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10 companies killing it at DevOps in 2020

Christopher Null Freelance writer

Five years ago, I wrote about 10 companies that were killing it with DevOps. Today, all of those enterprises—including Amazon, Walmart, and Netflix—remain household names, not just for consumers, but in the tech community, too.

Since then, who else has emerged as a clear DevOps leader? These 10 organizations are all pushing the boundaries of DevOps, breaking down barriers between development and operations, transforming their companies and their industries—and continuing to do so during a time of global upheaval.

1. Adidas

In 2015, Adidas released the first of its Yeezy sneakers, which were designed in collaboration with Kanye West. Demand for the original shoe—and its many follow-ups—was instantaneous and enormous, with Adidas selling over 2,600 shoes in the space of five seconds. That was great for business, but it presented a huge challenge for IT, which was tasked with ensuring the Adidas' tech infrastructure didn't collapse under the strain.

At the start, Adidas wasn't ready. The site crashed when new Yeezys were announced. Inside the company, developers moaned that they were helpless to fix things and that it could take up to a week even to get a simple virtual machine spun up.

Faced with upset customers and employees, Adidas underwent a massive transformation that embraced cloud-native architecture, Kubernetes, and DevOps and that involved a wholesale cultural shift. A DevOps Cup competition was instrumental in taking the company's delivery cycle from as slow as six weeks to as fast as five times a day. Today, you can find Adidas' DevOps Maturity Framework on GitHub.

2. Capital One

In 2010, Capital One was a stodgy financial firm with a dated waterfall development process that was heavily outsourced, a massive in-house data center, and manual build, deployment, and test operations. By 2018, the firm had completed a multi-year journey that culminated in becoming the first major bank to host its banking application on the public cloud, solidifying its reputation as a DevOps leader.

Since that time, the company has been fully reinvented. Today, Capital One is regarded as a leader in agile development and cloud-native infrastructure. It has an almost ruthless devotion to developing its own tools through open-source software—done almost entirely in-house.

The initial goal of Capital One's DevOps transformation was speed, but, as a financial services firm, security and governance were equally important. The culture of collaboration created through DevOps has been critical to this move, as has a focus on accountability and "fearlessness." Capital One's homegrown DevOps dashboard, Hygieia, is highly regarded—and, of course, it's open source and available to the public, too.

3. Verizon

As the mobile industry began lurching toward 5G, America’s largest wireless carrier embarked on a digital transformation of its own. Verizon 2.0, as it's known internally, introduced major changes in the business model to make the company more nimble and flexible. These were key qualities needed to enable its successful technical transformation.

Verizon went "public cloud first" in 2016 and embraced immersive DevOps dojos a year after. From there the company worked to modernize its monolithic architecture, embrace open-source tools, and generally become a more agile organization.

Today (or, at least, pre-COVID 19), Verizon has flipped its dojo concept from a six-week-long offsite training session to one where coaches travel to the developers and embed themselves directly within their business units. This has improved the pace of knowledge transfer and allowed for a wider range of training types.

4. CSG International

CSG isn't a household name, but as a back-end provider of software and services for the telecom industry, it's a business that touches just about everyone. It primarily provides billing, payment processing, and customer service.

The company launched a broad DevOps reorganization effort in 2016 and integrated the product management function with DevOps in 2018. Modernizing the technology stack has been a goal of the company ever since.

The problem is one of sheer history: In 1994, CSG was spun off from its original owner, First Data, which itself was founded back in 1982. Shards of First Data's legacy software have endured in the CSG codebase ever since.

But a monumental effort over the last few years—involving revamping its version-control procedures and embracing automated testing—has successfully transformed the enterprise. After doubling down on DevOps, the company is now seeing dramatically improved efficiency, with an 83% reduction in incidents caused by each release.

5. Disney

Disney has been pursuing DevOps aggressively for nearly a decade, revamping its org chart from functional teams to a matrix organization. The company embedded its engineers and managers across various business units and improved cross-functional communications, both of which have radically enhanced the business's technical capabilities.

The last few years of those efforts were instrumental in powering one of the biggest streaming video launches in recent history, which concluded earlier this year. Almost overnight, Disney+ became a serious competitor to services from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO—adding 10 million subscribers in one day, all during a time of incredible global crisis.

