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ASEAN firms need to overcome DevOps hurdles

Southeast Asia has had pockets of success with DevOps, but most organisations across the region will need to overcome cultural and legacy challenges to succeed

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW ASEAN: Time to clear DevOps hurdles

Thai telco Advanced Info Service (AIS) took just 30 minutes to build a mock-up for its Play mobile app, which was developed in just 45 days.

AIS would have taken twice as long to build the app – if it had not embraced DevOps, a movement that aims to have software development and IT operations teams working more closely together in a bid to respond faster to changing business requirements.

This push to become more agile while developing higher quality code is one of the top drivers for DevOps adoption in Southeast Asia, said Chris Zhang, research manager for software research at IDC Asia-Pacific.

According to an IDC survey, more than two-thirds of respondents in ASEAN have deployed or are going to embark on continuous integration/continuous delivery and DevOps initiatives in 2018. A separate study also found that the DevOps software market in ASEAN was worth $47.7m in 2017 – representing a year-on-year growth of 18.9%. The market is expected to reach $131.1m by 2022 with a compound annual growth rate of 29%.

Within ASEAN, Singapore is most mature in terms of the adoption of DevOps practices, with emerging geographies such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam showing strong growth potential.

Manivannan Govindan, director for DevOps in ASEAN at CA Technologies, said: “Many organisations are reinventing themselves as providers of software and digital services, cognizant that DevOps will enable them to build, test and deploy applications at a faster pace and higher quality, than ever before”.

IDC’s Zhang, however, said only a small fraction of these organisations have reached advanced levels of adoption, particularly amongst large enterprises.

Cultural and legacy challenges remain

For DevOps to become more widely and readily adopted, it is critical for organisations to understand how to create a DevOps driven organisation.

It is widely understood that the promise of faster software development stems from closer ties between development and operations teams. However, there is no quick and easy fix, and is certainly not as simple as getting a DevOps tool.

The human element is the most challenging critical success factor for a successful DevOps initiative, said Zhang. Organisations need to navigate change management, hire the right talent, educate and reskill where necessary, and get executive and user buy-in for a shot at DevOps success.

Indeed, over two-thirds (77%) of business and IT leaders in Asia-Pacific found it very challenging to find professionals with DevOps experience, according to a study by Freeform Dynamics. This indicates that a skills gap exists in most organisations, which require resources, especially training, to be made available, said Govindan.

Besides the lack of DevOps skills and know-how, other deterrents include baggage in the form of legacy architectures or mindsets, noted Zhang. Culture is another key challenge, especially among large enterprises and countries with resistance to agile-style work practices.

Govindan highlighted that security is another barrier to DevOps, especially when growing customer demands are pushing organisations to release applications on a near-continuous basis, often at the expense of security.

But not at Grab, one of Southeast Asia’s most well-known start-ups that has evolved its business model from a ride-hailing app to building a business that offers logistics services, as well as a mobile wallet and food delivery service.

Organisations can never be finished completely with their DevOps journey, as the philosophy behind DevOps requires them to iteratively improve their practices.
Mark Jones, IBM

“Adopting a DevOps philosophy puts us in a good place to respond faster to our customers’ needs and build competitive advantage,” said Althaf Hameez, engineering lead at Grab.

Grab’s developers are empowered to self-service with tooling and automation being built by the operations teams. The focus on automation and the ability for development teams to work independently has helped Grab to significantly reduce the volume of cross-team communications needed for even small and simple tasks and to increase the volume and pace of work.

As development teams own their services, they are motivated to ensure that what they develop works well in a production environment, allowing work to be completed faster.

All of that does not mean security is compromised. At a recent Splunk event in Singapore, Suchit Mishra, head of information security at Grab, said the company builds detective controls across its products, services, applications and infrastructure to gather insights on where it is most vulnerable to attacks.

Such insights are then used to shore up Grab’s cyber defences in what Mishra described as an “offence informing defence” strategy that is less intrusive and cheaper to implement.

For Grab, the challenge remains ensuring that teams are aligned with the DevOps philosophy, as developers may not be used to handling what would typically be considered “operational” tasks, and operations teams are not always used to handing over control.

“Good training, documentation and management of expectations are key for this model to succeed,” said Hameez.

Accelerating DevOps adoption

For DevOps adoption to succeed in Southeast Asia, leadership support is vital, where top-down support will expedite DevOps adoption across teams through effective change management and role definitions, said Mark Jones, IBM’s Asia-Pacific business leader for private cloud and hybrid cloud management.

This is supported by the Freeform Dynamics study, which found that the priority among Asia-Pacific organisations is to get more support and commitment from management when it comes to improving software development projects.

In accelerating DevOps adoption, organisations can also foster an organisational culture that encourages and rewards collaboration. This was highlighted by 81% of respondents in Asia-Pacific and 86% of respondents in Singapore in the same study.

Read more about DevOps in APAC

For organisations with little or no prior experience, an option is to explore DevOps with open-source technologies for development and automation.

“This can help to build a collaborative DevOps culture where risk-taking and innovation based on the vision of an individual or small group can start quickly with a free download,” said Zhang. “Open source software adoption also helps change the organisational culture toward cross-group sharing, community-based innovation, and crowdsourcing.”

Currently, DevOps deployments in ASEAN remain “ad-hoc and opportunistic”, said Zhang, often starting with pilot projects to rapidly launch digital services.

Even as these organisations strive to narrow the gap between being in the throes of DevOps experimentation and moving to rapidly deploy DevOps to accelerate business change, the journey remains a continuous one.

“Organisations can never be finished completely with their DevOps journey, as the philosophy behind DevOps requires them to iteratively improve their practices,” said IBM’s Jones.

Read more on DevOps

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