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Can you drive Digital Transformation through DevOps?

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples -- Mother Teresa



The need for innovation has never been greater, with the likes of HPE, Uber, Netflix, and Amazon to name a few, who are continually changing the way they do business via their ability to rapidly develop and deliver innovative software at pace.  But, let’s not forget those big market leaders of the past, like Kodak, Nokia and Blockbuster who failed because of not changing their operating model quick enough to market needs and disruptive technologies.  Today it is essential to embrace the era of digital transformation no matter what industry or market – public sectors, non-profit or private organisations can succeed in their respective marketplaces driving towards the much-thought-after competitive advantage.


But what is Transformation?

The “Transformation” word, from Latin variant of tranformare originating from old French language in the 1800s.  It is an overly-used term within many business situations trying to describe a marked change to an existing operating process or model to something new and shiny – a cultural shift.  The word has been and is the rage (a buzzword) in the business world as the next best thing since “sliced bread”.

Therefore there are a lot of ideas, theories and noise about what it entails and how to best achieve it.  This blog does not describe in detail how to transform (for that, I would recommend my favourite management guru Tom Peters and his many books, but in particular “Thriving on Chaos – Handbook for a Management Revolution”).

DevOps has also become a buzzword for 21st Century software delivery, as a slick, fast method for releasing applications at speed and at the right quality.  DevOps is the amalgamation of Development and Operations teams to work together, bringing with it a culture of continuous collaboration, improvement in communications, faster applications releases and obviously fit-for-purposes applications that customers really want.  It follows on from agile working methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, etc. 

Successfully implemented  means that companies can become more competitive by delivering new applications, services and, capabilities faster, securely and with the right quality

Putting these two watchwords together can provide the means to transform an organisation via the use of appropriate DevOps culture that create applications that provide true customer engagement with effective UIs, accessible web interfaces and smart mobile/agile interfaces.

It’s all about the right culture – a change in people (behaviours), process (practices) and technology.


Why DevOps Transformation?

One of the prime objectives of DevOps is developing technology software service that help organisations create an agile and continuous delivery flow, from development through to testing, to operations and deployment without losing quality, stability, reliability nor security.

This adoption of DevOps principles inherently by default provides a culture shift in the organisations by permitting teams to continuously collaborate and jointly take ownership of all outcomes.  The focus is speed not cost. When organisations organise their structure for costs, they inherently create functional silos for each team where these teams protect their little world like zealots.  Optimising for speed, changes this dynamics by cultivating teams from within, empowering the continuous collaborative flow and rewarding speed.


DevOps Transformation Principles

When a CIO talks to me about DevOps, they often want to know how they can influence their organisation’s transformation programme because “my colleagues do not understand technology but want me to sort their business problems out and they want it yesterday”.  Often the CIO is just another senior executive trying to align their services (this time technology) to the business need.  DevOps has been sold to them as the panacea for them to establish themselves as the shining knights, giving their business what they need “yesterday”.  But normally they do not know where to start.

In a nutshell here is my top five basic starting principles of DevOps Transformation and how a CIO’s can align it to their business transformation journey:

  1. Understand how ready you actually are. Too often DevOps mini projects are set off without any real strategic direction, in its own silo and without any business leader’s support.  It is vital that strategic ownership, championing and direction is attained in order to get everyone on the same page and ensure that your DevOps transformation is a success.  It is a hearts and minds endeavour that affects the whole organisation not just development and operations. Try where possible to get a Business Champion behind your DevOps Transformation –  not just IT driven, but business driven. 

  2. Create a DevOps Shared Service Unit. Do this within your existing structure and resource that encompasses all areas of all the DevOps domains from management, development through to operations and delivery.  Don’t, make the mistake so often made by creating a unique and independent DevOps silo from additional consultants and experts.  As a Silo it cannot deliver across the company but on its own. 

  3. Integrate Governance within the DevOps transformation programme as a norm not as an add-on. Ensuring that it provides the road-map for DevOps success, communications plans to educate and enthuse all staff at all levels, DevOps key performance indicators not just traditional software developments KPIs, clear roles and responsibility matrices across all levels, collaboration principles and a culture map on how the DevOps programme will align to the business. 

  4. Identify and Initiate Pilots. Not everything can be “DevOps”, ensuring that the right applications or domains are identified is essential.  Too often the wrong legacy environment is used to “move over to a DevOps environment” when the legacy environment should have really been retired as it cannot be “transferred” to the new technology.  The reason for this is to create a value-stream map of your chosen apps/domains that identifies the amount of DevOps processes, tools, people, skills, etc is required for success and ultimately be able to deliver success by delivering the right business outcome.   
  5. Review your existing processes, in particular governance and authorisation. Aligning your existing processes to the new world of continuous DevOps outcome is an essential activity – for instance, by having a joint environment of developers and operations do you need your existing gated process of reviews or approvals? You simply want the decisions to continue and deploy be taken by the joint team “on the fly”.  Deliver, learn, fail-fast, fix-fast, deliver.


In Conclusion

Although transformation as such has its history back in the 1800 century, it is a continuous refresh requirement for many organisation in order to continue to be a top performing business.  Furthermore, in today’s fast-moving and ever-changing technological world, transformation is a fundamental need and an absolute must.  It is not something you do once and forget about it for 50 years.  It is a never-ending continuous obligation of businesses to survive.

With DevOps, it is a journey within continuously changing culture aligning itself to the new world of technological advancements. DevOps does not negate the need for good governance and standards and consequently there will always be a need to use good standards such as ITIL, ITSM, COBIT, etc.  Hence DevOps is just the avenue to transformation as it directly challenges cultural and behavioural activities of teams who may behave with silo mentality and power-is-not-sharing-knowledge. With DevOps as a mode of delivery, organisations can embrace new technology and delivery faster business outcomes to its customers. It will allow organisations to deploy applications with both agility and reliability within a collaborative environment and mind-set.

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. -- Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea




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About the Author


CIO Advisor, World Wide Strategic Transformation, Governance & Operations CoE -- Mario is sixty+ year-old Spaniard with English undertones – living in Preston, North West England.  He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 35 years, most recently in the Public Sector as IT Director for a Northern UK Metropolitan Council and as CIO for the second largest Police Force in the UK.  As a Senior Executive he majors on advising organisations on Corporate IS Strategy, Enterprise Agile, DevOps, Collaborative Shared IS services and building and leading high-performing IS teams.