The idea of DevOps being a competitive advantage is not a new one. Service providers, software sellers, and internal IT frequently use this argument to justify all kinds of investments. But is there any real merit to this argument? Is DevOps truly a source of sustainable competitive advantage? Or is it simply just hype and a new way to sell a product / service?
Here are some of the more popular points of view from both sides of the aisle.
|“Yes Absolutely”||“No, Go Take A Hike”|
|Speed is sexyIn the mobile, social, and web world customers expect speed and responsiveness. Bringing an idea to the market faster than your competitors is definitely an advantage and DevOps allows us to do just that.||DevOps is not the only fish in the seaAgreed that speed is sexy. But at this given moment there are multiple technologies / philosophies out there that claim to do the same – i.e. cloud, big data, analytics etc. What makes DevOps so different?|
|DevOps is hard to replicateWhile purchasing tools is easy, the real benefit lies in getting the culture and process right. Any organization that can get that right will be able to form a sustainable competitive advantage.||Same has been said about other strategiesRemember when outsourcing started. It too was touted as a sustainable competitive advantage. Now it is the de facto strategy for IT erasing any advantages that the early adopters had. DevOps, if it does take off, too will follow the same path.|
|New IT operating modelDevOps represents a new way for enterprise IT to operate. It breaks down the silo structures and unlocks the value trapped within the existing organization.||Enterprises are not start-upsJust because it worked in a start-up environment does not mean that it can work in a large enterprise.|
|Listening to customersSpeed is only one equation of DevOps advantage, the other is faster feedback loops so that you can determine that you are going in the right direction. Combine the two and you have a powerful competitive advantage.||Not an IT responsibility / competencyIsn’t that what most organizations already do? I have my entire business / product / marketing org. focused on just that. The last thing I need now is IT to jump in and muck it all up.|
|The new Software Delivery LifeCycle (SDLC)DevOps represents a new way for enterprise IT to operate. It breaks down the silo structures and unlocks the value trapped within the existing organization.||Just good marketingThis is just repackaging of an old wine into a new bottle…DevOps is just a new thing. Like all other fads this too will pass.|
Allow me to be the quintessential consultant and speak from both sides of my mouth. DevOps is and is not a competitive advantage. Now before you close the browser and move on, let me explain.
DevOps in the short term is most definitely an advantage. Moving an organization from Traditional to a DevOps approach is not an easy task. Any corporation that can successfully achieve this transformation will be the first to reap its benefits – from faster speed to market to being more responsive to their customers. And the benefits are real! Ask Netflix and Etsy, who have been able to out innovate their competitors and gain a sizable lead in the market.
However, in the long term, as more and more firms invest in DevOps the advantage will continue to shrink. DevOps, if you strip all the marketing jargon and go down to the most basic definition, is about reorganizing the internal plumbing of IT (i.e. how IT performs the various tasks within the software delivery lifecycle). And while in the short term plumbing can allow you to do some neat stuff, at the end it’s only internal plumbing and rarely a source of lasting competitive advantage.
To see this is action, look at the automotive, financial, and then our very own Information Technology industries. In all three examples, the company that was able to transform was able to establish an early sizeable lead, reap the rewards, and the rest of the industry forced to catch up eventually.
In automotive industry, early investment in lean and TQM earned Toyota customer loyalty and a significant lead over its traditional competitors. And while the lead lasted for a decade (short time in an industry where product lifecycles are 4 – 5 years), competitors quickly started to invest and catch up. You can now argue that U.S. manufacturers are at par with Toyota in both quality and speed. Where the competitors have still not caught up is in perception.
In the 1970s it was not unusual for a home buyer to wait for up to 90 days to get a credit decision and a loan, as per “industry standards” in those days. Citibank rearranged its internal processes to give buyers a decision in 30 days. It took the industry by storm. Competitors eventually caught up and now 30 days is the norm.
And as for our very own, Information Technology industry…outsourcing was considered to be a competitive advantage for many of the first movers. Like other strategies, it too required a structural change to make it happen. Many of the initial pioneers were able to cut IT costs by over 30% and establish a cost advantage over their competitors. But within a decade competitors copied, banked the savings, and eroded the cost advantages.
In my opinion, DevOps too will follow a similar path. A few leaders will emerge (already happening), they will set the pace of change for the industry, and the rest will have to follow….whether they like it or not.
About the Author
Mustafa Kapadia is the Service Line Leader for IBM’s DevOps practice, a business advisory practice focused on helping large enterprises transform their software & application delivery. He has over 17+ years of experience in the tech. space, both as a service provider and a management consultant.
Prior to joining IBM, Mustafa was a management consultant with Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations practice. He lives in San Francisco Bay Area, is an avid blogger (when time permitting), a speaker, and adviser to start ups.