DevOps Deep Thoughts: No Dev, No Problem!

devopsDevOps, a fairly new process framework for IT Operations and Application Developers to work together more efficiently, has gained a lot of press in the last couple of years and has found adoption in many of the Fortune 1000.  Beyond the improvements in Dev and Ops organizational communication, DevOps also brings forth a laser-focused approach in how technology relates to business objectives and needs.  DevOps can be a huge accelerant to innovation within any business, large or small.

In many of the larger organizations, custom-built applications and the teams that support them are very common.  These organizations have used DevOps to improve software release cycles and the speed in which new features are added and bug fixes are applied into their applications.  But what about the smaller organizations?  What about the organizations that do not have custom-built applications and only have an IT operations staff?  Moreover, what about the organizations that have completely outsourced IT altogether?  How do these organizations take advantage of the promises of DevOps?  Here are three ways that these types of organizations can use the concepts of DevOps:

Focus on Lean & Continuous Improvement

The concept of Lean Manufacturing, or Lean Production, isn’t new, but it hasn’t been applied to IT until fairly recently.  The origins of the Lean framework involve reducing waste in a given process and providing direct linkage to every step in a process to customer value.  You can easily see how this could apply to Ops-only IT organizations.  How often are we doing things like patching an operating system, parsing through monitoring alerts that have no action associated with them, or filling out 10 page change requests forms for a 5 minute change on a non-critical system?  Do these daily functions add any value to our customers?  These are just a few examples of how IT organizations waste time and resources.

If you’re an engineer/analyst within the IT department of an Ops-only organization, it’s not always apparent who your “customer” might be.  In some circumstances, it might be very evident.  Your customer might be the customer of the business – a consumer of the goods that your company is selling.  On the other hand, your “customer” might be your fellow co-workers.  Your function in IT operations might just be to provide services back to other employees in your company so that they can do their jobs effectively.  Knowing who your “customer” is will be job number one.

Once you know who you are serving, then you can more easily know how to bring them value.  You’ll know rather easily what part of your day-to-day adds no value to them and where you should be focusing your time.  Don’t get overwhelmed here.  It’s all about baby-steps in the forward direction.  This is where the concept of “continuous improvement” comes into play.  Take steps each day towards addressing the items that add no value (automate them or stop doing them altogether) and spending more time in driving value and innovating on your customer’s behalf.

Create an Environment Where Learning is Encouraged

Google, Target, and other large organizations have mandated policies requiring their employees to set aside 10-20% of their time each week to learn new skills.  Innovation is happening at a break-neck pace.  The field of DevOps is no exception.  New advancements and tools are seemingly released every day.  New technologies like containers and microservices have gross implications both for developers and IT operations.  Team members in both organizations need time set aside to keep up with these new technologies, install them in a lab environment/setting, and figure out if these new tools can be used to bring value to their customers.  Too often I see organizations take the newly found “free time” created through process improvement and use it as a means to cut head-count or re-assign duties that are outside of the IT organization.  Doing such can halt whatever momentum was created through these initial efforts and can even be regressive.

Google (which seems to be referenced as a forward thinker so many times) has created an unbelievable model for IT operations.  They’ve built teams of Site Reliability Engineers that must balance their duties between solving operations problems and innovating.  The split is 50/50.  When solving operations problems takes up more than 50% of a team’s allotted work schedule, they make a determination on whether or not the problems at hand can be addressed through some sort of improvement (i.e. automation).  If it can, then they focus on improving the problem solving process and working their way back to a 50/50 time split.  If not, they look to perhaps add headcount to the team or spin off a new team.  This is how they’ve continued to scale their business and focus on innovation.  They make a concerted effort to make time available for the teams to be innovative.

If You Outsource IT Operations, Create a Feedback Loop

Managed Services is a hot commodity these days.  Even my own employer, iVision, provides significant managed services offerings to our customers.  Outsourcing day-to-day IT operations can have a lot of benefits.  Especially if a customer is already staff constrained and they need their existing IT Ops staff to focus elsewhere.  There’s also an ever-decreasing number of qualified engineers in the marketplace – finding good talent is a huge problem.  There is one mistake that I see so many customer’s make over and over again.  Once IT Ops has been outsourced, it becomes “out-of-sight out-of-mind” to them.  Most service providers offering Managed Services have engineers on staff that have a lot of experience and have seen many different customer environments.  This kind of knowledge is something that companies that use managed service providers should leverage more.  Managed Service providers typically will host a monthly status meeting with their customers to go over incidents, SLA compliance, etc.  If you’re a company using managed services, you should set aside 30-60 minutes at the end of this meeting to talk about upcoming business initiatives.  Share business goals back with your MSP and ask them for advice on how they might be able to bring value to help you meet those goals.  Just because you’ve outsourced day-to-day IT operations, doesn’t mean you should compromise innovative collaboration.

In Closing…

DevOps, by it’s name, can be misconstrued as only applying to organizations with both IT operations staff and application developers.  The underlying concepts of DevOps can apply to ANY organization.  It’s a way to be innovative, become more efficient, and stay competitive in an ever-changing, fast-paced marketplace.

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