet your business goals.
Meet Business Objectives
You may have heard it before — These days, every company is a technology company. This means that regardless of your company definition, mission statement, or even organizational goals, the success of your business in some way relies on IT. Whether you host an e-commerce website, manage data centers worldwide, or even use a cash register, you need your technology to work, or your company won’t progress.
Improving the efficiency and positive outcomes of technology can only stand to benefit you in the long run. So, whether your goal is to reach one million subscribers, increase revenue, or push into new industries, a positive digital transformation can set you up for success.
Gain a Competitive Advantage
The success of large-scale DevOps adoption has led to a surge in interest on the subject. However, while many are trying to reap the rewards of DevOps, few may ever get it right. According to Gartner, by 2022, a staggering 75% of DevOps initiatives will fail to meet expectations over time.
Proper execution could be the advantage you need to stand apart in a competitive market. Those who succeed will enable their business to run faster, work smarter, and stay one step ahead.
Debunking DevOps Myths
Before jumping into DevOps head-first, it’s important to understand some common misconceptions and mistakes that companies make as they start their DevOps journey.
Myth #1: DevOps requires a DevOps team
Perhaps the first mistake leaders make when adopting DevOps is forming a DevOps Team. While this may seem reasonable at first, companies often find that a DevOps team may hinder performance in the long run.
DevOps is built on increasing efficiency, eliminating silos, streamlining, and fostering cultural buy-in. Creating a DevOps team can add an additional silo to work around, generating more handoff waste in the process. Plus, by assigning one team to focus on DevOps, you eliminate the opportunity for the rest of the organization to learn and buy in for themselves.
If you’d like to form a DevOps team to get the ball rolling, make sure they’re dissolved into the organization first.
Myth #2: DevOps is a tool
When learning about DevOps, many IT leaders initiate the process by asking, “What tool can I implement that will initiate our DevOps Transformation?” But DevOps is much more than just a tool to be purchased or software to be downloaded. Using Jenkins, Git, or Kubernetes doesn’t mean you “do DevOps.”
What IT leaders must remember is that DevOps requires a cultural shift and transformation from the inside out. A team could use the most efficient tools in the world, but if their organizational structure, mentality, and architecture are not equipped to match, they will not get far.
Cultural changes must be considered just as important (or more important) than any other transformation within the business. Only when your leadership, team members, and departments are invested in and aligned with the process will you start to see real change.
Myth #3: DevOps just affects IT
As discussed previously, the success of IT can and will eventually ripple through an organization. The time and attention you put into IT could have the power to make or break your business goals. As an executive considering DevOps, assuming its impact will only touch IT could hold your business back from its full potential.
To fully embrace DevOps, everyone must let go of the idea that IT stands independent from the rest of the organization and begin seeing IT as a strategic asset. This will require executive support.
DevOps and Setting the Right Expectations
Before embarking on your DevOps journey, the proper expectations must be set. Real transformation takes time, and in many cases, meeting your business objectives could take much longer than you think. Our experts recommend mapping out a 3- to 5-year plan of execution, depending on the needs of your business. Planning a consistent, step-by-step approach will not only set realistic expectations but also strengthen your organization over time.
As an example, Bank of America began a major cloud migration back in 2012 and are still working to complete their transformation. However, after seven years of patience and persistence, they have saved billions in hardware costs, and improved customer interaction. By the end of 2019, they’ll have successfully moved 80% of their infrastructure to their private cloud, with plans to complete the remaining 20% in the years to come. A slow and steady migration helped them gain confidence in their cloud operations, gather insight into clients, and make a major shift without impeding business operations.
In Veracity’s Guidebook: Navigating Your DevOps Journey, John Esser discusses the value of creating a multiyear DevOps transformation plan. This roadmap should be designed to cover many unique facets of your organization, mapped out over the course of 3-5 years, as discussed above.
Consider the following example. Per Esser’s chart, a successful Process transformation might start with Lean/Agile training in year one, before beginning to scale into year two. By year three, your team has scaled successfully, and can begin boosting efficiency through targeted dependency reduction. In just three years, you’ll have taken the steps to create change that lasts.
For a full example of a 3-year DevOps transformation roadmap, you can download Veracity’s DevOps guidebook here.
Achieving a lasting DevOps transformation is not easy, but with the proper planning and a paced approach, your organization can:
- Make changes without disrupting your current business - Rushing in too early will cause more chaos than harmony through tricky transitional phases.
- Keep management on your side - Overpromising big results in short timelines will only lead to frustration when things don’t go as planned. By getting executives on track with proper expectations, you will minimize conflict and pressure to deliver when the going gets rough.
- Achieve lasting, holistic change - Deep-rooted change will always last longer than short-term success. To reap the full rewards of DevOps, you must begin your transformation from the inside out, setting yourself up for success in the long term.
- Avoid employee frustration and burnout - There is always a limit to the amount of change people can absorb at once. By delivering change in small doses, you will avoid overload. Help employees buy into the long-term vision to keep them motivated to reach success.
How to Begin Your DevOps Journey
If your business is looking for a change, DevOps could be your answer. With the right tools, principles, culture, and implementation, DevOps has the power to not only shift the fate of IT, but also transform your organization.
It’s time to shift the perception of IT and turn an inherent problem into a valuable, strategic solution. If you’re ready to embark on your DevOps Journey, download the Veracity Guidebook: Navigating Your DevOps Journey, and book a free hour with a Veracity expert.
Your DevOps transformation starts with Veracity.
- Costello, Katie. "The Secret to DevOps Success." Gartner. April 11, 2019. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/the-secret-to-devops-success/
- DeFrancesco, Dan. "Bank of America is Putting the Finishing Touches on a 7-Year Cloud Journey its CTO Says Has Saved the Bank Billions and Improved Customer Interactions." Business Insider. June 4, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/bank-of-america-cto-discussed-cloud-strategy-and-tech-savings-2019-5
- DORA, "DevOps Research and Assessment," DORA, 2018, https://devops-research.com/research.html
- Gene Kim, Jez Hubmle, Patrick Debois, & John Willis, The DevOps Handbook. Portland: IT Revolution Press, 2016.
- High, Peter. "How Best Buy, The New York Times, and John Deere Have Become Digital Leaders." Forbes. August 27, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhigh/2018/08/27/how-best-buy-the-new-york-times-and-john-deere-have-become-digital-leaders/#79937bb447c1
- Jez Humble, Continuous Delivery (Boston: Pearson Education, 2011)
- Perlman, Cassie. "From Product to Platform: John Deer Revolutionizes Farming." Digital Initiative. February 26, 2017. https://digital.hbs.edu/data-and-analysis/product-platform-john-deere-revolutionizes-farming/