DevOps tips: IT managers reveal how to get the best from DevOps

CIOs, CTOs and IT managers offer tips on how to get the best from DevOps


DevOps may have been around for a while now, but adoption is finally heading towards the mainstream. According to a recent Gartner study, DevOps will be deployed by around 25 percent of Global 2000 companies by next year.

As the portmanteau suggests, DevOps is a management and technology strategy that involves closer collaboration of developer and operations teams - roles which have traditionally been siloed within IT departments.

It promises to remove IT as a bottleneck within businesses, enabling faster software releases and greater application reliability.

Yet many are still getting to grips with the DevOps concept and how they can implement it in their organisation. At the first DevOps World event in London this week, a range of CIOs, CTOs and IT managers from various sectors met to discuss how the strategy has been transforming their IT departments.

Here are some of the top DevOps tips from attendees…

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DevOps tips: Communication - explain benefits to the wider business

Khaled McGonnell, business intelligence project manager, British American Tobacco, tells ComputerworldUK that while DevOps is becoming more commonplace, it is still a new concept to many. The ability to convey what it means, and how it can be implemented at an organisation, is vital to getting staff onboard at an early stage.

He says: "The novelty of the concept is one thing that you have to address, so spend time with people and explain to them what DevOps is. There isn't really a clear response on that, so you have to talk about DevOps as a philosophy and say which bits would you actually want to bite off in the next six months.

He adds: "Quite a lot of DevOps is not a dramatic sea change. So they would be quite happy to sponsor and endorse some of these seemingly [incremental] changes. But it is a case of communicate, communicate, communicate."

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DevOps tips: Embrace change

Dan de Sybel CTO at programmatic advertising agency Infectious Media says that one of the major obstacles to implementing a successful DevOps strategy is being open to change.

"DevOps is all about people," he says. "You have to have people who aren't looking for a very defined job and that just want to do their own thing. They have got to embrace change, be prepared to work together and not have a blame culture: if something goes wrong they have to understand that it is a team issue and not an individual issue."

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DevOps tips: No more IT bottlenecks - be faster than the business

The British Medical Journal is an old organisation that, like many, is responding to digital change. And moving to a DevOps model is a key part of this. 

According to BMJ's Product Development Director, Rex Cooper, organisations moving to a DevOps model should ensure they maintain focus on the end result for the business at all time if it is to succeed.

He says: "It is about the outcomes of DevOps, which is getting things to our customers as fast as possible, [for BMJ] that means new features as fast as possible.

"Our role in IT is to be so fast that we are faster than the business can handle. I spent the first half of my career where IT was a bottleneck and I want to spend the second half of my career where business is the bottleneck, not IT.

"So setting that expectation about getting stuff to our customers as quickly as possible is the measure of success."

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DevOps tips: Senior exec buy-in is key, but so is middle management

Jonny Wooldridge CTO at the Cambridge Satchel Company, has extensive experience implementing DevOps, having also helped introduce a DevOps strategy at Marks and Spencer in his previous role.

While the backing of senior executives is undoubtedly important, he says, it is just part of the battle. Getting those involved in the more day to day running of an organisation is also vital if a DevOps strategy is to succeed.

"Get the buy-in from the high level directors who have the cash or the ability to set people objectives, because without that you are fighting an uphill battle permanently," he advises. "Interestingly though, developers might be really keen to do it and in fact senior board members might say they love this devops stuff, but it can be the middle managers that say 'this is a bit scary, I am not used to this'.

"So it is about getting that message throughout the organisation that this is the right way to do it.

"Luckily, it is ten times easier than it was five years ago, and there are lots of [analyst reports] to give to your CEO, so get them reading."

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DevOps tips: Working together pays off

Dow Jones CTO John O'Donovan says that DevOps should be part of a broader approach to work collaboratively - something that IT teams are not always renowned for.

"Ultimately the thing to think about is culture - the culture and how people work together," he says.

"As engineers and technical staff we are sometimes awful to each other. We are pretty good at making sure that, if something isn't working, we are quite badly behaved in terms of how we moan about it and go on about it. Organisations that have good culture tend to do that less - they work together to try and fix problems.

"The more we do this, the better as an organisation we will be and the more powerful we will become."

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DevOps tips: Invest in collaboration tools

DevOps is not just about management strategies. Software tools for application monitoring and automation of releases, for example, play a key role.

However, with many organisations employing developers in different geographies, simply investing in collaboration software can be crucial too, according to Angela Yochem, CIO at logistics firm BDP International CIO.

"We use the Google collaboration capabilities - we find Hangouts to be a pretty sophisticated tool for us," says Yochem, who used Microsoft collaboration tools at her previous role at AstraZeneca. "We have the Google conferencing capabilities as well, so those who are working from a beach in Hawaii, or wherever they are, are able to see us, talk to us and collaborate very easily, sharing documents."

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DevOps tips: Don't forget about 'ops'!

A lot of the discussion around DevOps focuses on the benefits to developer productivity. It can often mean that software can be released without input from operations staff.  

Christy Ross, head of application and publishing services at the Financial Times, points out that this doesn't mean that ops teams are redundant.

"It is not 'no-ops'," he says. "Lots of people tend to talk about DevOps and forget the ops side of things. We still have dedicated operations in the department, we still have first line operators who are available twenty-four-seven, based here in the UK and Manilla, who handle the vast majority of the calls that go out, and do it well.

"So what we are trying to do is minimise the amount of second and third line calls that get sent out to allow those people to concentrate on what they should be doing, which is the nine-to-five building new stuff, not the 'getting woken up at three in the morning' fun and games."

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