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Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey Part 1: Managing the Technology Function — How to Boost Agility and Responsiveness with DevOps

Navigating uncertainty is the name of the game for today’s CIO.

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Navigating uncertainty is the name of the game for today’s CIO. According to the Harvey Nash/KPMG 2017 CIO Survey, 64% say the political, business and economic environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable. As a result, they know the best approach is to become more agile and responsive in the development and delivery of IT services.

However, many have struggled to find the right entry point and approach to achieving agility and responsiveness — particularly when it comes to DevOps, which is valued for its swift ability to enable a continuous stream of release. Through increased collaboration and communication between teams, organizations can more quickly enhance and deploy apps globally, but companies are also challenged by the wholesale cultural and process changes required. 

“Everybody knows they need to move faster in order to meet customer demands, but they are not sure where to start or how to start,” says Mike Wolf, managing director of experience design and engineering at KPMG. “They’re looking at DevOps as one of those entry points, but they are missing how the entire effort glues together.” That may explain the small percentage of survey respondents — just 12% — who said they considered DevOps to be the most important step they are taking to become more agile and responsive. 

The problem, he explains, is that DevOps is still often seen as a one-off tactic, as opposed to a core part of a large-scale, continuous effort to get to market more quickly and tackle growing customer expectations. “You may try agile and DevOps because it seems to be important, but you miss the vision of how the whole thing fits into meeting customer demands faster,” he says. 

DevOps is About People as Much as Technology

The human side of DevOps is essential to seeing agility success, adds Wolf. While automation technology is being powerfully incorporated into the software lifecycle, organizations may not fully realize how the interaction between people and organizations changes with a DevOps transformation. At most current organizations, most of these responsibilities are siloed rather than shared. And data that tracks those changes — the need for new people skills in these areas and the institutional shift that needs to happen, for example — is scarce.  “The silence there is very telling, which says to me this is a market that is still maturing,” he says.

The Right DevOps Mindset

To develop the right mindset with the best chance of DevOps success, organizations should look directly at the term DevOps — which is, in itself, a combination of development and operations, traditionally two separate teams that are brought together, says Mark Shank, principal at KPMG.  “Companies need to start looking at these traditionally separate teams of people — those who build applications and those who run and maintain the infrastructure — as one team, organizing around products or customers or whatever makes sense,” he says. 

This means looking beyond the tech-driven tools and mechanisms to develop an end-to-end organizational transformation that changes business expectations, shifts the delivery process and alters the governance process in a de-siloed manner. The result, says Shank, is the ability for companies to enable better experiences faster — something that the company as a whole may not fully appreciate.

“When companies come to talk to us about DevOps, it’s almost always from the IT department, so the business may see the effort as simply a way to make apps cost less,” he explains. “But it’s really about getting past the technology and conveying value to the business side — the organizational implications.”

DevOps Challenges and Opportunities for Companies Large and Small

Implementing DevOps presents unique challenges for companies large and small looking to invest in acceleration. For example, smaller organizations find it easier to adapt to change and to accept automation. “They don’t have a choice, since they don’t have the human scale to throw at the problem, so in a way they are forced into it,” says Wolf.

Larger organizations, on the other hand, have a harder time depending on and trusting automation, since they have more manpower to deal with it upfront. But bigger companies are also more willing to undergo large transformational efforts. “They are more comfortable with that concept and realize it’s a significant effort,” adds Shank. “Organizations do large RFP’s around this type of thing and understand it will bring broad benefits across lines, sectors and geographies.” Smaller companies, however, don’t tend to make that kind of investment, even scaled down to their size.

When it comes to increasing speed through DevOps, Wolf also points out an opportunity divide depending on organizational size. “The value of DevOps also increases the larger the organization is,” he says. “The investment to get faster may be easier at a smaller company, but the value isn’t as large as what would come out of a large financial institution.”

The Role and Goals of the CIO 

The CIO is the “orchestra director” in the symphony of any effort to boost agility and responsiveness through DevOps, says Shank. The board and C-level execs listen to the CIO, who can speak at their level, as well as that of other senior-level executives, LOB owners, tech teams and product leads. It is the CIO that can communicate the values of a wholesale transformation, which is technological and organizational and operational. “The CIO is the only one that can pull that off,” he explains.

The most important goals for the CIO when it comes to putting an agile culture into practice? Shank and Wolf name three must-haves: One, as described earlier, is breaking down organizational constraints between development and operational teams and reorganizing them into one group. Next is the importance of tracking the frequency of product releases and significantly boosting velocity.

Finally, organizations need to switch from a project-driven culture to a product driven culture. “It’s about getting away from the idea that the project has a release and then you go on vacation, to the idea that the project is constantly updated and released, growing and changing,” says Wolf. “That’s why you have to break down the silos.” 

All of these companies, he adds, need to move at the speed of the market and fulfill customer expectations that go beyond speed — including quality, confidence and experience. “They need the interactions with the company to align with the quality of apps they use all day long, from Facebook to Amazon,” he says. “They expect that the quality will be there and they have the confidence that it will just get better. Those are the expectations they have in today’s market.”

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