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The trials and triumphs of DevOps

The trials and triumphs of DevOps

The AppDynamics Application Intelligence Platform gives enterprises the ability to analyse and optimise application performance, providing an essential pillar to support successful digital transformation. It’s not just next-generation monitoring. It’s a key to success in the digital world.

If you believe Gartner research, DevOps – a concept that improves interaction between app developers and operations staff – will evolve from being a niche strategy to a mainstream practice implemented by 25 per cent of Global 2000 firms in 2016.

Further, more than half of Australian enterprises are expected to make multiple investments to implement a DevOps strategy as they look to adjust their processes to accommodate the application economy.

CIOs and IT leaders from various industries recently gathered for a luncheon Melbourne to discuss the rise of DevOps and what it means to the success of their organisations. The event was sponsored by AppDynamics.

Many attendees had rolled out or were at least beginning to explore DevOps and were dealing with the many business and cultural challenges of the concept.

Evgueni Iakhontov, group manager, consumer digital technology, at Sensis, says DevOps is not just a set of tools, it’s a culture of cross-functional delivery teams that deliver business value through frequent success releases while maintaining quality.

“We started making DevOps a part of our culture about a year ago and have made good progress; it’s being adopted and embraced by our teams but we still have a way to go,” Iakhontov says.

“I actually don’t think you can say that ‘you’re done’ rolling out DevOps. It needs to be a culture that is continuously evolving and improving with the needs of the business,” he said.

Clinton Ross, head of IT projects at engineering and management firm, Aurecon, said the organisation is currently moving to a DevOps approach for several reasons, least being the need to deliver products and services faster.

“Our industry is becoming increasingly disrupted by non-traditional players and this challenges leadership, organisational structures, and the working styles in different countries – not to mention bi-modal IT,” he said.

“We need to carefully select where we believe DevOps will provide the best returns and where our traditional delivery styles are best left as they are. Over time, we hope to achieve a transition where the balance is in favour of DevOps.”

Organisations that already have mastered DevOps have certainly become more iterative, faster and agile in the way they deliver application improvements.

DevOps should be a key enabler for organisations to become more dynamic and fluid, says Andrew Brockfield, country manager, Australia and New Zealand at AppDynamics.

“Smaller, faster iterations of change also allow new applications to remain tightly coupled to the business changes that are driving the application change – competitive pressures, regulatory changes, increased innovation and the like,” he said.

DevOps has been an integral part of how National Australia Bank (NAB) has delivered large technology and transformational projects for more than a decade, says NAB’s head of digital technology, Nick Walker.

“By adopting a DevOps approach, NAB has reduced the time between conception of an idea to its delivery so that we design, develop and deploy change quickly and in some instances, within hours.

According to Walker, a key benefit of the DevOps process is that it enables the bank to upgrade customer-facing technology without having to take systems offline.

“A major achievement of this is our mobile-first website launched in March 2015,” he said.

But adopting DevOps is not always smooth sailing and the level of pain experienced by the relative teams really comes down to how engaged, enthusiastic and empowered people are, says Sensis’ Iakhontov.

DevOps is about collaboration, being ‘one team’ and having common objectives and goals. Every member of the team needs to have their goals aligned to the common objective, he says.

“Historically, the support team was measured on SLAs or how stable the system is and the delivery team was measured on how quickly they can get a feature into production.

“Straight away, these goals are misaligned and will cause friction – one team is trying to push change through while the other team is resisting change to keep the system stable,” he says.

Iakhontov says the hard part is aligning everyone’s goals and empowering people.

“If you ask developers to support their own system and be woken in the middle of the night when things go wrong but then don’t give them time or funding to fix the issue so it never happens again, then their enthusiasm for DevOps won’t last long,” he says.

“This is what can make the process painful for people involved.”

An acceptance of failure is very important if DevOps is to work, adds AppDynamics’ Brockfield.

“The goal for perfection does not bode well for DevOps,” he says. “Learning to accept fast failure and learning from it quickly is a critical culture issue and in turn, reviewing individual and organisational key performance indicators is part of that change.”

Improving customer engagement

Attendees agreed that adopting DevOps has also helped them increase internal and external customer engagement.

The transition from waterfall delivery to a culture that embraces an agile mindset is where improved engagement occurs, says Aurecon’s Ross.

“Building a strong DevOps culture then turbo-charges the results due to the precision and speed to market which can target specific demands or trigger points in those customers,” he says.

Chris Rathborne, head of digital at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), says using DevOps means projects are less of a ‘black box’ that customers were never really sure of what the outcome was supposed to look like.

“By putting prototypes in front of them and working with that, it informs the business requirements and ongoing iterations,” he says.

“The internal customer is seeing something in front of them and is learning along the way,” he says. “It also affords them the opportunity to add in new requirements and identify other business processes they can fix,” he says.

Finding the right skills

Finding executives with the right skills to effectively deploy DevOps practices across an organisation is a challenge. This is particularly true when it comes to finding people with the ‘soft skills’ that are necessary to unite teams.

“When I hire, I have a maxim: ‘attitude, aptitude and enthusiasm.’ Technical skills will get you entry to the dance,” says Aurecon’s Ross.

“We like to hire for a particular mindset, how they will fit into the culture (or shape the culture in terms of leadership roles), and having an understanding of what motivates them.

“While I might have some checkboxes, they are for gatekeeping. I want people who have the ability to contribute and that means diverse backgrounds and experiences, different thought processes and approaches to problem solving. It’s about building a team that wants creative tension, not rushing to a solution all the time,” he says.

Sensis’ Iakhontov agrees that soft skills – collaboration, attitude, engagement, agility and adaptability to change – are important.

“We can teach people the technical skills but soft skills are hard,” he says. “Finding good people is not easy, it takes time. Having said that, we’ve been pretty lucky and have been able to attract and retain very talented and capable people.”

NAB’s Walker adds that the bank wants to get access to the best minds and cutting edge ideas and this includes those people who are highly proficient in DevOps.

“We recognise that the people aren’t necessarily always from inside the bank and we are committed to providing our people with new opportunities to develop their skills,” Walker says.

CIO roundtable - Is DevOps going mainstream?


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More about AppDynamicsAureconGartnerNABNational Australia BankRACVSensis

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