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Don't leave DevOps to IT: Why you need a multi-generational business plan for implementation

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Sachin Ohal Sr Manager-Technology Office, Cognizant , Cognizant Technology Solutions

The promise is everywhere: DevOps will make your IT department run more efficiently. From bloggers to forum commenters to IT consultants, everyone is heralding the benefits that DevOps implementation can provide any IT organization. DevOps will improve communications between development and operations, help you fix defects in earlier phases of development, and make continuous software or app delivery possible.

The list of DevOps benefits is typically a lengthy one, but it remains a confusing concept: Are we looking for ops specialists who think like developers and developers who think like ops workers? What does DevOps really mean?

Executives don't usually like to stop and think about such things. They focus on the bottom line: rolling out DevOps quickly, asking how to get DevOps initiatives started, and how best to sell DevOps to the rank and file. The result, unsurprisingly, is often a disaster, with no buy-in from workers on the ground and no real understanding of the strategic value of DevOps on the management side. Or worse, nothing happens at all—just a lot of meetings, buzzwords, and missed opportunities.

There's a smarter way to think about DevOps and get started with a DevOps implementation in your enterprise. DevOps first needs to be rationalized and resolved from a business perspective and then managed over time, not just at the moment of implementation. Most people don't think about the long-term approach to DevOps, but there's a good reason to do so.

So how do you get a DevOps program off the ground the right way? The smart way is through what I call a multi-generational business plan for DevOps.

Introducing a multi-generational business plan for implementing DevOps

The plan I'm about to describe is just one framework for implementing a DevOps environment. It isn't necessarily the right framework for every enterprise, but it's one that works for many businesses because it evolves at every stage of a business's life cycle—from startup to maturity. The key point is that DevOps needs to be implemented at the management level. Left to the IT department, the organization will inevitably focus on a technology-driven DevOps solution, rather than consider the broader organizational needs of the company. More often than not, a focus on a pure technology solution will fail.

Let's consider the role of IT in a typical company throughout its life cycle, which looks like this:

Business generations from startup to advanced business models

Phase one of the organization is the startup phase. Here, IT resources are focused on reaching out to a broad audience in order to build market share. A market need is identified (hopefully), and products are launched to meet that need. Those products may be upgraded and enhanced, revised, and relaunched again and again until the perfect solution to meet that market need has been reached. At this time, provided your company has survived the startup years, you're known as a product organization, with a ruthless focus on evolving your products to stave off competition and increase market share.

As that market share increases, so does knowledge of your customers and how they use your products. In time, you amass a huge store of data. With your product now mature, your company evolves into what's known as a service organization, and management soon starts to occupy itself with talk of global business shifts, cloud-based infrastructure, and next-generation computing topics, such as the Internet of Things. For many C-level executives, this probably sounds like a dream—let's call this a cloud organization, for lack of a better term—but it will take a DevOps-driven, multi-generational business plan to get us there without everything falling apart along the way.

DevOps is key to ongoing business expansion and transformation

Successful businesses don't sit still. They have to grow. In today's economy, the typical method of growth among mature businesses is through mergers and acquisitions. What are the fastest growing industries? Banking and financial services, insurance, retail, telecommunications, and technology. And what do these all have in common? An intense focus on using technology to further their business goals.

According to a September 2014 CA Technologies report, How to Survive and Thrive in the Application Economy, "JPMorgan Chase now has more software developers than Google and more technologists than Microsoft." At today's banks, business isn't about money; it's about data, with millions of transactions being undertaken every second. Perhaps more than any other industry, technology has revolutionized BFS as we know it. Modern finance wouldn't even be possible without the significant investment that has been made in technology to date, and this industry continues to push the boundaries of what's possible through advances such as algorithmic and high-speed securities trading.

But while finance has invested heavily in technology, it's actually the retail industry that has benefited the most from these investments. Today you can go to a street fair or a farmer's market in the smallest of towns and pay for your purchases via credit card by swiping it through a small reader connected to a tablet, or even via just a tap of your phone through near-field communication (NFC) technology. It's the banks that are developing advanced merchant transaction systems, not the retailers who ultimately get to leverage them.

That is really just the start of transformational change. The Internet of Things is being embraced by the healthcare and retail sectors. Home automation and retail are two of the biggest sectors for the adoption of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. Manufacturing and wireless telecommunications are beginning to leverage the cloud in amazing ways.

But how do all these transformations happen? Through the kind of business process evolution made possible by a multi-generational business plan and by leveraging DevOps, a business can make fast, competitive transformational shifts across domains or verticals. To understand why and how a DevOps approach geared for multi-generational business can be a competitive differentiator, we need to review the problems most businesses face over time.

