A few weeks ago I attended the DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES 2018) in London. In the keynotes, speakers from huge enterprise brands like Adidas, ABN AMRO, Barclays, Capital One, and Nationwide shared the story of their companies’ DevOps journeys with an attentive audience of about 1,000 technology and business leaders from around the world.
Over the past decade, the proven benefits of DevOps, notably the increased speed and quality of software releases, have made it an increasingly popular approach to software development. Critically, that’s true not just among software startups, which were the earliest adopters. Enterprise technology teams are now recognizing that they too need to change the way they work to be more agile and flexible. Today, more than half of enterprises have adopted DevOps to one degree or another.
But as one enterprise technology leader after another took the stage, a common theme emerged: DevOps adoption has been too focused on tools, specifically release- and configuration-management tools. Instead, many of the presenters argued, what’s needed is a stronger focus on changing the culture of IT and other business teams to make them quicker, more agile, and more collaborative.
CIOs must lead the DevOps charge
Successfully running a modern digital business requires a constant focus on speed, scale, and efficiency. DevOps, with its emphasis on continuous development and continuous iteration, is designed to help break down barriers and silos that slow product development, especially when you’re trying to move multiple projects into production.
Sanjeef Jain, CIO of Verizon, EMEA, told the DOES audience the story of how he empowered his team to create what he referred to as a “DevOps immersion center,” an internal learning center for employees in which DevOps is taught and practiced. Within three months, this training initiative had begun to change the corporate culture, and helped the company increase the efficiency of its technology teams by 30%. Engineers across many different departments developed new skills, including those around effective collaboration and building trust across teams (essential to a DevOps transformation). Today the company is able to scale its infrastructure faster and more reliably than ever before.
Jain’s story illustrates that modern enterprise CIOs must not only lead the DevOps charge, they must also work harder to evangelize the importance of DevOps to their C-level colleagues, not just their own technology teams. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 50% of CIOs who have not successfully transformed their digital capabilities will risk being displaced from their companies’ digital leadership team.
It’s time for technology to help drive the business, not just take orders
For far too long, IT teams and their CIOs have thought of themselves as a distinct entity, in many ways separate from the core of the business. In today’s technology-driven economy, which revolves around the quality of the digital customer experience companies deliver, IT can no longer think of itself that way. To remain relevant and keep a seat at the table where strategic decisions are made, IT must strive to become integral to the business as a whole.
Unfortunately, the old “order-taker” model remains prevalent in many enterprise IT departments. While this model, which operates as if there were some kind of contractual relationship between the business and its technology teams, may have worked in the past, it simply can’t keep up in today’s technology-driven world. Modern IT leaders and their teams must instead operate as peers, working closely with business leadership in other teams throughout the organization.
It can no longer be denied that separating the business functions and the products and services they deliver from IT is a broken model. To achieve success in the modern digital world, technology must be fully integrated into all relevant aspects of the business. That’s why I believe we should use a new term to describe technology teams, one that recognizes the importance of this peer relationship and the need for digital transformation. When I worked as an analyst at Forrester Research, we started to use the term “Business Technology” instead of Information Technology (IT), because we believed it more accurately reflects how technology is part of the business today.
That phrase’s careful pairing of the two most important words underlying this idea resonates for me, but no matter what we call it, technology’s contribution to the business has to be a core part of the department’s mission. And that means the impact of technology must be measured, just like any other function. To succeed, DevOps’ key performance indicators (KPIs)—focused on velocity, quality, efficiency, and culture—must be established and used to understand progress and to set priorities.
Nike is making it work
In a joint presentation at DOES, Nike’s Senior Director of Digital Engineering Randy Lyons and CFO Michele Power shared how they successfully changed the culture of Nike’s technology teams. Nike has instituted weekly standup meetings focused on tracking key business results as a broad team that includes developers, operations, finance, support, marketing, and sales. At the C level, said Power, Nike’s transformation also included the development of a peer-to-peer relationship between her office and the office of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to collaborate on strategy. This partnership requires both business leaders to use a shared language and similar metrics—product revenue, for example, or improved customer retention—in order to measure their joint performance.
As Powers pointed out, she needed to have the consistent access to technology expertise (in the person of the CDO) to accurately prioritize Nike’s investment decisions. Together, these leaders are able to make better joint decisions because they more completely understand each other’s priorities and can more easily work together as a team.
The future of the technology/business partnership
We’ve come a long way since the earliest days of DevOps, but we still have a long way to go. For DevOps to wholly deliver on its enterprise potential, we need to extend DevOps initiatives beyond the implementation of specific technologies and tools. For DevOps to succeed, everyone involved—from the C-suite on down, from the business side to dev and ops practitioners—must act and think as one team.
Going forward, the focus has to be on collaboration in conjunction with automation to achieve true digital transformation. Only the combination of connected people continuously leveraging a powerful collection of automation tools can fully empower integrated product teams to deliver a better customer experience, improve efficiency, and support rapid scaling to meet the demands of the modern digital business.