We know enterprises are embracing messaging apps and incorporating so-called “ChatOps” into their workflow. ChatOps is, potentially, a powerful way to facilitate more swift decision-making and problem-solving and to receive quick, expert guidance. “With the rise of cloud services that can be easily deployed, and increased awareness and importance given to productivity and collaboration within the workspace, enterprise chat is gaining priority,” says Narain Muralidharan, a market analyst at online customer support software and help-desk software maker Freshdesk.
As most readers are aware, ChatOps has been fueled by the growth of tools such as HipChat, HuBot, Slack and others for chat-style and instant collaborative software development and project management. But these tools also execute scripts and automate tasks and get workflow approvals to deploy code, kick off software tests and more. As an added bonus, within the chat application exists a clear record of all discussions and scripts executed—something very handy for root cause analysis and troubleshooting.
With all of that in mind, how are enterprises embracing chat?
Chatting Down Silos
“At Threat Stack, we’ve long embraced Slack as a collaboration tool that removes silos within the organization and helps busy operations teams to move quickly and have a fully informed view,” says Pete Cheslock, senior director of Ops and Support at Threat Stack. “We’re seeing this migration toward ChatOps with our customers.”
Bhaskar Roy, head of growth at Workato, sees chat being embraced at companies ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 firms. “There are groups in large enterprises who are adopting different chat products and are always looking for what they can do to make chat the center of all communication. When we talk to these companies we find that they believe that chat is a more natural, human, fast way to communicate—which can help in getting things done faster,” Roy says. Chat, he adds, is becoming a “command center for business apps. [Organizations] are using chat to get information from various applications and are looking for ways where they can easily interact with the application from the comfort of their chat/conversational interface.”
According to the most recent VictorOps State of On-Call survey, ChatOps continues to grow, with 40 percent saying they practice ChatOps during event remediation. That’s up significantly from 28 percent last year.
Getting the Most Out of ChatOps
With the tremendous growth in ChatOps, what practices have enterprises learned to bring the most success? Below we list the four essential practices that will help organizations succeed in their ChatOps engagements:
Embrace adoption: “The main problem that enterprises have in chat penetration internally is adoption. People are resistant to change, and it is usually difficult to change user behavior, especially in the way people work every day,” says Muralidharan. “Some practices are set in stone, like emailing or the good old face-to-face meetings. Start small with pilot teams, get buy in, and create evangelists within the company. A lot can be gained by having a top-down approach to adoption; hence, management buy-in is very crucial.”
Fine-tune notifications: “The biggest problem that we see is that bots and app notifications that are being pumped into the chats today are making things very noisy, resulting in loss of productivity overall,” says Roy. “What we believe is needed is utilizing bots to enhance the overall individual productivity, where people are notified only for things that are urgent, relevant and something that they need to act on right away. And bots are intelligent so that they understand and learn based on user interactions and are proactively prompting / helping as and when required.”
Adopt a DevOps mentality: Eric Sigler, head of DevOps at PagerDuty, suggests that “to make the most of chat within your enterprise, it is important to adopt a ‘DevOps mentality,’ where individual teams are more responsible for, and empowered to maintain, their own services. Without this, it’s too easy for teams to ‘throw things over the wall’ and for ChatOps-based tooling to remain restricted to a limited set of users.
“Existing infrastructure teams need to be a part of this ride as well,” he adds. “If they don’t take the time to understand how their engineers—their user base—want to interact with the tooling and invest in ‘making the easy things easy, and the hard things possible,’ then ChatOps-style tools will get relegated to shiny demos with little practical utility.”
Avoid DevOps fatigue. Chat alerts can be nagging distractions throughout the day, sucking worker concentration and clamoring for their time. “Customizing notification preferences in your chat client can help enterprises reap the benefits of chat. By personalizing notifications, it ensures that they see the most important chats and are accessible when it matters, but still have the ability to focus without being disrupted by constant pings,” Sigler says.
What Does the Future Hold for Enterprise Chat?
What does the future of ChatOps look like? Most of the experts we spoke with say it’s bright. “In an age of digital transformation where slow is the new down, conversationally driven interaction with software is going to play an important role for collaboration and increased agility,” says Sigler. “Overall for founders, hackers and investors, there’s room to innovate when it comes to humans and bots, and there’s a lot of really poor user experiences and bad workflows out there that can be improved by thinking about them through the constraints chat provides.”