The problems inherent in transformational business shifts

Let's consider the four-step business life cycle outlined above. During each of the shifts, your organization will face many changes, challenges, and problems. Most common among these is a loss of vision. During these shifts, the big picture can become clouded due to changing market conditions, globalization, emerging economic issues, and even the changing political or environmental landscape. Mergers and acquisitions frequently drive these shifts, particularly in the industries of business financial services, pharmaceuticals, technology, telecommunications, chemical manufacturing, and insurance. After an acquisition, the newly merged company must be ready for immediate execution of the combined business strategy. In today's market, there's no time to stop and figure out the merged company's direction. The company must move forward or risk dying.

Now, imagine this organization has adopted an IT-centric DevOps model rather than a multi-generational business plan. How will the organization accommodate differing DevOps structures that funnel in through the various organizations that are now part of one company? How will this company be able to leverage the benefits of the cloud, big data, and the like, without a cohesive plan? Without a multi-generational business plan, operational silos that don't communicate with one another are inevitable, leading to inefficiency, duplicated work, and incompatible products and services.

Consider a recent example involving a few household names: Google, Motorola, and ARRIS. (Check the logo on your cable modem if you're not familiar with ARRIS.)

In 2011, Google acquired Motorola. In 2013, Google sold the Motorola Home division, which produces cable and home entertainment equipment, to ARRIS. Earlier this year, ARRIS acquired Pace, which produces TV set-top boxes. Motorola, ARRIS, and Pace were all competitors at one time, but now they're all tasked with operating as a single, cohesive group.

At the time of the acquisitions, each had its own development processes, projects in the pipeline, and release cycles representing millions of invested dollars and thousands of IT workers. As the parent company, ARRIS now has to manage all of this—triple the workload it had before. If ARRIS allowed the IT organization to drive DevOps without a multi-generational business plan, the company would face a serious uphill battle in coordinating all these disparate efforts, both financially and from a human resources standpoint.

DevOps, when implemented as part of a multi-generational business plan, avoids this problem by allowing the company to more freely accommodate organizational changes through M&A activities and other high-level business changes. In the example above, ARRIS would create a multi-generational business plan for DevOps, and then fold Motorola and Pace into that plan, rather than trying to resolve three competing DevOps strategies developed at the organizational level.

How to develop a multi-generational business plan for DevOps

This all sounds like a wonderful dream, but how do you develop such a plan?

The first step is to outline a vision, starting with your company's strategic business objectives. Most executives know what these are, but the objectives may not be outlined in writing and communicated to the rest of the organization. Create a vision for the company, then outline the company's strategic business units—departments, groups, or products that are tasked with reaching one or more of the strategic business objectives. Publish the identities of those units and objectives to everyone in the business.

Next, ask if IT is aligned with these objectives. IT should be tasked with being the conduit through which strategic business units communicate and objectives are achieved.

Make IT your strategic link between business objectives and your business units

DevOps comes into play when you understand the shifting and evolving business that we outlined above. Strategic business objectives are not static but fluid, and they change as the business grows. The technologies and processes your company invests in will change over time, which requires the IT organization to be adaptable. Think of the peak of the IT triangle in the graphic above as a pointer on a scale, depending on where your business is on the multi-generational timeline (see the next graphic for a visual explanation). That pointer shifts over time as the company matures and the corporate vision evolves.

One major goal of DevOps is to bridge the gap between your organization's culture and organizational behavior: translating vision into action. Don't waste a lot of energy circling around the nebulous arena of IT processes when you're defining a DevOps strategy. Rather, focus on the business itself.

Here are some key things to think about when you develop your plan:

  • Never define DevOps based on IT requirements. Requirements should be driven by management and the business's needs, not the IT department.
  • Never define DevOps as a process or framework. DevOps should be thought of as a business layer that translates the business's vision into a more traditional process.
  • Don't waste time implementing DevOps-specific tools or processes. These will muddy the vision and plan with unnecessary clutter.
  • Define specific DevOps solutions based on your organization's multi-generational business plan. Again, let the plan drive your tactics.
  • Remember your organization's position in the business life cycle and use that position accordingly when defining DevOps.
  • Monitor your business and its market for changes. If you don't adapt your DevOps solutions to account for these changes, your organization won't be successful at translating strategic business objectives into reality.
  • Ensure strategic business objectives and strategic business units are aligned. Remember, both of these may change over time.

When everything's put together, take a look at how DevOps and the IT organization fit into your new multi-generational business plan.

Organization multi generation graphic

A sensible approach to DevOps

A smart DevOps implementation requires supporting rapid organizational change but also developing a long-term vision for that change. Without a multi-generational plan for DevOps, your business may grow and thrive. But the more you depend on technology to achieve breakthrough results for the enterprise, the more difficult it will be to grow unless you manage your technology resources wisely. You need to support both the rapid pace of day-to-day development and your business's long-term vision.

All the planning in the world won't ensure you can accurately predict the way your business will evolve over the next decade and beyond. Think about the various stages of evolution of the typical growth-oriented business, and use that schema to map out the long-term trajectories for your organization. Just remember that your IT capabilities are only a small part of that trajectory, and there's no reason DevOps should be limited to only that one facet of your business.

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