Enterprise DevOps leaders converged at IT Revolution’s DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES) in Las Vegas last week, looking for education and validation from Phoenix Project author and conference chair Gene Kim, as well as a host of fellow practitioners and a throng of vendors. (See my profile of Kim from 2016).
DevOps is an automation-supported cultural and organizational transformation of the software development and operations departments in enterprises, web scale companies, and software vendors. Its goal: speed up software delivery while maintaining quality, resilience, and scale, thus providing better value to end-customers.
Now that DevOps-centric organizations are a few years into this journey of transformation, many are achieving encouraging success with the speed, quality, resilience, and scale parts of this value proposition.
Where challenges remain: the customer value part. The problem? The IT organization can’t go it alone. It needs to collaborate with the lines of business who are traditionally responsible for managing customer relationships.
Recognizing the Problem
Joining Kim on stage was Chris O’Malley, CEO of mainframe tools vendor Compuware – not because Compuware was a DOES sponsor (although it was), but because the vendor had navigated its own DevOps transformation at O’Malley’s hands. As Kim explained, “if we can’t convince the community of CEOs of software companies the importance of DevOps, then there’s no hope with CEOs of standard companies.”
O’Malley laid out the challenges he faced when he took the reins of Compuware four years ago. “Compuware was in a lot of trouble,” O’Malley said. “The company had delivered no new product for 15 years.”
Fresh from a stint at a startup, O’Malley applied what he had learned there. “Apply DevOps and Agile, create something new and different, and disrupt your company. People reset themselves, reinvented themselves, embraced agile and DevOps, and showed success immediately.”
In conversations with customers, however, such success was not so clear-cut. “I had a discussion with a large financial services company,” O’Malley recalled. “The customer got upset, because they were tired of people coming into their office and talking about release frequency, fewer bugs, etc. Those things are placebos in the eyes of customers.”
Be Like Lennon and McCartney – but not Pete Best
The solution, of course, is for the DevOps team and the business to work together – a common platitude across the software development world for decades, but today as pressing as ever.
O’Malley exhorted the DOES audience to tackle this problem head on. “You need an alter ego. You’re only half the story,” O’Malley told the mostly technical audience. “You need your Lennon/McCartney. Not your Pete Best.”
In other words, the DevOps and business sides must engage and collaborate, in spite of their differences – while avoiding becoming excluded, like the Beatles’ first drummer.
In spite of a strained relationship, the Beatles’ songwriting duo produced some of the best songs of the century – an important lesson for the DOES crowd. “You in partnership with product management must become storytellers,” O’Malley added. “Product management and engineering speaking in authentic ways, including the good, bad, and ugly.”
Lennon and McCartney in the Enterprise
Integrated managed care consortium Kaiser Permanente struggled with the same challenges that Compuware had undergone.
The DevOps team struggled for relevance. “Then the business had its ‘uh oh’ moment,” said Alice Raia, VP of digital presence technologies at Kaiser Permanente. “They realized they had to change the way they engage with consumers, and they were willing to invest. They were ready to change the face of healthcare in the country.”
The result was an ‘anti-disciplinary’ or patient-centered approach that revamped the member experience end-to-end. “The goals were predictability, quality, and time to market as they experiment with new care models,” Raia said. “We wanted to avoid being DMV-like.”
Keanen Wold, DevOps transformation/DevOps center of excellence and developer practice leader at Delta Airlines, encouraged the audience to persevere in spite of resistance. “Driving cultural change – when you think you got it, you don’t. It’s just something that happens,” Wold said. “Be ready for the fight and keep fighting. It’s worth it.”
O’Malley offered some sobering advice as well. “You’ll experience headwinds. You’re trying to do some heavy lifting. It’s important to appreciate how hard it is,” he concluded. “The most important thing is that truth is on your side. You’re doing the right thing. It’s crucial that you come from a disposition of courage.”
Vendors Struggle with Customer Value
Vendors at DevOps shows generally offer products that automate various parts of the software lifecycle. Companies integrate these tools into a DevOps ‘toolchain’ that supports the velocity and other requirements of the DevOps approach to creating software.
Given the focus of DOES, connecting this toolchain to customer value was unsurprisingly a common story across many vendors. The clearest presentation of this story focused on Value Stream Management (VSM), a product category that has been getting more attention of late as a result.
For vendors like Plutora and ConnectALL, VSM focuses on the Lean priority eliminating waste: the wasted time and effort that can slow down an effort and raise its costs. However, while Plutora offers metrics-driven outcomes that tie directly to customer value, ConnectALL is more of an integration hub that connects tools in the DevOps toolchain.
Two other VSM vendors are approaching the category in a more piecemeal fashion. CollabNet VersionOne offers two products: VersionOne, which connects ideation and strategy to Agile management, and Continuum, which measures and optimizes DevOps performance. Customers can buy the products separately or together for what the vendor calls a ‘holistic’ solution.
The other VSM vendor, Perforce, has been assembling a VSM offering via acquisitions. Its latest target is Perfecto, bringing web and mobile testing to the vendor’s suite of project planning, application lifecycle management, team collaboration, and static analysis tools.
The hope is for the web and mobile testing to add the critical customer metrics component that the vendor needs in order to round out its VSM story.
Other vendors, such as Electric Cloud, an adaptive software release orchestration vendor serving large enterprises, agree that VSM is a powerful practice, but downplay the notion that VSM it needs to be a distinct market category, because of the high degree of functional overlap with existing ARA platforms.
LaunchDarkly, a vendor of a feature flagging tool, helps companies connect to customer value directly by helping them control the user experience at speed.
Large vendors were exhibiting at DOES as well. ServiceNow was using its first appearance at the show to get its customers up to speed on how the service management leader provides software development lifecycle support on its platform.
CA Technologies was also showing its wares, focusing on connecting DevOps to business value for enterprise customers – thus leveraging the breadth of its product line to tell an implicit VSM story that smaller vendors would struggle to match.
Do or Die Time for DevOps
We’ve been talking about business/IT alignment since companies first started using computers more than 70 years ago, and while every wave of technology innovation seems to get us closer to this goal, it nevertheless remains grail-like in its unattainability.
Whether DevOps will finally bring the two sides of the enterprise together is still an open question. But the fact that the industry is recognizing that at best, the relationship among the players will remain contentious is a good sign.
After all, if aligning IT and business priorities were easy, we would have done it years ago. Only by approaching this challenge with our eyes open, free of the lure of quick and easy solutions, will we have a chance of success.
O’Malley hammered this point home with the DOES crowd. “Success means overcoming gravity,” he advised. “You are the spark that turned your company around.”
This article was updated to correct the name of CollabNet VersionOne, to correct Alice Raia’s quote, and to add detail to the comment on Electric Cloud.
Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, CA Technologies, Compuware, LaunchDarkly, and ServiceNow are Intellyx customers. None of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Jason Bloomberg.
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