ChefConf 2017: How DevOps sets enterprises on course for digital transformation success

To mark the start of the ChefConf 2017 user summit in Austin, Texas, Chef CTO Adam Jacob shares his thoughts on how early DevOps adopters are now on course to become “high-velocity” technology companies

The maturation of DevOps-led digital transformation efforts in enterprises is reaching a significant tipping point, according to Adam Jacob, the CTO of automation software supplier Chef.

Speaking to Computer Weekly ahead of the annual ChefConf User Summit in Austin, Texas, Jacob said the past 12 months has seen the role DevOps plays in the digital transformation process of early adopters drastically change.

In the early days of a digital transformation, DevOps affords organisations a way of keeping their heads above water, as they figure out how to transform themselves into “high-velocity technology businesses”, he said.

Many of the early DevOps adopters have “stopped drowning” and are now at the point where they can “draw breath and tread water”, as their digital transformation plans come together.

“Now we’re in the treading water and breathing phase, we’re really going to find out what it’s like for an enterprise to swim and become a new type of entity. I haven’t seen it yet, but you can feel you’re on the cusp of it when someone will learn to swim soon,” said Jacob.

Each stage of his “learning to swim” analogy sees enterprises go through a phase of adaptation and growth, as they work towards becoming software-led companies using DevOps.

“They are learning what all this [DevOps] stuff is and what it means, then figure out how to adapt it to their business, and then grow into that capability in a way that becomes uniquely their own,” he said.

Part and parcel of this process is learning to embrace failure and getting to grips with taking a more iterative approach to software development and design. “There are hundreds of things they’re learning to adapt to all at once,” added Jacob.

Product updates and skilling up

At this year’s ChefConf, attendees will hear details about how Chef is expanding the functionality of its portfolio of open source infrastructure, application and compliance automation products, respectively known as Chef Automate, Habitat and InSync.

The features and functionality added to the company’s core products lines should go some way towards ensuring the heterogeneous nature of most enterprises IT does not halt the spread of DevOps throughout an organisation, said Jacob.

“Enterprises now know what it feels like to deploy software quickly and what it feels like to build cross-functional teams that can move at high velocity. Now the question is how are they going to adapt that across all the technologies they use now and in the future,” he said.

“By focusing on infrastructure automation, security and compliance automation, and application automation, we can really give organisations a set of abstractions that allow that across all of the things they need to do and future-proof them a little.”

To speed up the time it takes enterprises to adopt DevOps, the company also announced the creation of an IT skills drive, geared towards helping its 70,000-strong community of DevOps practitioners build on their knowledge of how to use Chef’s technologies.

Dubbed Learn Chef Rally, the initiative provides participants with access to tutorials, articles and technical documents and other learning materials to prepare them for securing formal DevOps certifications later down the line.

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The initiative builds on the training and certification programmes rolled out by Chef at the 2016 conference, which were geared towards helping IT professionals acquire the automation skills needed to help their organisation’s do DevOps.

At the 2016 ChefConf, Jacob’s second day keynote largely focused on the importance of protecting DevOps engineers and practitioners from burnout, as the stress of delivering always-on services and punishing on-call rotas kick in.

It is a topic that has garnered increasing amounts of attention in the DevOps community over the past 18 months or so, resulting in the creation of a series of standalone events across the UK, Europe and US under the HumanOps banner.

Nearly one year on from Jacob’s contribution to the debate, he said enterprise attitudes towards this topic are changing, as data linking high levels of employee engagement with economic success continues to grow.

“We’re waiting to see what enterprise is going to be really great at this [digital transformation] transition, and I would bet the ones that break out will be ones whose workplace policies allow for that deep employee engagement,” he added.

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