Don't use cost savings to secure senior management DevOps buy-in, CIOs advised

IT leaders may find themselves unlikely to succeed by promising senior management DevOps-induced cost savings, according to PuppetConf panel

CIOs need to manage senior management expectations about the time and costs involved with moving to a DevOps-style approach to software delivery, practitioners warn.

During a panel session at the PuppetConf user and partner summit in San Francisco, Trigg Bowlin, technology director and tribe leader at US-based mortgage lender Fannie Mae, said IT leaders should be wary of underselling just how long and difficult undergoing a DevOps transformation can be.

“Don’t promise to get it done really quickly and don’t tell people that it’s going to be easy. I would have tried a lot harder to change the conversation about cost savings and make it about value-add,” said Bowlin.

This is based on Fannie Mae’s own DevOps transformation journey, which has seen the company ramp up the release of software updates from one every six months or so, to one every 10 weeks.

“The reality is you’re probably not going to save a lot of money. You’re going to be able to generate value a lot faster,” said Bowlin.

Countering the cost-savings argument

Nicole Forsgren, CEO of DevOps Research and Assessment (Dora), which specialises in helping enterprises pinpoint the barriers slowing down DevOps adoption in their companies, picked up on the cost-savings part of the conversation.

She said one of the most common pieces of advice she gives to people trying to make the business case for DevOps is to avoid talking up the cost savings the move could bring, and focus on the revenue-generating opportunities it is likely to deliver instead.

“If you get [cost savings], you only really get credit for them the first year. Once you’ve saved those costs, you don’t get credit for it again because that’s your new baseline,” she said.

To this end, she said CIOs and IT leaders are better off talking about how embracing continuous delivery and ramping up their software product release cycles is likely to boost revenue in the long-term, and improve operational efficiency.

“If you can keep delivering features and they bring in revenue, and they keep bringing in revenue and you’re doing it off the same – or slightly increased – cost base, that’s a huge conversation, and it’s one I don’t think is leveraged quite enough or really effectively,” she said.

In organisations where there is a mandate for using DevOps to cut costs, Forsgren said IT leaders should try to re-define and broaden out exactly constitutes as cost saving to ensure senior management support for what they are trying to achieve continues.

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“I will have a conversation and say, ‘Where do we have this goal coming from?’. Often it’s handed to them by someone else, and I’ll say, ‘Why do we have this goal? Do we have any other revenue goals? What else can we do? If we have this goal, is this going to be an on-going [target]? And is there anything else that we can be seen to deliver?’,” she said.

As examples, Forsgren said firms should try spinning productivity savings accrued through the use of automation or headcount reduction as alternatives to cost savings, while trying to steer the conversation back to the value creation DevOps can bring.

On this point, Tricia Burke, vice-president of production operations at virtual whiteboard software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider Diligent, said it is often down to emphasising the efficiency benefits of adopting DevOps.

As well as participating in the panel, Burke also shared details of how Diligent now releases 50 monolithic software updates a year – whereas, previously, they could only release four a year – by adopting DevOps principles and using Puppet’s tools to automate large portions of its application lifecycle.

“It’s going to make their lives better and make them feel more successful at work. If I tell my boss that this is going to make my staff even more successful, he’ll say that’s great. But if I tell my boss, ‘If we do this, we’re going to produce software faster and be more efficient in the way that we operate”, that is more powerful,” she said.

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