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Living the DevOps Dream: Embrace Constant Change to Come Out Ahead

Kelli Lawless

  The work of IT teams is never done, given the constant forward motion of technology. If DevOps is a framework and a culture, how can organizations develop and leverage it to drive success? Dr. Nicole Forsgren, Co-founder, CEO, and Chief Scientist at DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA), shared her team’s research findings at NetApp Insight 2018 in Las Vegas.

The dramatic upswing of mobile usage has driven new software demands. Applications and software that just ten years ago may have seemed like a pipe dream are now the norm. To put it into context, Dr. Forsgren noted, over the next four years, the number of applications and services will quadruple those delivered during the last 40 years.

Disruptive companies are better equipped to solve problems quickly, and the key is being prepared for the next waves of technology and implementation demands. In May 2018, Consumer Reports stated that it couldn’t recommend the recently released Tesla Model 3 because it took too long to brake. Nine days after that report, Tesla fixed the braking issue through a software update delivered via the internet.

As Dr. Forsgren shared, technology leaders like Tesla are pushing forward and using technology to deliver quickly at massive scale. But in most organizations, development and operations are often in silos. In a 2018 2nd Watch survey of 1,000 IT professionals, 78.2% of respondents answered “Yes” to a question about whether separate teams at their organization manage infrastructure/operations and application development.

Siloing these teams can slow the progress of a company’s evolution into what IDC calls a “Data Thriver” (one that draws new customers and develops new revenue streams faster than competitors). IDC dubs those data-aware companies still trying to get from here to there as “Data Survivors.” According to the November 2017 NetApp / IDC report “Become a Data Thriver: Realize Data-Driven Digital Transformation (DX), "Organizations' data-driven DX maturity is still emerging. Only 11% are Data Thrivers, while 34% are Data Survivors.”

There isn’t a single “silver bullet” DevOps solution. There’s no one person, tool, or set of resources that make that determination. “There is no DevOps in a box,” she said. That’s why DevOps continues to evolve as needs change. 

Building a Successful DevOps Experience

The foundation for successful DevOps is architecture. If done right, cloud infrastructure can be the basis for delivering this success. According to the DORA research, teams that execute correctly and are truly in the cloud are 23 times more likely to be a lead performer. Dr. Forsgren said, “Excellence is possible. It comes down to execution.”

She also noted that successful DevOps teams are able to deploy quickly to meet business demands. The highest-performing teams have 46 times more frequent code deployments and over 2,500 times faster lead times from commit to deploy. This speed allows organizations to be agile, satisfy customers, and keep up with compliance and regulatory changes.

Dr. Forsgren also shared a five-stage journey that companies can use to map out their DevOps journey.   DevOps proficiency is a critical component of business success. According to DORA’s research, elite-performing tech organizations are 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed commercial goals (productivity, profitability, market share) and non-commercial goals (operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, product or service quality).

Technology is an increasingly important factor in driving this success. Any organization can buy it and plug it in just like its competitors, but they have to improve upon it and create something new to stand out. “I can buy shoes and you can buy shoes but that doesn’t help me win the race,” Dr. Forsgren said. “I have to train, I have to get better, I have to do better.”

Thriving with DevOps

With markets continuously evolving, digital transformation isn’t a destination, it’s an ever-evolving journey of improvement. Organizations will never finish upgrading their IT. To ensure DevOps success, organizations must employ performance drivers like technical practices, lean processes, and a forward-thinking culture. And perhaps most importantly, they must strategically use data and metrics.

Forsgren calls the maturity models that organizations use to measure their digital transformation progress “security blankets.” Ripping off the blanket leaves them with no single path to success. “We are what we measure,” Dr. Forsgren explained. If a company has only one metric, it knows what metric will be gamed. To avoid that, she said, they need explicit goals, and because Dev and Ops have different aims, companies also need to measure intention.

When an organization adopts a DevOps culture, it can surpass its goals in previously untapped ways. Dr. Forsgren illustrates this with an example from, where Greg Linden, an early engineer responsible for some of their initial personalization elements, wanted to use data to tailor product recommendations. A senior vice president (SVP) at the time said no. Linden, not accepting this answer, A/B tested his idea in production, collected the data, and returned to the SVP with his results. Linden’s implementation resulted in millions of dollars in revenue. Dr. Forsgren asked, “Could you do this at your company if your SVP said no? Would your infrastructure allow you to push into production super-fast? If it didn’t work, he could push an ‘undo’ [roll-back] super fast as well. If it takes you 6 months to push code, it’s also going to take you 6 months to undo that mistake.”

With the right technology and DevOps in place, an organization will have the ingredients it needs to drive business change. “I think building this culture is the key to innovation. Creativity must flow from everywhere,” Linden wrote of his experience in a 2006 blogpost. “Everyone must be able to experiment, learn, and iterate. For innovation to flourish, measurement must rule.”

No matter the industry, organizations aren’t immune from the disruption that’s happening and will continue to happen. As Nancy Hart, NetApp head of marketing for Cloud Infrastructure, shared during a NetApp 2018 Insight Fireside Chat, “You can be disruptive or you can be disrupted.”

Where do you fall in that spectrum?

Take a look at all the news and views from NetApp Insight 2018. Or learn more about how NetApp accelerates DevOps.

Kelli Lawless

Kelli Lawless is NetApp’s Head of Editorial Content and Strategy. In her time with NetApp, she has led several pilot programs and works closely with executives, partners, and customers to identify thought leaders with inspiring technology stories. In the past 20 years, Kelli has helped iconic brands find their voice, played in instrumental role in award-winning campaigns, and cultivated a deep passion for creating content that helps business leaders learn from each other. When Kelli’s not honing her storytelling craft, you’ll find her playing on the beach with her two senior dogs, hosting dinner parties for friends, or exploring remote reef systems with her scuba-diving husband.

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