Hewlett Packard Enterprise has recently discovered that creating a cross-enterprise chatroom can be instrumental to fostering a collaborative atmosphere and enabling a devops strategy, in what a panel of HPE staff described as 'chatops'.
Devops can loosely be defined as a collaborative way of working between teams aided by technology such as automating mundane tasks like testing. The end goal is to bring down silos between the different teams, creating a larger network within the company working towards a mutual goal.
Speaking at the Devops Enterprise Summit 16 in London, senior director of strategy and marketing for HPE Ashish Kuthiala said the company first drew up a devops 'manifesto' for what it wanted to achieve.
From there, HPE learned that embracing the chatroom could be a useful way forward for fostering collaboration – and that a persistent always-on chatroom became a "very effective tool" for this.
Although many HPE departments were using chatrooms within their own teams, they were still siloed – so HPE introduced a single chatroom for all the different teams.
Just like more traditional chat forums such as IRC, employees across the different teams would take to the chatrooms to talk socially.
"People use chatrooms a lot," Kuthiala said. "So how do we take that, and keep the fun in it, and add work aspects too?"
The business found that as more people took to the chatrooms for 'watercooler' discussions like political or sporting events, the collaboration between the teams for work-related problems also increased.
"It's become kind of ingrained as a way for the teams to be collaborative with each other," he explained.
"It's not just collaboration between people and teams, it's also a collaboration between people and systems," Kuthiala said. "You have bots running and interacting in the chatops rooms."
HPE R&D director Rafael Garcia said that the "magic" is in the automation and these bots: "Persistent chatrooms have been around for a while, but when you introduce the bots and the ability to interact directly with the ecosystem, and the environment tells you what's going on, and everyone across the group sees that at the same time – that's where we found the magic – all working in real time, together."
Another added benefit was the level of transparency that a collaborative chat environment afforded. According to Kuthiala, everything was "more open and more collaborative" – there were less incidents of teams prying into each other's work or asking awkward questions because it was all laid out on a log. "The transparency between the teams, nothing was hidden anymore," Kuthiala said.
He added that during any compliance and regulations audits, having a 'chatops' strategy in place made tracing back clear audits of who did what, where and when, easier.
The monitoring tools and other bots are made available in the chat rooms to all the various teams. "They have the ability to customise their environment as they see fit," Garcia said. "You don't want to force people to do something that isn't valuable to their particular environment" – and it's not useful for anyone to introduce information that's not used or processed by that team.
"For us, this chatops environment became the mechanism of being able to work across the various silos without some mass, organisational change," said Garcia.
"Bringing them into the chatops environment and having them engage on a daily basis, real time, constantly and transparently – that's what started to get these guys actually working together as a team and thinking together and helping each other."
"We still have our siloes, but the team is working very seamlessly across these," Kuthiala said. "I see it as a collaboration mechanism between man and machine, which is very interesting." He cited a 'Devops manifesto' that HPE created to illustrate a path towards creating a devops strategy – no easy feat for such a large organisation.
"It was the underlying key to this – we are going to work together as one team. You have the independence to do what you need, as long as you're aligned with that same goal, we will move forward."