It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since Nicholas Carr wrote his controversial article “Does IT Matter,” where he argued that IT had become such an integral part of business that IT disappeared into the infrastructure in the way roads, rails, electric utilities, and engines have in industry. IT, like such infrastructure, became so commonplace that it no longer provided a competitive advantage.
While Carr nodded to the transformative nature of cloud computing, he didn’t see the competitive advantage made possible by businesses that could develop rapidly and innovate. And that’s at the heard of what DevOps, and the associated processes and collaboration is all about. And enterprises that are able to identify opportunities and rapidly innovate using IT more effectively than their competitors would succeed.
However, to succeed, IT investments need to be viewed as more than just ways to cut costs in applications or IT infrastructure. IT has to be looked at as a way to actually drive innovation. And DevOps itself needs to be viewed as more than just a way to reap increased efficiencies out of existing processes and technologies: but as a way to also more tightly couple business needs with IT efforts. One of the most effective ways to do this is to build applications that matter to business users.
When it comes to building great business applications, enterprises often don’t get apps right – however that is a gap DevOps can help to close. When it comes to building apps, organizations often try to build the same apps on mobile devices that they’ve been providing on desktops for years. Or, they try to build applications that attempt to accomplish too much, and end up being overly complicated and largely unused as a result.
“Businesses don’t always get apps built right,” says Brian Katz director, head of end user experience and innovation at Sanofi. “In fact it’s common that they don’t. They try to develop complicated apps that people don’t actually use instead of developing apps that users really need,” says Katz.
“If good app design isn’t part of the equation, all you get is operations and development tools and processes that are optimized to deliver poor app quality,” says Katz. “Design isn’t always part of DevOps, but I think it should be. But design is one of those things that is critical to driving innovation, but people don’t always think about it that way,” he adds.
One way DevOps can help address app development speed bumps is to make sure that these teams are integrated more closely with those who are designing the apps and know what the end users want to do – and how they want to do it. This is especially true when it comes to mobile development, when users may have seconds to input or grab data while they are on the go.
Chris Cera, CEO at mobile and web product development firm Arcweb agrees, and says that testing and design are crucial to building the apps users want to use and to driving IT innovation. “You want to test the user interface and get feedback. It’s so crucial to developing the apps that will not only be apps users want to use, but it’s the key to driving innovative design too,” says Cera.
Those enterprises that do manage to successfully integrate great app design with their DevOps efforts will prove themselves formidable competitors in the years ahead. “The organizations that embrace DevOps are seeing what good happens when the business and IT collaborate, and in the years ahead we will probably see more technology leaders show how IT can lead the organization forward,” says Gene Kim, co-author of The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win.
The data are starting to prove such claims valid. According to the 2014 State of DevOps Report from Puppet Labs, DevOps enterprise adoption is increasing and those organizations that embrace DevOps are deploying code 30 times more frequently and with half as many failures as non-DevOps enterprises. That data helps to support the findings of a CA Technologies study published last year, TechInsights Report: What Smart Businesses Know About DevOps, which found that respondents claim to experience a 17 to 23 percent improvement in certain business outcomes, such as increased revenue, and faster time-to-market.
That all certainly sounds like IT as a way to innovate and differentiate. While the day will come when “IT Doesn’t Matter” – that’s a time that is likely decades away.