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IT professionals urged to dial-down tech talk to win CIO approval for DevOps projects

Chef CEO Barry Crist claims senior management are not interested in the tech side of DevOps, so IT professionals should lead on the business benefits

DevOps practitioners are more likely to secure senior management support for agile projects if they dial-down the tech talk and focus discussions on the business problems they are seeking to solve.

That is the advice of several speakers at this year’s Chef Conference in Austin, Texas, where debate about the role DevOps can play in helping enterprises out-innovate their competitors dominated the first day of the show.

Adopting a DevOps-friendly approach to software development and deployment is often cited as an important step for enterprises looking to position themselves to respond quickly to consumer demands, regulatory changes and the threat of new market entrants.

However, getting senior management to give the green light for DevOps initiatives is often a major stumbling block to enterprise adoption.

During the event’s opening keynote, Barry Crist, CEO of infrastructure automation supplier Chef, urged delegates not to get too bogged down in talking about the technology side of DevOps when trying to get the CIO on side.

“We are living in a time of technology disruption more than we have ever seen in the history of man, and you and your teams, you are at the very epicentre of this disruption, and your actions will determine the future outcomes of your organisations,” he said.

“If we are going to collectively help as IT professionals, we have to really soak in this fact that our businesses don’t really care what we spend our every day doing.

“They don’t care about our infrastructure choices, what servers we use or container formats. There is just this single thing the business really cares about. They want us to ship their business ideas and they want us to ship them as software.”

These could be concepts with the potential to make an enterprise’s customers happier, its employees more productive or to widen the company's market reach, said Crist.

“That’s what the IT game is about now, and they want us to do this quickly because there is a direct link between software velocity, innovation and competitiveness,” he added.

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Dawie Olivier, CIO of New Zealand-based bank Westpac NZ, picked up this point elsewhere in the keynote, explaining that for some CIOs, it is a long time since they were last hands-on with technology, so a conversation that centres on that is unlikely to be effective.

“In some cases, the CIO has never engaged at a technology level, so it’s quite important, when you open this conversation, that you have something to show and to talk about,” he said.

“Specifically, arrive at a very real problem that is holding back those important things that get in the way of shipping the idea.”

From this point, the person looking to lead the DevOps charge within the organisation needs to be specific about what they need from the CIO to get things going.

“By doing this, you are bringing me into this little conspiracy of yours and making me a part of solving that problem, and suddenly we both have a great interest in this conversation,” said Olivier.

Once they have secured CIO’s support, it is vital that DevOps practitioners keep the CIO updated on how things are progressing to avoid falling victim to “mad inventor’s syndrome”, he added.

“Don’t go and hide in a dark room, and lock yourself away with beer and pizza over the weekend, and come back having re-architected the payments platform, for example, because you’re not the only person to take a stake in it,” said Olivier.

“You are not going to be the only guy in the organisation with ideas, and there will be other people on similar quests as we encourage this behaviour across the organisation.

“Make sure you hook up with them and start acknowledging their ideas as much as you would like their support for yours, because then you start to create the context for it to be OK for us to start improving our engineering disciplines.”

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