6. Northrop Grumman

When your company's job is to make billion-dollar military aircraft, it's safe to say that reliability is at the top of the to-do list. With an estimated tens of millions of lines of code powering a single plane, application development is a serious challenge. It can't be easily addressed through the traditional tools of agile and DevOps, given the potential hazards of pushing a prospective update to aircraft in the field.

Sure enough, Northrop Grumman's first experiences with DevOps were rocky, in part because it had to work with all manner of government software tools. But it achieved a breakthrough when it embraced "continu-ish integration" and digital twins, and it is now running 15,000 automated test processes each day.

Northrop frequently presents at conferences with its industry mate Lockheed Martin, which has developed and adopted many of the same operating principles.

7. BMW

Now four years into a major DevOps overhaul, BMW has pursued a digital transformation journey as it has migrated its entire firm from a waterfall methodology to a fully agile one. A stodgy organizational culture revamped to support new ways of working.

In 2019, BMW's "100% BizDevOps" approach began tying project funding to the business value that the project would potentially provide, while bringing microservices and cloud-first architecture into the mix. With 30,000 servers running 5,000 different applications, BMW found the road to success by starting small and taking baby steps toward change rather than attempting to make a wholesale transformation all at once.

8. Optum

Optum is the sister company of UnitedHealthcare, the largest healthcare company in the world. Optum is heavily focused on data management and analytics in the healthcare space. It faced a problem familiar to many large enterprises: Development wanted to move quickly by implementing new features and applications, while operations wanted stability in the apps it was already managing.

Optum embraced DevOps in earnest in 2014 to break down these silos, and the company's recent metrics have shown that its efforts have proved very successful, with millions of dollars saved every year by reducing mainframe usage alone.

The amount of data managed by Optum and its parent company presented its greatest challenge, with unstandardized data coming at the organization from dozens of sources, all courtesy of thousands of APIs. A massive standardization and modernization effort has seen the creation of a scalable, centralized data platform that allows information to be seamlessly shared across multiple consumers. The approach was borrowed from successful digital transformations in the retail and financial industries.

That's been a foundational part of a cultural shift that has been effective at finally getting some 160 tech teams on the same page. 

9. Nationwide Mutual Insurance

Nationwide began its digital transformation journey in 2009, and since pulling out the stops in 2017, it's become a poster child for DevOps evangelism and the business successes it can foment. After a wholesale move to agile and distributed development that took three years, the insurer improved code quality by 50% and reduced downtime by a whopping 70%—despite continuing to actively build for its legacy mainframe platforms. 

The key has been a bimodal process that lets different groups iterate at different speeds, allowing Nationwide to "move slow and fast at the same time." Large transactional systems with many dependencies can percolate a bit more methodically, while more visible, customer-facing services (such as mobile apps) are updated far more frequently. This ultimately lets Nationwide more effectively prioritize its tech efforts while giving staff the freedom to experiment.

10. Starbucks

Making coffee isn't so easy when you have more than 300,000 people involved in the process. Starbucks' bold move to DevOps began in 2015, and it learned quickly that it needed to balance the desire to constantly push code forward with the need to ensure that code is appropriately tested and ready for deployment. Organizational tweaks within the company were hugely successful, ultimately reducing cycle time by a massive 74%.

One of the most challenging parts of the move to DevOps at Starbucks was the transition of the company's product leadership to an environment composed of self-managed teams. Working carefully with employees to understand how jobs and responsibilities change after DevOps is adopted is an essential step to smoothing the path forward, the company learned.

Looking ahead

Digital transformation efforts continue to drive enterprises in all industries toward DevOps and agile methodologies, and the payoff from those efforts hasn't slowed. Even large and very old businesses are finding ways to integrate DevOps thinking with old ways of doing business, integrating legacy operations with cloud-first and open-source initiatives to create innovative operational structures.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to challenge traditional ways of operating, watch for these trends to accelerate in the next few years.

Thanks to IT Revolution and the DevOps Enterprise Summit, both of which aided greatly in the selection and vetting of these 10 DevOps leaders.

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