Have you noticed how every technology trend goes through a series of stages on the path to mainstream adoption? First comes doubt and denial, then tacit acceptance and finally acknowledgement that it works fine after all. The DevOps movement is no different.
First came questions about what DevOps actually is and its usefulness in an enterprise context (whatever an enterprise actually means these days), then a trickle of success stories and finally the publication of tangible and quantifiable benefits.
Thankfully, we’ve moved on from the “Is it a bird or is it a plane?” stage. Of course, that doesn’t stop hype, but at least the publication of benefits—such as those recently illustrated in the global study, “Assembling the DevOps jigsaw“—allow us to cut through all the “DevOps solves global warming”-type of nonsense being written.
So with the value jury finally in, the next question we should be asking about DevOps is, Where to from here? Interestingly, the old Wikipedia entry for DevOps provides some guidance, stating that DevOps is:
… a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes.
That’s pretty good, because it emphasizes the importance of collaboration across all IT functions (not just Dev and Ops). However, this still doesn’t quite cut it for me. Although lots of cultural and automation heavy lifting has been done to bridge Dev and Ops, more work is needed to understand how aligning other IT functions to DevOps actually benefits the function itself and the business. Also—and perhaps just as important—how aligning other business functions, such as HR and finance, can lead to more success.
DevOps Works Because It’s Good for Business
Business leaders talk in terms such as faster lead times, customer conversions and time-to-value, which (putting cultural discussion aside) is really the essence of DevOps. And because DevOps adoption directly correlates to making a buck, it has a fair chance of garnering attention and investment from the business.
That said then, information security and other professionals would do well to hitch their wagon to DevOps. One of the beauties of the movement is that teams collaborate and provide input much earlier in the development life cycle, with processes then automated to ensure faster release time and quality. By also involving security earlier, businesses could feasibly harden security, balancing all those “rain on your parade” audits and checklists with automated methods that ensure compliant configurations lead to faster deployments.
An interesting but important benefit is how this approach helps align IT security to business outcomes. Rather than proving its worth through a whole raft of technical sounding measures, such as penetration test scores, patched vulnerabilities or security incidents detected, security can report functional value in context of business goals, such as how automated compliance equals faster releases, leading to increased revenue.
Of course, DevOps doesn’t just involve Dev, Ops and security, it also will involve other functions providing valuable input to help increase speed and quality. Think of it like the old “Stone Soup” story but without the trickery—everyone, be they software designers, product managers and enterprise architects, providing advice and expertise earlier in the software life cycle so essential elements of resilience, supportability and scale are baked in right from the get-go.
DevOps Shouldn’t Start and End in IT
The DevOps way suggests that we shouldn’t just restrict ourselves to IT functions—start there, yes, but other facets of the business should also participate. This sounds like common sense, but in reality it’s more critical because the boundaries between business and digital have blurred significantly. Fail to recognize this and we could end up a silo of good intentions: culturally correct but lacking any teeth.
This explains why even the much-maligned HR function has a DevOps role to play. For too long, many HR departments have been fundamentally back-office, dipping their toes in the muddy waters of organizational culture with periodic staff surveys and performance appraisals. But this doesn’t go far enough. Now, HR leaders must step out onto software factory floor and work hand-in-step with other DevOps practitioners to identify all the organizational and psychological barriers that inhibit business growth and the development of talent.
Finance, too, must become aligned to DevOps. This involves moving beyond traditional IT cost-center thinking to developing new fluid funding models needed to stimulate software innovation by agile teams. This means business change agents must join forces with DevOps practitioners to look at better ways to capitalize or expense software development costs or optimally monetize new apps, APIs and information assets. Once again, the earlier this happens in the software life cycle, the better.
From an IT perspective, we’ve come a long way with DevOps in a relatively short amount of time. But this is only the start of the journey. Most businesses haven’t even considered transformation of the whole organization using DevOps principles as a change agent. Those that do most likely will gain first-mover advantage—and that’s a good place to be in an economy increasingly shaped by application software.