DevOps practitioners open up about enterprise adoption challenges

Ahead of next week’s DevOps Enterprise Summit in London, practitioners have warned enterprises to stop thinking of DevOps as something only Silicon Valley firms and startups can do successfully

Enterprises must stop writing off DevOps as a software development approach that only works for startups and the Silicon Valley tech giants, practitioners have warned.

While the list of enterprise companies that have managed to adopt DevOps successfully continues to grow, many remain convinced that the benefits of continuous delivery are impossible for large and more complex organisations.

“The prevailing notion is that DevOps is for startups and the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks of this world, and not for large, complex companies that have been around for decades or even centuries – but that is really not the case,” said Gene Kim, co-author of The DevOps Handbook.

Kim pointed to the high number of enterprises operating in highly regulated environments that have successfully managed to embrace DevOps, including public sector organisations and financial services firms.

“Organisations that have overcome government regulations and statutory restrictions are wonderful proof points for DevOps in the enterprise,” he said.

“If HM Revenue and Customs can do it, if Zurich Insurance and organisations like Allianz can do it – which are all organisations that have a reputation for being conservative – it just gives us more evidence that it really can be done.”

Speaking to Computer Weekly ahead of the DevOps Enterprise Summit, which takes place in London on 5-6 June 2017, Kim said this is just one of many misconceptions large firms have about DevOps.

“You don’t even need to say your first sentence about DevOps before people start piling in with objections, saying things like it’s impossible because of security, compliance, change management or legacy code,” he said.

John Willis, director of ecosystem development at container software company Docker and fellow DevOps Handbook co-author, echoed this view, saying enterprises that have done DevOps well are sometimes considered by their contemporaries as the exception rather than the rule.

“People say things like: ‘It’s different for my company. You don’t know how hard it is, and I do. I really do’,” he told Computer Weekly.

Turned off by scaremongering 

Some of the resistance that enterprises feel towards DevOps can be put down to how the concept is marketed to CIOs by scaremongering sales people and over-enthusiastic evangelists, said Willis.

“I’ve watched a lot of sales people over the years, on calls I’ve done, and they’ll go into enterprises and say – after just 10 minutes of meeting them – you’re doing it all wrong and you need to stop now and do it this way instead,” he said.

Few experienced CIOs and IT leaders take kindly to feedback like that, particularly when it is coupled with scare stories about how failing to adopt DevOps could see them languish behind their competition.

After all, CIOs are subjected to hyped-up rhetoric about the latest and greatest IT trends every couple of years or so, said Willis, and they are understandably wary.

“I spoke to a large financial organisation the other day and five years ago they were told they had to use [automation software supplier] Puppet,” he said. “The world would be doomed if they didn’t go to Puppet.

“Then they started hearing that if you don’t do DevOps, you’re doomed, and then they’re told a year or so later, that if you’re not doing Docker, you’re horrible and should be thrown in jail.

“It’s like every two years there are a bunch of charlatans coming out telling them they’re doing it all wrong and if they don’t join their club immediately, they’re idiots – but then these people also change their mind a lot.”

It can be difficult for CIOs to decide what is best for their organisation in this context, but, as previously stated, there are plenty of examples of enterprises that have made DevOps work for them and should be looked to for inspiration, said Kim and Willis.

Are you ever done with DevOps?

Another area CIOs have to grapple with is figuring out what the end-point for DevOps is within their organisations – but that rather misses the point of what achieving continuous delivery and improvement is all about, said Kim.

That is not to say that IT leaders who are responsible for championing DevOps and doing it successfully are not rewarded or recognised for all they have achieved, he added.

“When you look at the success stories we talk about all the time, such as Capital One in the US, or the journey at ITV or Barclays, they are not at 100% adoption [of DevOps] yet, but the people overseeing it are being given more responsibility and being asked to elevate the practices across a more material portion of the enterprise,” said Kim.

“My prediction is they will continue to be elevated to influence the practices in as much of the organisation as possible, and they can share their experiences about how to foster these initiatives without getting fired, or having it killed by the more conservative elements within the organisation.”

CIOs must also be aware that, even if they follow the examples of those who have gone before them in DevOps to the letter, there are circumstances outside their control that can hinder their agile ambitions and the wider economic success of their business.

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“We have seen some companies make enormous strides doing things the way they should be done, but they’re getting hit by these cross-winds that knock them off course and have nothing to do with their success, or non-success, in IT,” said Willis. “In retail, for example, it’s a tough game right now.

“I get this pain in my heart when I see a company that does everything right, but then they get off tilt – not because of anything they’ve done with IT, but because of the economics of the business they’re in.”

For many organisations, however, DevOps provides them with the IT efficiency and agility they need to avoid becoming the next leader in their field to succumb to disruption.

“No amount of technology could have saved Blockbusters, for example,” said Kim. “Maybe they could have found a way out, but technology in and of itself could not have saved Blockbusters.

“On the other hand, for any large brand that is leading in an industry vertical, they have to be acutely aware of the hundreds of small competitors starting up and they have to be able to develop technical capabilities that allow them to compete with the tens of hundreds of suppliers all vying for a small piece of their business.”

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