Culture is a bigger barrier to DevOps than legacy infrastructure, say experts

Culture, not legacy infrastructure, is the biggest barrier to rolling out DevOps, according to companies that have implemented this increasingly popular business approach


Culture, not legacy infrastructure, is the biggest barrier to rolling out DevOps, according to companies that have implemented this increasingly popular business approach.

DevOps involves integrating developers and operations teams to improve collaboration and productivity. To enable them, infrastructure and workflows are usually automated, and application performance is continuously measured and fed back to the team so that apps can be developed faster.

Experts in the approach, from Swisscom, British Gas and DHL, have said that while legacy technology can be an obstacle to integrating the two areas of the business, it is the people and process side that often needs more focus.

Shared ideals

“One of the challenges I find in organisations I have worked in is trying to get people to buy into those shared values and not just change for the sake of change,” said Mo Uppal, technical architect at British Gas, during a panel session at a CA event for European press in London.

For example, Swiss telecoms provider Swisscom has overcome its legacy infrastructure by implementing CA Release Automation software in its TV subsidiary, allowing the division to release digital service features, such as new channels, in hours, instead of days or weeks.

But when it came to integrating the development and operations teams, Swisscom took more drastic action.

“The first step we did was to take all the people and change the building. Business people, developers, we put them all together in one place, a completely new area,” Ahmad Alayan, head of DevOps at SwisscomTV, said.

He added: “When everyone ‘buys into’ the new way of working, it’s like a family working to achieve the goal. We are not always looking at how long we are in the office. It’s really key that each one of the employees believes in what we are working for... [creating] products that customers will love.”

Implementing DevOps can be difficult because there there can be a disconnect between the people at the top and those at the bottom, said Uppal, who moved to British Gas from Bupa, earlier this year, where he was enterprise IT specialist and responsible for the use of DevOps at the health insurer.

“People want to do their job, and the top people want their people to be productive. But the problem in a large enterprise is there is a disconnect between what the guys at the top want and how the people at the bottom deliver that,” he said.

Focus on process

Like Swisscom TV, DHL Supply Chain, which provides supply chain services to customers such as British Airways, overcame the challenges of having legacy infrastructure by automating application releases of its complex integration platform. This was not, however, the main part of the move to DevOps.

“Central to [the adoption] has always been the process of DevOps. For us, the key was to re-engineer that process and leverage the tools to really drive the time to market that customers were demanding,” said Joe Butler, global head of integration services at DHL Supply Chain.

Getting the IT people to understand what the business does was a problem, said Butler. DHL Supply Chain tries to overcome this by giving IT staff real-life experience of the apps they develop.

Butler explained: “What we’ve done in terms of the business understanding is really get our developers out there and to experience what people do in the warehouse, to see how their developed apps affect people on the floor.”.

Change is incremental

Meanwhile, Uppal said that it is it almost always possible to use existing infrastructure better and getting this across was an important message.

“Progress does not have to be about wholesale change,” he said. “But you can improve it [existing infrastructure] and make it slicker by making the right changes to get to the right place.

“A start-up can roll out a new infrastructure [optimised for DevOps], but for an organisation like DHL and other enterprises with investments in heritage systems, you’ve got to improve it before providing the tools.”

He also warned that companies adopting DevOps need to be patient.

“When you start out, they don’t say, ‘we are going to do DevOps today’. The journey starts with the problems. It gets people together. “Over time, that matures. It does take time. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Uppal said.

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