As DevOps settles into the tech industry and the broader corporate world—it’s not really considered “new” anymore—some tech pros have come to consider it as more than an approach to building cooperative working relationships between developers and operations specialists. Instead, they see it as a culture that can, in the words of blogger Pavan Belagatti, “be embedded within the organization.” Setting DevOps’s “norms, rules and standards” across teams should result, he added, in a “change for the good.”
When they think about DevOps, most tech professionals think of the IT “organization.” However, some CIOs and tech managers are beginning to wonder whether its concepts can be applied to the wider company. It’s an idea worth examining and, when pursued in a thoughtful and well-planned way, can help a business improve its performance (and IT increase its influence).
Applying DevOps principles to non-technology functions results in the creation of “a collaborative work environment with open and frequent communications,” said Greg Ambrose, managing director of Chicago-based recruiter Stack Talent. The disciplines and strategies embedded in DevOps have the potential to drive improved quality in products and services, as well as high customer value.
But proceed carefully. While the principals of DevOps offer business value, Ambrose cautions that it’s important to:
- Identify up-front the specific business needs a wider DevOps approach would address.
- Assign individuals who’ll be responsible for its implementation,
- Make sure DevOps terminology is put into language that workers outside of technology can understand.
And DevOps Is…?
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the definition of DevOps—or least get on the same page about its meaning. A number of tech pros (ranging from development and operations experts to bloggers and rank-and-file developers) often have their own descriptions. For our purposes, we’ll use the one favored by Amazon Web Services:
“DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organizations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.”
AWS says the key components of DevOps are:
- The elimination of silos.
- Tighter integration of quality assurance, security teams, development and operations.
- Automating processes to speed projects along.
All of these touch a corporation’s culture in some way. As a result, spreading the DevOps gospel requires considering your organization’s dynamics and what might be involved in changing them, said Michael Statmore, a CIO and consultant based in Doylestown, Pa.
While some people may be ready to embrace a change, others are sure to resist it. If you want to encourage other departments to adopt a DevOps approach, “you’ve got to start with little things that are easy for you to incorporate,” Statmore said. “For instance, conducting postmortems without any blame, so everybody feels free to talk and open up and there’s no finger-pointing. I think that’s a good place to start.”
What’s In It for Them?
Of course, any cultural change requires a certain amount of inside sales, points out MJ Shoer, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based consultant who works with IT executives and channel organizations. At its core, sales is the art of demonstrating how something—a new approach to work, a new product or whatever it might be—can fill a need or make someone’s life better.
For example, DevOps encourages efficiency and speed, Statmore pointed out. It “takes out a lot of the bureaucracy and reduces the long timeframes needed for getting things done,” he said. “So instead of taking four weeks to spin up a server, we’ll get it up in 15 minutes.” That kind of example translates neatly into the context of another department, and carries extra weight because it’s based on IT’s real-world experience.
In addition, DevOps encourages team members to share information, as it improves transparency. Good processes provide both teams and managers with metrics they can use to help them improve their work, Statmore explained. In this regard, DevOps leverages technology to do more than automate chores. “You’re going to have a better idea of what’s going on if you’ve got things like status pages” available so more people are aware of how systems are running or processes are moving along.
And ultimately, DevOps is all about processes, Statmore said: “The whole point of DevOps is to let you move faster.” Applied to general business use, the idea of “systems” can become “processes,” and DevOps can even apply to workflows that technology has little to do with.