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The Value of DevOps

IT has long grappled with the question of what value DevOps provides, something we have discussed elsewhere. Methodologies used in IT also bring a similar question, if its more efficient how much, and therefore is it something we should consider changing to from our current way of doing things.

DevOps has the same questions attached to it. DevOps is touted as a more efficient method to drive towards the nirvana of “Faster, Better, Cheaper”, and also meets the needs of continuous delivery by bringing the entire process into a seamless flow. The question then is what would be the benefit and is making the move towards it one that we should be investing in?

In many cases these sorts of questions rely on gut feelings, perceived logic or some limited metrics to provide the answer, but rarely is there any realistic evidence of what the impact on the business will be – and isn’t that what we all strive to do in some way? 

Recently I came across a two-year-old whitepaper by the Aberdeen Group that discussed what makes a “Best in Class” firm and what distinguishes them. From a study of 148 firms, they saw that the "Best in Class” deliver high-quality and low cost products within 87% of revenue targets and with a 15% increase in profit margins. These are fairly impressive numbers that a CEO would be happy with. 

But it was what distinguished them from the others that made the study so compelling. This was around a number of points: some cultural, some process, some tools, and some people related. In these firms there was a belief that success comes from within and that the external circumstances, whilst not totally uninvolved, aren’t the driving factor. They also invested in identifying the inefficiencies in their processes, use technological tools to improve upon them, and build/feed/water a team of talented engineers. Of course this was a general view applied to what a firm produces and makes its money from, but the same can apply to the IT process within as they have also product, and this contributes directly to whether a firm can reach the “Best in Class” level. 

So in the IT world we are usually looking at best practices, generally on a silo function basis, but a firm’s IT capability can only be fully appreciated by the sum of all of those in a “best in class” view. It’s unlikely a firm can maintain “best in class” if its IT function isn’t. So the same factors that apply to the entity, apply to IT.

And here we come to the crux of the issue: how many IT functions look at how they operate and recognize their own inherent inefficiencies? How many then take a managed approach to improve their skills inventory to meet modern needs, use tools and methods that improve capability and efficiency, and organize to create real productivity and quality?

It’s clear that the old hierarchical, waterfall approach cannot meet the needs of a world where demand continues to rise along with expectations. To do nothing isn’t an option. IT functions that don’t onboard the need to change and begin the process, will slowly be killed by the weight of business disaffection and gradually be consumed of their budget by things that do not deliver any value at all.

But to create a “Best in Class” IT function means more than a new methodology. It needs changes to the people, their skills, the organizational structure, and how the team works together, including the processes, the tools, the mindset and culture. Using the DevOps approach can help the IT organization and the business deliver a “Best in Class” IT service that contributes to making a “Best in Class” firm, but it has to be part of a plan to address the full 360 degrees of the problem. 

We are not alone in our belief as the recent Finextra article on ING's strategic DevOps program indicates. It’s a multi-year, real world effort that’s at the core of its efforts to meet the demands of its businesses, and most importantly its clients. It reinforces our view that the business impact is worth the investment.

In our work with clients, using DevOps as the underlying methodology and with the other pieces in place, we have seen significant increases in productivity while delivering a “Best in Class” solution as defined by the client, getting us a lot closer to the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” paradigm.

So how many will take the challenge of the change needed to gain the bottom line benefits that are shown to be possible? And if not, what is the alternative?

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